UCL News


Spotlight on... Jessica Ringrose

14 June 2022

Jessica, Professor of Sociology of Gender and Education at the IOE, talks about her work advocating for diverse representation of women and girls... and reveals why she won't apologise for her love of astrology. Tune in to the latest REF podcast to find out more about her work.

Professor Jessica Ringrose

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am Professor of Sociology of Gender and Education at IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society, and I co-direct the UCL Centre for Sociology of Education and Equity. My role involves research and teaching about social justice and education with a specific focus on gender and sexual equity, inclusion and rights. I also co-run an AHRC funded research network called ‘Postdigital Intimacies’ which works to reconceptualise the entanglement of online and offline and public and private experiences in the age of digital and particularly social media. Finally, I help to run another global network Phematerialism.org which brings together scholars, artists and practitioners interested in feminist posthumanism and new materialism in education

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I have been at UCL since 2006 and prior to that I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Cardiff University, after graduating with my PhD in Sociology from York University in Canada.  As a Canadian, I feel privileged to be a part of the global UCL academic community.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I am extremely proud of the impact generated through the Mayor of London ‘Women We See’, project which identified a lack of diversity in public representations of women and girls in London in 2018. Using a range of creative, arts based innovative methodologies to research women and girls lived experiences of advertising in London spaces and places, we developed a set of recommendations for the advertising industry to create more inclusive and diverse representations of women and girls in relation to size, ability, religion, race, sexuality and more.  The findings informed a UK wide competition for more inclusive advertising, which 90 brands entered. The winner was featured in the TFL, but the recommendations sparked industry wide transformation including changes to advertising standards, the effects of which are evident in more diverse and relatable advertising in the UK in 2022.

In recognition of my longstanding advocacy and public engagement work I was awarded the 2020 Distinguished Contributions to Gender Equity in Education Research Award, from the American Educational Research Association. I am proud that my feminist educational research has been recognized internationally in this way.

I’m delighted that UCL have chosen to include my project to showcase their 2021 REF research impact. You can find out more about my research by either reading the impact case study or by tuning into the UCL podcast ‘Where research transforms the women we see’.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

My current research explores young people’s experiences of technologically facilitated sexual and gender-based violence and how to reduce online harm through educational interventions.  My latest report (2021) is Understanding and Combatting Youth Experiences of Image-Based Sexual Harassment and Abuse and can be found here.

Importantly, the findings from this report have informed a new criminal offence of cyberflashing in the new Online Safety Bill because of a recent law review which used the evidence of online sexual harassment experienced by teen girls in our research to propose changes to the law and how we understand online harms. More information on this can be found on the IOE website.

I am also currently carrying out an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project “Combatting gendered, sexual risks and harms online during Covid-19”, developing resources for young people, parents and schools. This project looks at the impact of increased screen time on young people during COVID-19 pandemics and the challenges when they returned to school after lockdowns. While digital technologies helped young people feel connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, they also opened them up to risks and harms, such as grooming, sextortion and image based sexual harassment and abuse, including peer to peer abuse. For this research project, academics working alongside a sexual education charity and gathered evidence through surveys, focus groups and interviews with students, parents, and teachers / safeguarding leads across England about the technology-facilitated sexual and gender-based harms experienced by 13 to18 year olds during the pandemic.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

As a Canadian feminist of a certain age, of course my favourite album is Jagged Little Pill, by Alanis Morrisette, full of feminine complaint, rage and resistance!! My favourite film is Thelma and Louise, the great women escape artist film; and novel? – that is tricky I am an avid fiction reader, for ease I’ll put down Cat’s Eye from another amazing Canadian artist Margaret Atwood. This novel is looking at femininity and aggression and how forbidden and taboo it is.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Joking is a tricky topic as a lot of humour relies upon denigrating other people to create an in-group sub-culture; I would rather tell you that I have written about how feminist humour has gone viral on social media where women use humour to fight back against oppression. Some examples include: women rejecting and reclaiming the notion that ‘feminists are ugly’; women countering man-spreading (where men take up too much space on public transport and women take humourous photos and post them on platforms) and women and girls troubling dick pics (when men feel entitled to send their parts to whomever unasked for and women use the opportunity to either out the culprit on social media, or respond with witty comebacks).  I can really get behind creative feminist humour!!

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I would love to revive Virginia Woolf for a lunch date in Bloomsbury where she lived and worked and where UCL's campus sits now.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to follow your heart and your gut feelings. In my undergraduate in the 90s people around me told I was crazy to take Women’s Studies or focus on gender issues and I should get a marketable career. I would say that being passionate about social justice and fighting inequity is the most important guide and I’m glad I listened to my idealistic younger self. So actually, I would get my younger self to tell my older self to stick with idealism, hope and belief in things getting better! You can make change if you “stay with the trouble” to quote another famous feminist philosopher Donna Haraway.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I love astrology and I won’t apologize for it! I don’t think being a scientist should block you off from other types of belief systems, and we are seeing more and more hybrid thinking bringing in other forms of belief and meaning making to challenge the dominance of western Eurocentric scientific thought all the time!

What is your favourite place?

I love the seaside, and it can be anywhere in the world as I travel a lot to be with family. Whenever I am by the sea I feel calmer and connected to everything around me and better able to channel the positive energy I need to recharge and stay well in this ever faster paced life of ours!