Emily Casey interviews Lucy Jones from the School of English
Emily Casey: Your research focuses on gender and sexuality within sociolinguistics, what first attracted you to this field?
Dr Lucy Jones: For me, when I was an undergraduate and first learnt about sociolinguistics, we learnt about: language and gender; language and class; language and age, and there were all of these ideas about gender which were entirely based on the assumption that men and women are white, middle-class straight people. As a young gay woman, I felt really excluded from that and I thought “surely this idea that women behave in this way is based on lots of factors, particularly whether they’re straight or gay?”
Since my PhD, my interest has become much more about younger people and their experiences with the increased awareness of things such as the importance of education for young LGBT people, importance of recognition in schools and the importance of supporting young transgender people. It became evident to me that I could use my position as an academic, with the prestige and resources that come with that, as a platform to do research that could help make things better for young LGBT people. I now work with young LGBT people, find out about their experiences and I then use that to talk to people like Stonewall and put proposals forward to the government about how things could be better.
“The law was that schools have to teach about these issues, but it’s been watered down because of a lot of controversy”
EC: Do you think that things have got better?
Dr Lucy Jones: Yes definitely, things have got better. But there are still quite a lot of blocks, for example many organisations, such as Stonewall, have celebrated the fact that the government have brought in a new law, relating to sex and relationships education, which says that schools should consider LGBT issues. Originally, the law was that schools have to teach about these issues, but it’s been watered down because of a lot of controversy. Subsequently, the law has been watered down and now parents can refuse for their children to be part of this education if it is happening, and schools can opt out of teaching it entirely.
In reality, there’s a lot of talk about things getting better, but in terms of the nuts and bolts of it, there is still a lot of work to be done. This is particularly important for children from less privileged backgrounds, as they may go all the way through school without anyone saying “it’s okay to be anything”- and that’s something that I think is really important.
“If you’re a woman who puts yourself in public, then you are automatically vulnerable”
EC: Have you ever faced about backlash or controversy over your published work?
Dr Lucy Jones: I’ve had a bit of trolling on Twitter, but nothing too major. I think if you’re a woman who puts yourself in public, then you are automatically vulnerable, especially as someone talking about LGBT issues because it’s quite a sensitive area, particularly around things like transgender as there is a lot of debate around that at the moment. But within the academic community, there is a queer linguistics community of people who do research into these sorts of issues, so there is support for what I’m saying here, rather than backlash. It’s only really people who don’t like women speaking up and talking about things that have a problem with what I’m saying.
“Feminism is no longer a dirty word”
EC: You teach a module here called “Language and Feminism”, so would you identify as a feminist yourself?
Dr Lucy Jones: Absolutely! What’s interesting about that module is that when I first started teaching 10 years ago, I taught a module at a different university called “Language and Gender” and I vividly remember asking a lecture theatre who identified as a feminist, and not one person put their hand up. Now, we have over 100 students choosing the optional module called “Language and Feminism”. So, society has changed; feminism is no longer a dirty word. Feminism is more than just women’s rights, it’s about gender, sexuality and everything that happens to constrain us and prevent all people- no matter what their gender- from living the life they want to live and from having equal opportunities. It’s great to see on “Language and Feminism” that there are plenty of male students, and plenty of people who identify as non-binary, queer and straight- it’s a really diverse mix.
I think there’s a real recognition that actual work has to be done to make things better; it’s not enough just to talk about it…
EC: Would you have any advice for female students, particularly LGBTQ+ students, who may be concerned about going into further academia?
Dr Lucy Jones: I think institutions like this university are really doing a lot to campaign for equality diversion and inclusion (or EDI). For example, we’ve now got a Pro-Vice-Chancellor for EDI, Sarah Sharples, which has come into place since we’ve had our new Vice-Chancellor, Shearer West, who’s our first female Vice-Chancellor. I think there’s a real recognition that actual work has to be done to make things better; it’s not enough just to talk about it, you actually have to put things and policies into place. In this sense, I would say things will just keep getting better in terms of equality, as long as people are willing to work and fight for it. So if there are people who are thinking “I’d like to academia but I’m not sure it’s the place for me”, then I would say: you have to find your people, be willing to put yourself out there, but also have the support around you to enable you to move forward and push forward. It’s about finding these people and joining forces with them.