First (and last) Contact

Women have a long tradition of being diplomats. “Historically, … marriage has been the major alliance mechanism of every society, and little girls are trained for roles as intervillage family diplomats…, the married woman straddles two kin networks, two villages, sometimes two cultures” (The Underside of History, Elise Boulding, p.53-54).

Many women have decades of experience, settling a dozen disputes a day. To whom do the kids go crying “It’s not fair!”? Mom. She’s the mediator, the negotiator extraordinaire.

Girls develop language skills before boys, and their level of proficiency continues throughout their lives to be superior. Women in languages and linguistics degree programs outnumber men. Translators? Women. Writers? Women. In short, women are better at communication.

(And) (So) We talk a lot. (Well, when we’re not interrupted by men.) Although ‘gossip’ can be superficial and mean, much talk among women is unjustly dismissed with that term—when women talk, they’re doing social cohesion work.

But of course communication doesn’t involve just words. Well, women are better at reading facial expression and body language too. And they go deeper: men actually avoid any kind of psychological understanding (of themselves as well as others); women actively embrace such knowledge (“But why did you do that?”).

Lastly, women, whether by nature or nurture, are more predisposed to cooperate, whereas men are more predisposed to compete. We prefer a win-win solution; men love a win-lose one.

So why is it that when presidents fill their ambassador and diplomat positions, they appoint men? Is it because their ambassadors and diplomats will be talking with men? And men are more comfortable talking to other men? That would mean ambassadors and diplomats are men because they’re men.

Or is it (also) because the goal of a diplomatic exchange is not to cooperate, not to resolve conflict, but to conquer, to come away ‘one up’ on the other? Diplomats are really just smoke screens; mediation isn’t the goal.

And why is that? It could be as simple, and as awful, as (1) Women are good at mediation; (2) Whatever women are good at is devalued; therefore, (3) Mediation is devalued.

Well, look where that’s gotten us. Planet-wide, we spend more on weapons than food, clothing, and entertainment put together. Unless of course you consider weapons to be entertainment. Which apparently men do. (Turn on any tv show during prime time, and nine times out of ten a gun will be fired in the first five minutes.)

But hey, when the aliens come, NASA’s first contact team had better include a bunch of women. Because please, guys, all those weapons of yours? They will surely be but mere slingshots.


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