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Women's Bodies

Godbags, Douche Bags and Old Bags and Why It Matters


I've been following the posts responsive to my post, Godbags:  Contempt, Gendered, and I've found the back-and-forth interesting.  I'm glad I began the conversation, or opened the topic up for feminist process, or instigated the word wars, or threw down,  depending on one's perspective.

Quite a few people have said that "godbags" is just an insult, gender-neutral, like "scum bag," "windbag," "cobag."   Twisty said her intentions in inventing the word were not that the word hearken to women or be any sort of sexist slur, and I definitely believe that.  At the same time, when we evaluate words, imagery, art, language or anything else, while the intentions of the writers or artists or creators matter, they can never be the last word.  If they were, then we would be obliged to accept or endorse any sort of imagery or language, including hate speech and hate imagery of all kinds, if the speaker or artist or creator said his or her intentions were good or positive or even neutral.  And we all know that isn't the way it works.  Intentions matter, but the effect words and imagery have on human beings also matters.  Words and imagery can and do work powerfully in the world to advance both good and liberating and hateful and destructive ideologies, politics, beliefs.  I think words and imagery are also always, a site of resistance for feminists and progressives.  We really do participate in changing the world, for better or for worse, in the choices of the words and imagery we approve, endorse and use.

Some have argued that even if the word "godbag" does derive from "old bag," or "douche bag," or "three bagger," since we — "we" being feminists, feminist allies, and self-identified progressives — now know that douche bags are, in general, bad things, it's actually a good thing to call patriarchal assholes douche bags, and just fine to call the religionist subset of the above "godbags." 

I disagree with this, because I think the implication is that to be called a name that invokes the specifically female is, in and of itself, an insult.  I don't think that's true; furthermore, I think it's sexist. 

A douche bag is not an unvaryingly bad thing.  Most people believe there are a few legitimate reasons for women to use them; midwives and doctors still prescribe douching under some circumstances.  As a teenager in the pre-Roe v. Wade 60s, I and my friends secretly passed around instructions for giving ourselves abortions, if necessary, using douche bags.   In those instances, emblematic as they may have been of our oppression,  douche bags were really good and valuable things. 

My thinking is, "douche bag", used against patriarchists and male supremacists, is an insult, not because we now realize regular douching is bad, or because douching is per se bad, but because the term hearkens to the reasons for which douche bags were invented, namely, to clean what men believed to be women's foul-smelling, diseased genitalia.  When we use the word, the patriarchists we intend to insult are insulted, not because douche bags are bad things, but because of the revulsion over women's bodies which the term "douche bags" evokes and which inspired their invention.  A douche bag is a neutral object with some valid reasons for existing.  It is only revolting or disgusting when it is connected with sexist views of women's vaginas and bodies.  And for this reason, using words like "douchebag" as an insult is, I believe, sexist. 

Using the word "godbag"  (assuming it is a derivation of "douche bag," and is hence gendered female, which I believe it is, although again, I don't think that was Twisty's intention) is like using a racial slur to insult an egregious white supremacist, or using an anti-semitic epithet to insult Richard Butler.  Using this kind of language suggests that you agree that to be that — whatever that word, that image, that language invokes — is as bad as it ever gets.  And patriarchal religionists would agree with you that to be a woman is as bad as it ever gets.  White supremacists will agree with you that to be a person of color is as bad as it ever gets.  Richard Butler will agree with you that to be Jewish is as bad as it ever gets.  Using such words suggests the user agrees, that to be that — in the case of a woman, what we are — really is as bad as it ever gets.

Following is the etymology of the word "bag," from Etymology Online:


c. 1230, bagge, from O.N. baggi or a similar Scand. source, perhaps ultimately of Celtic origin.  Disparaging slang for "woman" dates from 1924.  Meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is 1964 from Black Eng. slang, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag.  Baggy "puffed out, hanging loosely" is 1834.  Many fig. senses are from the notion of the game bag (1486) into which the product of the hunt was placed; e.g., the verb meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818)

Also according to Etymology Online, "windbag" as an insult preceded "old bag", or "bag" as a derogatory word for women:


1470, "bellows for an organ," from wind (n.) + bag. Fig. sense of "person who talks too much" is attested from 1827. 

Based on the complete etymological definition of the word "windbag" (which you can read if you click on the link), it seems to have been gendered male, at least originally.  "Bag" became a sexist slur in 1924.  I think this has to do with events which occurred in the 1920s, which linked the pejorative implications of "bag" in "windbag" with certain sexist ideologies and patriarchal oppression, resulting in woman-hating epithets like "old bag," (a derivation of "windbag," this time gendered female) and ultimately "douche bag."  Over time words like "scumbag" and "cobag" were invented, but, again, these came later on.  I don't think their existence would erase the sexist implications of "douche bag"; instead, I think their invention invokes a revulsion that is rooted in sexism and which can be used in the service of new and additional revulsions.

I think what happened in the 20s which resulted in "bag" divorced from "windbag" and  being gendered female might have been the 19th Amendment.  I think Alice Paul, the League of Women Voters, the National Women's Suffrage Movement, movement in the direction of equality for women happened in the 20s.  And it makes sense to me that a word was invented to slam and denounce these women who so offended patriarchal, male supremacist sensibilities.  "Windbag," didn't work because it was gendered male and probably hearkened to male politicians and preachers.  "Old bag," I think, became the sexist slur of choice.  What good is a woman if she is old?  And especially if she is loud, strident, a windbag, like a man? 

