Marissa Conway

CV in brief: 💼 Career so far: Women Worldwide | Commonwealth Parliamentary Association United Kingdom | Living Water International 🎓 Education: School of Oriental and African Studies (UK) | Chapman University (USA) 💻 Follow Marissa online: LinkedIn 👭 Read & follow Feminist Foreign Policy: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook 🗣 Exclusive interview by Lucie Goulet, 7 December 2016

CV in brief:

💼 Career so far: Women Worldwide | Commonwealth Parliamentary Association United Kingdom | Living Water International

🎓 Education: School of Oriental and African Studies (UK) | Chapman University (USA)

💻 Follow Marissa online: LinkedIn

👭 Read & follow Feminist Foreign Policy: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

🗣 Exclusive interview by Lucie Goulet, 7 December 2016

Co-founder & Editor-in-chief | Feminist Foreign Policy

Tell us about Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP).

FFP is about interrupting foreign policy as usual and bringing in new and diverse voices. The idea developed throughout my master’s program and culminated in the dissertation that I wrote a couple of months ago. I focused on a feminist analysis of the Iran Nuclear Deal and looked at masculinity within US defense intelligence and how that shapes foreign policy and national security issues.

I wrote a more tangible, action-oriented conclusion to my dissertation: what can we do? How can we shift this? How we can interrupt foreign policy? These questions became the theoretical foundation for the FFP website, which focuses on questioning power and hierarchies, and re-envisioning structure and the status quo of foreign policy through a feminist perspective. Though gender equality is the main focus, we are also pushing beyond that to include different intersections of identity like race, ethnicity, and class.

What were the key findings of your dissertation?

For the discussions about nuclear weapons in the US, I relied a lot on Carol Cohn’s work. Much of my analysis focused on subjectivity: who is the ‘subject’ in discussions about nuclear weapons.

A feminist foreign policy approach to nuclear weapons would focus on humans as the subject, along with an explicit emphasis on the potentially catastrophic destruction of nuclear weapons. Yet in reality, the weapons themselves become the subject. They are heavily phallicized, and become a representation of masculinity and dominance.  And the potential loss of human life gets forgotten in favor of heroic narratives. This particular brand of hegemonic masculinity glorifies the US and works to construct Iran as the “other”.  Iran becomes, in comparison to the US, the “weaker” nation, constructed as immature or volatile through orientalist narratives, therefore needing assistance from the “stable” US. Not to say that Iran should be allowed to pursue nuclear technology unchecked.  I believe all nuclear policy should have an end goal of non-proliferation.  But the hierarchies constructed within the nuclear order needs just as much scrutiny.  And to top it off, the element of humanity is completely lost.

Based on your dissertation do you have a particular take on Donald Trump's foreign policy discourse?

Trump has a very isolationist approach, which I've found quite ironic because a lot of radical feminists I’ve met - and I include myself in this - have heavily criticized US imperialism, because we do have a tendency to try to have a finger in every pie. But with Trump, it’s isolationism gone wrong. There is a continued and bizarre sense of self-importance with his view of the US while he simultaneously communicates that the US is falling apart. And there are a ton of problems to address within the US, of course. But I don’t think that focusing on internal economic growth - which I doubt he’ll do properly anyway - at the expense of our relationships with other countries is the way to go about it.

You launched the site last week. How has your journey to reach this point been?

I met with Dina, my business partner, in September for coffee. I told her about this feminist foreign policy idea, and she said "Let’s make it happen, let's actually do it!" So we started brainstorming right away. I began tweeting out relevant articles, and slowly our following grew and people started reaching out. I was expecting, as you might with any feminist initiative, a lot of trolls, but so far have had none. I wasn’t even sure if people would be intrigued by FFP so it's been exciting to get such positive feedback.

What can people going on your site at the moment expect?

We have a couple of goals for FFP as a business but for now we're starting out with the blog. We're creating a space where people can share their ideas about what a feminist interpretation of foreign policy would be. We're not trying to tell people what it is but rather invite discussion. We’re publishing opinion pieces, critiques, and analyses. Whatever angle someone might find interesting, we welcome it, as long as it's constructive. I'm not a fan of criticizing for the sake of criticizing. So ultimately, the point of FFP is to be a central organising platform for these ideas. There's been a lot of buzz around ‘feminist foreign policy’ as an idea, but there hasn't yet been a central gathering place to pull these conversations together.

There's quite a few gender-equality-driven foreign policy initiatives, which I find amazing. Why do you think that is?

Because foreign policy is such an elite institution, it can seem very difficult to break into. Personally, it's the career path I want to pursue and I didn't really know where to start. I hope FFP opens the door for other people who are interested too but might think it’s not possible because they don't have the right connections or the right background. But if foreign policy is going to be relevant and progressive and significant, then it needs new voices and fresh ideas. Easier said then done, of course. But what ultimately drives this project, from a feminist perspective and speaking for myself, I'm simply tired of women being subjugated and not taken seriously in politics.

How do you plan to react to the Trump administration?

With a blog format obviously it's going to be a lot of critique and analysis. We hope to develop some tangible aspect to FFP that fuels action soon. But for now, it will be calling out Trump whenever he does something that we deem inappropriate.

How can people contribute to your site?

We welcome any submissions. If you go on our site, you can submit a pitch to us through our 'contact' page

Let's talk about you, you've just finished doing a master's degree at SOAS. What was your experience of studying there?

It was fascinating and challenging and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm from California but I moved to London specifically to go to SOAS because I knew it would be vastly different to any education I would have received in the States. SOAS is incredibly radical - I knew that before I arrived but I didn't realize how much so until I was actually there. I've always been the most progressive of the people I’ve known, and when I arrived at SOAS I thought "Hang on, what's going on? I'm in the middle of the road now! This is really funny." My classes and fellow students really pushed me to think about my identity in ways I hadn’t encountered before. I'm white and I grew up with predominantly white people in a little suburb south of San Francisco.  Before attending SOAS, I never had stopped to think much about my identity, my race, or how I fit in the world as an American. My eyes were opened to how my identity impacts other people, and how my privilege contributes to systemic injustice and racism. I credit SOAS with pushing me to think about it all, and while uncomfortable at times, I believe now more than ever it is a crucial conversation to be had. My time at SOAS was incredibly rewarding and I'm very glad I had that experience.

You have been granted a visa sponsored by SOAS to pursue FFP.

SOAS offers entrepreneurship visas as a way for international students to have the opportunity to stay in the UK a little bit longer after their studies. The idea behind it is that students develop their own business, so Dina and I decided to apply for this entrepreneurship visa with Feminist Foreign Policy. We will get no funding whatsoever, but we have institutional backing through SOAS’s sponsorship, and get their advice and guidance with our business plans.

Why do you want to stay in the UK since you could do your site from anywhere in the world?

I love London. I've always loved it. I studied abroad here in 2010 and knew that I was going to come back and live here again. It's a fantastic place to be to attempt a project with a more global scope as it's a very international city. A lot of activity around feminist foreign policy has been taking place in London.  I’ve met a ton of like minded people who are based here or at come through London often.