Create the Things You Wish Existed: Why I Started the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy
It all started in December 2016.
A little over a year ago I founded the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, a membership-based research and advocacy organization. Our mission is to centre people at the heart of policy initiatives. It sounds simple - yes - but is rarely done. At the heart of CFFP lies this idea: create the things you wish existed. In the summer of 2015, impatience got the best of me and, paired with blind enthusiasm, I was lost to the idea of feminist foreign policy. I wanted something that didn’t exist yet: a platform to chat feminism, power, and foreign policy beyond the WPS agenda; a path to help the next generation of foreign policy leaders get their foot in the door; a way to do work that I would adore without waiting for someone else to give me permission to do so. And so, almost too casually, I decided I would make it happen for myself.
It is a privilege in every sense of the word. Daily, I am still baffled that I am one of the people helping to facilitate this conversation in a larger way, and almost always hold myself to an impossible standard in hopes I don’t fuck up the extreme honour of doing this work. But I can also do this because I am privileged in so many ways. I could afford (with loans) to get my MA at a wonderful university that was willing to take a chance on this idea and sponsor my entrepreneurship visa. I have access to a bit of extra savings that allowed me to fund this project in its early days, and now take a few months off of paid work to immerse myself in it. These are not average circumstances.
I always go back to Emma Watson’s speech at the UN, and her reasoning for doing this work: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” (If my Googling is correct, the quote is originally by George Romney.) I don’t know if I’m the right person to have started CFFP. My heart is in it, more than anything I’ve ever done, and quite simply, no one got there before me. But as I work to change the status quo, and share an intersectional vision of feminism, I am forever mindful of the reality that I grew up in a middle class, predominately white suburb in the heart of Silicon Valley. In terms of privilege, I grew up smack in the middle of it. And while I can't erase my history, I can unravel some of the indoctrinated behaviours and thought patterns that come along with being a white woman, knowing that this is a process of undoing that I'll forever be participating in.
Getting my foot in the door.
Perhaps somewhat selfishly, embarking on the journey to establish CFFP has also been about finding the freedom to do the work I want to do. I knew, fresh out of grad school, that there were few I could convince to take me seriously. I was a little fish in a big pond, and there were so many outrageously qualified people applying for the same jobs I was. Honestly? I didn't stand a chance. Kelsey Suemnicht, a lovely friend and feminist, said in an interview with CFFP last year that "the one field that should be reserved for changemakers, that should be the place where we go to make a difference in the world, is where some of the most willing and ready people aren’t feeling welcomed." There were so many of us vying for the same entry-level gender-focused jobs, and it felt like an impossible field to break into. Add in a dash of impatience, and I decided to forge my own path, rather than wait the inevitably many years it would take to find my footing and an employer who would "allow" me to focus on my passion: feminist foreign policy.
Ok - so what is a feminist foreign policy anyway?
Perhaps slightly cheekily, I'll borrow an excerpt from an article I wrote for the United Nations Association recently: Feminism - true feminism - is much more than simply including women, and then placing the burden of peacebuilding on their shoulders. It’s not even wholly about gender equality, although that remains its foundation. Feminism is about power: deconstructing it, understanding it, challenging it. Identity, and especially gender identity, plays an extraordinary role in developing relational dynamics and maintaining inequality, and feeds into how we view and understand one another at both an individual and state level. Feminism brings abstract and institutional power relations full circle by grounding it in the human experience and draws attention to the consequences people suffer at the hands of unequal power dynamics.
So, feminist foreign policy focuses on the human impact of foreign policy. It actively pushes back on special interests, which play far too large a role in the development of policy initiatives. It questions the realist assumptions and theoretical underpinnings of discussions around state power, where a privileged masculine consciousness dictates politics. Policy with its roots in realism encourages an abstraction of consequences, and skews reality through the detachment of context, language, and subjectivity, leaving the impact policy has on people forgotten. A specifically feminist re-visioning of foreign policy would include the previously ignored human experience. The stories that inform policy and political processes would be grounded in historical and cultural contexts which consider power dynamics and asymmetrical social relations. Such a feminist rethinking of politics would also recognise the ways in which emotion, identity, and desire intertwine to produce greater state narratives. And while IR can be a heavily militarised discipline, adding feminist theory into the mix provides a balance to such a hyper-masculine focus, making room for a more complete and nuanced story.