I'm in my local hipster coffee palace this morning, standing in line for a beverage that takes far too many words to order, when I sense that something's different. Can't put my finger on it exactly, but things just seem lighter, and happier. Like everyone rolled out of bed with a little extra oomph. And then I realize that it's the women. The ones behind the counter, the ones waiting for their lattes, they're smiling, laughing, filling the room with a tangible positive aura that infects everyone. I'm lifted out of my funk about the presentation I have to give to a room of stuffed shirts in a few hours and I start joking around with complete strangers about the nuances of specialty coffee. As I step out into the cold again, macchiato in hand, I reflect on the complex, wondrous and often inscrutable being that is a woman -- her infinite facets, her tremendous heart, her capacity to, as the old TV theme song said, turn the world on with her smile.
It is International Women's Day today, and when I look back at where we were last year at this time, I'm ashamed that we haven't made much progress. A few months ago we heard the story of the Saudi cleric who allegedly murdered his 5-year-old daughter because he had doubts about her virginity, and who subsequently got off with a slap on the wrist. And despite an avalanche of angry op-eds, the worldwide reaction was very much a variation of "boys will be boys." Where were the trade sanctions, the embargoes, resolutions of condemnation and military threats to announce in a united, clarion voice that this grotesque display of misogyny will not stand in our world any longer? A frequent critique of feminism is that it suggests that men should be embarrassed for being men. Well, I was embarrassed to be a man that day. I was embarrassed that I share chromosomes with the bottom-feeding parasite who perpetrated this unforgivable crime, and with the equally reprehensible glorified frat boys who let him off. Every man should have been embarrassed.
When something like that happens -- indeed, when any violence against any woman by any man happens -- you are forced to ask yourself why. Where does such seething, consuming hatred come from? The Freudians amongst us would suggest that it is a primal thing. The most talked-about episode of "Game of Thrones" last year was the one that ended with the priestess Melisandre giving literal birth to a monster of shadow and darkness. Watching Republican legislatures pass mandatory transvaginal ultrasound laws suggests that many men believe on some level that's actually what lurks inside there. That this place of both soul-rattling fear and uncontrollable fascination and arousal must be controlled whatever the cost, lest it consume them utterly. Such laws are only the latest weapon in an extensive arsenal wielded in this quest, going all the way back to the suggestion that humanity is a fallen race because Eve couldn't control her womanly urges when that pesky serpent came a-tempting. The hatred of women has been justified by codifying it into our religions and our laws for thousands of years. When the left accused the right of fomenting a war on women during the presidential campaign, I had to laugh, and not because I agreed with the protestations of Fox News that there wasn't one. There has always been a war on women. The fact that women have had to fight for equality of representation and pay and even basic respect instead of it being granted to them by virtue of their humanity is proof of this. I would ask my fellow men, especially on this day, what it is we think we have to win by continuing what is essentially a campaign of attrition.
Perhaps we should be grateful that women do not collectively take up the mantle of Lysistrata, the heroine of Aristophanes' classic play who stopped a war by convincing her fellow women to deny all their husbands sex. Can you imagine if that were to happen? You'd see fundamental, irreversible change for the better faster than you can say "bipartisan agreement." It speaks greatly of the faith women have in men that they continue to place their trust in us to do the right thing, no matter how difficult we make life for them. It is a capacity that does not seem to be shared the other way, and that needs to change. We -- that is, men -- need to be celebrating smart, strong and successful women and their accomplishments, instead of hissing to our bros that she must be a lesbian because she didn't want to make out with our drunken, slobbering selves on the dance floor. We need to stop judging the worth of a woman solely on how she conforms to a Photoshopped bikini model stereotype. (How many more awards for her incredible musical achievement must Adele win before juvenile male trolls with less talent and drive in their entire bodies than she has in the last sixteenth-of-an-inch of her little finger stop knocking her for her weight?) We need to remind ourselves to appreciate the many inner elements that contribute to a woman's beauty besides the superficiality of the curves.
I felt today in my coffee shop how enchanting it was to be surrounded by positive, confident women. There are so many more lasting rewards to be achieved by making a woman smile -- by encouraging her and doing whatever we can to make her day a little easier and a little brighter -- than by belittling her in some comical testosterone-fueled assertion of masculine "dominance." And on International Women's Day and every day that follows, that is the best way to be a man.