It's at this same time, interestingly, that the media began to vigorously promote and advertise douching, both douche bags and douche solutions.    According to the Museum of Menstruation  products like  the "Mon Docteur" ("My Doctor") vaginal douche apparatus cured all sorts of ills, beautified the user, would ensure her husband wouldn't leave her, and could even protect her from dying.  Consider this endorsement of a book published during the '30s about douching:

Consider this ad for Lysol (yes, that Lysol) as a douche, published in McCall's Magazine, 1928:

"Sterizol" promised not only to sterilize the vagina; it could also be used to clean floors and toilet seats.  This is an ad from 1926.

Or this ad, also from the 20s, for married folks only.  Douching was a family value.

If only she'd known!  She'd have banished her fears through Zonite. (McCall's Magazine, 1925)

Given what I know about the suffragists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, and so many others — women who usually rejected men, rejected marriage, spent their entire lives serving women and urged other women to do the same; women who could not have cared less about saving their marriages or their relationships with men — I think these women were the original "bags" and "old bags" and eventually "douche bags," after which all future "-bags" were modeled under male supremacy in the U.S.  I think "bags" used pejoratively against women in the '20s, together with the onslaught of propaganda about women's dirty bodies at the same time in history, were part and parcel of a backlash, a backlash against women's rights and women leaders, an attempt to put all these emerging, uppity women in their place, to bring them low, to take them out.

So to me, to use words like "douche bag" and "godbag" as insults — to use sexist slurs at all, really, but right now I'm talking about these slurs — is to participate, however unwittingly or unintentionally, in the ongoing anti-woman agenda of male supremacy.  It is to invoke the intense woman-hating which followed women's first steps in the direction of freedom and autonomy.  I guess I just see no reason to use such words.  I think there are better ways to express our contempt, as feminist women, for our oppressors.


(All graphics from the Museum of Menstruation site, which, if you haven't visited, you should.)



11 thoughts on “Godbags, Douche Bags and Old Bags and Why It Matters

  1. That Lysol ad is just mind-boggling, isn’t it?

    Posted by belledame222 | April 26, 2006, 8:14 pm
  2. belledame, it sure is! I’m assuming you mean the one for married couples, although both of them are hideous.

    Ann Barstow of Feminist Law Professors posted a really interesting response to the ongoing “godbag” saga, making the really good point, which I’d sure never considered, that blogs are now being cited to in court opinions, and that what visible feminists say online is significant, in that it might be used in sexual harrassment cases.


    Posted by womensspace | April 26, 2006, 9:18 pm
  3. This is what a douche bag looks like.

    Interesting, though– when I googled “douche bag” I just came up with a bazillion photos of men!

    They probably throw like girls, too.


    Posted by womensspace | April 26, 2006, 9:31 pm
  4. haha, heart!!! This is such an amazing post!!! I’ve just spent some time sitting and reading all these ad’s andi’m just astounded. i mean, have we “come a long way babY’ because our douching commercials have shifted from outright disgust to embarrassed “sometimes i don’t feel so…you know…fresh.”????


    thanks for posting this, it is just amazing.

    Posted by brownfemipower | April 27, 2006, 1:04 pm
  5. Hey, brownfemipower, thanks! I also think this is an amazing post.



    Anyway, those images are pretty damn consciousness-raising, and if they aren’t, I don’t know what hope there is for consciousness-raising to ever happen! The creepy thing is, those images were published not all that long ago, in my parents lifetime. We’ve come a long way all right. 😦


    Posted by womensspace | April 27, 2006, 5:56 pm
  6. I’m glad you are thinking about issues like this, and I hope you haven’t gotten dumped on too much about it. It’s nice to read a blog post that isn’t fixated on how stupid and horrible Repulicans are. There is nothing wrong with that kind of post, but woo-hoo, a change of pace is wonderful!

    Posted by Ann Bartow | April 28, 2006, 1:07 am
  7. Hey, Ann, I get dumped on quite frequently, but it’s all good, kinda goes with the territory. 🙂

    Thanks for those good words and your encouragement, too. I always enjoy Feminist Law Professors and what you have to say.


    Posted by womensspace | April 28, 2006, 12:42 pm
  8. I’ll have to scan a bunch of old ads I have like this. Found ’em years ago when doing research for a ctering company. We had to decorate in period themes, so i was perusing tons of old magazines. It’s how I first became interesting in the way cleanliness was initially used to keep immigrants in line in the late 1800s.

    Posted by Bitch | Lab | April 29, 2006, 8:42 pm
  9. Just to add something that seems to have been over looked in this post. I’ve been searching for the origins of the term “old bag” myself. My sister and I were discussing it because it was one of my mothers catch phrases when we were young. Although I am aware the meaning may have shifted over time, to my mother, the term was in reference to an older women’s skin, as in, “Her face looks like an old bag.” She likely picked up the phrase sometime in the 1950’s or 60’s to be used in reference to older female teachers. It’s a way for a young woman to degrade an older one, contrasting youthful beauty with age.

    Posted by Joe Marzen | July 1, 2013, 1:07 pm


  1. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Bitches and Bags - April 26, 2006

  2. Pingback: On Douchebags | Overthinking It - September 4, 2008

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