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I was wondering about this and would appreciate your take on the question.

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Shakespeare would beg to differ: "We'll have a swashing and martial outside/As many mannish cowards have/That do outface it with their semblances". – tylerharms Apr 3 '14 at 8:56
Bravery and cowardice are already very difficult concepts to explain in psychological or general scientific terms, before you introduce the added complications of gender. In The First World War a lot of soldiers shot themselves in the foot in order that the resulting non-fatal wound would get them out of the trenches and into hospital. But, by my reckoning it takes a fair amount of bravery to deliberately shoot yourself in the foot. How could you call such a man a coward? All a psychologist would probably say is that traditional notions of courage and cowardice fit certain character types. – WS2 Apr 3 '14 at 9:36

No, I don't think it does. There are other epithets that describe cowardice that do imply lack of masculinity or presence of femininity.

According to etymonline cowardice describes originally the idea of running of with the tail between the legs, but it does not question one's masculinity.

On the other hand, expressions like grow a pair do suggest that the addressee does not have testicles - thus certainly claiming that he lacks masculinity.

If you call someone a sissy, you allude to his overly present feminine side.

As for your combination of "girlish coward", I would say it is not common, but it will be readily understood. However, it sounds a bit weird to me because I feel coward is a much stronger term than "girlish". So if you call someone a coward, calling him girlish as well is just icing on the cake.

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Thanks for your input. And yet - assuming someone does use the phrase, ''girlish coward'' and I've heard it many times, including directed at me - I'm assuming it's an insult meant to show lack of proverbial ''balls.'' – user63871 Apr 3 '14 at 9:04
But then it is the girlish that implies that lack, not the coward :) – oerkelens Apr 3 '14 at 9:08
oh..... so it's a double one – user63871 Apr 3 '14 at 9:11
Yup. You are a coward and you lack balls -according to people that tell you that. That is the nice thing with insults, you can stack them. Although French is much more suited to that :) – oerkelens Apr 3 '14 at 9:14
Yes, you can and it can be a stream of words. – user63871 Apr 3 '14 at 9:21

Masculinity and femininity are not binary concepts; they exist in a spectrum. And they are defined entirely by culture. As such, it really is impossible to define cowardice as masculine or feminine without making a broad cultural generalization about what traits we associate with masculinity and femininity.

I would say that in some cultures the answer is yes, while in others it is no, and in others it is not even part of the discussion of gender traits.

In my opinion, it would be best not to question what gender something like cowardice implies.

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And yet, cowardice is alluded to in expressions like "grow a pair". Whether you want to question it or not, that expression certainly alludes to (lack) of masculinity. – oerkelens Apr 3 '14 at 9:23
In some cultures, sure. In some cultures, that expression is completely foreign. You'd have to explain it, and by doing so enforce your cultural perspective on someone else, to make them understand it. That's why in my opinion it's best to, at least, qualify which culture we're discussing, and, at most, not connect the two. – tylerharms Apr 3 '14 at 9:31
It is unquestionably part of Anglo culture that bravery is associated with manhood. But ask any dentist who he thinks are braver, his male or his female patients? My understanding is that women tend to be calmer in such situations. – WS2 Apr 3 '14 at 9:43
But is bravery not associated with womanhood? And is cowardice more associated with one than the other? – tylerharms Apr 3 '14 at 10:54
It depends on the definition of bravery. If bravery is associated with traditionally male activities like fighting and hunting, yes, bravery is associated with manhood. But if bravery is associated with standing up to pain or challenge, it is genderless. And I have very often seen women described as brave. – oerkelens Apr 3 '14 at 10:59

The traditional image of masculinity would involve men being brave, strong, and being the breadwinner for a family. You can read much more about Masculinity on wikipedia.

Relative to this, a cowardly man would be seen to be more feminine than the alpha male ideal of masculinity. However, in modern society, the boundaries are more blurred, so it's probably a matter of opinion rather than fact.

In response to your edit about "girlish coward", it would seem it's not common at all: Girlish Coward Ngram

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Thank you for your opinion. – user63871 Apr 3 '14 at 8:44

I believe you are looking for a word which means "girlish coward".

The term sissy often means acting in a cowardly and girly way. It is often targeted at school children and both sexes, but understandably, it is mostly derogatory towards schoolboys who can be labeled as being sissies if they refuse a dare.

Sissy: a boy who is weak or who likes things that girls usually like
: a person who is weak and fearful
also : a timid or cowardly person

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Someone who is insulted as such is meant to lose his social position as a man or is it just a minor insult with nothing to it? – user63871 Apr 3 '14 at 9:23
@user63871 Well... it's more of a childish insult but all the more reason why an adult man might take greater offense. As for losing his social position, I don't believe any word/term said in a single instance can carry that much of a responsibility or weight. Obviously, if a person is being bullied and harassed over an extended period of time than the insult becomes more significant and actually harmful. – Mari-Lou A Apr 3 '14 at 9:29
The term pussy is also used as a derogatory term for women, women's genetalia, and men though of as weak or afraid (probably a suggestion of acting like a woman). All such uses of terms to suggest women are weak or cowardly are offensive and scurrilous, whether applied to women or men. – bib Apr 3 '14 at 11:39
"I don't believe any word/term said in a single instance can carry that much of a responsibility or weight" - "guilty", when said by the foreman of the jury ;-) – Steve Jessop Apr 3 '14 at 15:16
You're absolutely right there @SteveJessop I need to pick more my words more carefully in the future :) – Mari-Lou A Apr 3 '14 at 19:04

I've never heard the term girlish coward. I have often heard the expression grow a pair, but I've heard it said to women by women or women by men as well, especially among the young. Marie Forleo tells people to grow a pair of ovaries!

When I hear coward, I don't think of male/female, maybe because growing up, I heard the term yellow applied to cowards (derived from yellow belly), as well as buck up and stiff upper lip, none of which are very emasculating.

I've seen cowardly men and cowardly women. I don't think of it as gendered at all. Any woman who elects to have a second child is as brave as any man in my book.

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Grow a pair is used among women? Really? Wow. Didn't know that, thank you for telling me! – user63871 Apr 3 '14 at 12:55
Yes I have heard women use this to each other too. See my comment to tylerhams - I think it's more to do with telling someone to 'grow up' rather than about possession of testicles. – Mynamite Apr 3 '14 at 13:56

Schwarzenegger coined or popularized the expression girlie man, apparently referring to their appearance:

"They all look like a bunch of girlie men, right?"

... and their alleged cowardice:

"... if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men."

Apart from that it's not a common association.

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When you are called a girlish coward it may mean the lowering of your status in the eyes of others but I don't think it'll make you sprout a skirt and start twirling. It's an expression men like to use with impunity, but women do that too if it suits them.

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Ah yes, I know so many women who sprout skirts and twirl – Mynamite Apr 3 '14 at 13:54

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