My governor famously asserted that his Democratic opponents in the state legislature are girly men, and this morning I read the following quip from Jonah Goldberg:
Take the two leading liberal columnists at the New York Times, Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman. As we all know, one's a whining self-parody of a hysterical liberal who lets feminine emotion and fear defeat reason and fact in almost every column. The other used to date Michael Douglas.James Taranto and Jim Geraghty find this enormously funny, as do I, and these jokes prompt me to wonder how women feel about the issue. There's no doubt that much of the present manly-man posturing (real or not) stems from our President's attitude and image, but deriding a man's masculinity is certainly not a new form of insult -- it's primitive, and visceral, and resonates (I think) with members of both genders. Are women offended that most men find it incredibly insulting to be viewed as feminine?
I don't think the insult is nearly as powerful in the reverse case, so it's not simply a matter of gender differences. Men who exhibit feminine qualities (in reality, or merely attributed by insult) are certainly perceived to be less than they're supposed to be. Obviously, the next connection to make is to homosexuality, and I think that perhaps that leap leads to a gut-level understanding of the situation.
Trying not to be overly graphic, men penetrate and women are penetrated. There's something fundamentally more powerful (and therefore primitively superior) about the first than the second (and note, of course, the Latin root). Penetration has negative connotations in almost every circumstance, setting aside sexuality, and I think there's a very basic desire for all beings to maintain their structural integrity. Bodies are designed to keep the inner stuff inside, and the outer stuff outside, and penetration defeats that. Sexually, across mammalian species, females attempt to maintain strict control over who they mate with; among humans, sex is widely regarded as something over which to hesitate, particularly for women.
So the girly-man insult really comes down to -- perhaps -- the insinuation that the insultee cannot even protect the physical integrity of his own body.