Just think of the insults most prevalent in sports – male athletes berate each other by slinging words and phrases associated with femininity. From the elementary school playground to Madison Square Garden, men routinely call each other “sissy,” “wuss” and “pussy” or tell each other, “you throw (or run) like a girl.” Belittling a female athlete is to call her “butch,” “manly” or a “beast.” The Frozen Closet – Newsweek.
I think it’s important to look at the underlying message behind these insults. I don’t think they are actually all that similar for men and women. The first set of comments has a much more global impact. For a male to be called effeminate, told they are a pussy, or a sissy, or told that they do anything “like a girl” impacts their masculinity. And in our society/world masculinity is linked with value as a whole person. Calling a woman “butch” or “manly” or “beast” is insulting, because it says that they aren’t a woman. But the real message behind not being a woman is…you’re not sexually attractive or pretty. Or, basically, I wouldn’t want to fuck you.
So, the message to men who show any kind of perceived feminine quality is “you, as a whole person, fail to live up to masculine standards”. The message to girls is “you’re not fuckable/marriagable”. The message to gender non-conforming males is all encompassing. The message to gender non-conforming females is less so. The implication is that they can still be good at what they’re doing. They can still be an awesome athlete, still be smart, funny, etc, but they’re just not fuckable. (And in a world where women are told from infancy that the most important thing they can be is fuckable, that’s a big deal, don’t get me wrong!) But effeminate men are basically told that they are something so much “less than” they “should” be. And what is that less than thing? Something resembling the always-and-obviously unworthy female. Putting females of any stripe at the bottom of the totem pole and only of value if they’re sexually viable for the straight men of the world.
Who has it worse? It’s hard to say. A woman is immediately at an eternal disadvantage by virtue of her femaleness and the fact that being female isn’t valued. A man, assuming he can “butch up” enough to pass muster in the world, is going to be head and shoulders above any woman in the world (heterosexual or not) simply because he’s a man (gay or not). But a man who is being targeted as too effeminate has it pretty bad, too. But the reason it is so bad is because their masculinity is being questioned. And masculinity is the definition of power and prestige and privilege in the world. If women weren’t seen as such a terrible thing to be compared to, if softness, artistry, gracefulness wasn’t seen as “woman’s work”, and if the words that mean “woman” weren’t used as insults, then there wouldn’t be this problem at all. If the things that are perceived as feminine were valued in the world then exhibiting non-masculine behaviors wouldn’t be problematic at all in our society.
Regardless, I feel like the quality of the insults are different. One is reducing a person who could have full privileges of masculine humanity down closer to the level that women already occupy. And the other is an attempt to strip the already low-on-the-totem-pole woman of her sole power–sexual attraction. Interestingly, though, I see that as much less worrisome or problematic, because if a woman is stripped of that power, but allowed to take on more privilege because of being stripped of it (acknowledged as strong, athletic, smart, etc) then it might not be that terrible of an insult. It’s still sickening that our world mainly values women for how much straight men want to put their dicks in them, but being called “butch” or “beast” might actually free a woman up to become so much more than a sex object.
(Though so long as society, and this includes other women, mostly value females on their sexual viability, it’s bound to make a woman feel bad about herself. BUT–and this is a huge but–the fact is that’s not what’s important about women at all, and learning to love a body that is athletic or capable, despite not being the world’s ideal of sexy, is hugely valuable.)
On the other side of the issue, taking a man’s masculinity, wadding it up, and tossing it away due to a perception of femininity in his interests or behaviors, reduces him from a place of human male privilege he was born into, and that reinforces not only homophobia but misogyny as well. There doesn’t seem to be anything freeing for anyone in that. Well, I take that back. It could be freeing if the man in question chooses to step outside of society and to value the feminine in himself and in others.
I think I’m rambling now. My main point was that the two types of insults have different end results. One involves the whole of a person’s being, and the other targets sexual attraction because THAT is already deemed the only thing valuable about that person because she’s female. But they are not actually the same thing at all.