The Trinity Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies name embodies the forward-thinking and inclusive entity that the Centre has become. Originally established in 1988, the Centre changed its name from the Trinity Centre for Women’s Studies. It now includes gender, acknowledging non-binary genders and the neccessity of studying masculinity and feminity equally. Its mission is to promote the study and discussion of gender and women in teaching, research and outreach at Trinity.
This progressive ethos is shared by its current director, Dr Catherine Lawless. Dr Lawless has been the director of the Centre for eight years, since she returned to Trinity as a professor. Dr Lawless described the feeling of returning to Trinity from her professorship at the University of Limerick as, “a feeling of coming home.”
Speaking with Dr Lawless about the origins of the Centre, she relates that it was due to the dedication of only a handful of women, that the Centre was created, usually in addition to their normal jobs. . Dr Lawless noted how the beginnings of the Centre came about as a, “…collaborative project with women in Trinity who felt there wasn’t enough gender being taught.” Although the Centre was founded in 1988, it was not officially incorporated into the Trinity School of History and Humanities until 2005. Regardless, the Centre had been active within Trinity before its inclusion in the School of History and Humanities, through its organisation of conferences and the running of the MPhil in Gender and Women’s studies. Dr Lawless, “…knew of the Centre when [she] was doing [her] PhD because of its support for conferences [she] was involved with…it was very much a strong and thriving entity.”
What she is most passionate about in regards to the work of the Centre is, “…our teaching… both in the M.Phil and also now, at the undergraduate level, where we have introduced courses on gender in the School of Histories and Humanities. These courses enable students who are passionate about feminism and equality to develop skills in critical analysis, debate, research and writing. Helping them to be confident in those skills is of enormous importance in creating a better, more equitable society.
“There were and are extraordinary women in Trinity and it is they who must be credited with creating a supportive space for women.”
While the Centre was expanded in the last year, there are still only two full-time members of staff working for the Centre. Dr Lawless acknowledges the limitations that only two staff members can accomplish, but is excited by the growth. She hopes it is a sign of the Centre being taken more seriously by Trinity in the years to come.
Dr Lawless considers helping Trinity achieve the gender-equity goals of the Athena Swan as another task for the Centre to undertake. Trinity, as well as all higher level institutions in Ireland, have signed up to the Athena Swan initiative. The initiative is a gender equality program aimed at addressing the disparity women in academia face in regards to opportunity and gender.
Within Trinity, Dr Lawless believes that the Athena Swan can be used to examine, “structural issues,” that are contributing to gender imbalance, for women and men, in professional academic and administrative roles. Athena Swan can ultimately help higher level education institutions, like Trinity, address issues relating to the gender pay-gap and the ‘leaky pipe-line.’ The ‘leaky pipe-line’ refers to the women who start careers in academia, but fail to actually progress to the rank of established chairs or full professor in their respective fields.
“There is work to be done and under the direction of Dr Catherine Lawless, the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies will continue to focus its efforts on promoting increased awareness and advocacy for gender, feminist and LGBTQ related issues at Trinity.”
“Trinity was radical in its admission of women to read for degrees,” Lawless explains, “so it has in some ways been a pioneer in women’s rights, but it was ambivalent about the spaces women could even participate in, let alone thrive in.” Students at Trinity have very tangible reminders of the legacy of blatant sexism, none more apparent than a statue of a Provost who actively worked to prevent women being admitted to Trinity that sits in front Square. However, the overwhelming evidence that women can not only achieve as students, but now as lectures and members of faculty is now just as obvious as the statue of Provost Salmon. Now our challenge in the 21st century is to give support and respect where it is due. Dr Lawless says, “There were and are extraordinary women in Trinity and it is they who must be credited with creating a supportive space for women.”
“A lot has been done, but there is still a lot to do.” Some of the challenges that face Trinity in the attempt at becoming an institution with no glaring gender-related issues, are obstacles to collaboration between Trinity’s schools, which have historically been in competition, and “no funding” for the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies. Dr Lawless believes Trinity needs to reform parental leave and reintegration schemes. They also must fill the continued vacancy of Equality Officer as well as create a vice-presidency for Gender Equality. However, it is clear that Dr. Lawless has faith in Trinity’s ability to triumph over its issues of gender inequality, describing the college as “forward-looking.”
“…feminism aims to help everyone, female, male, gender-neutral, queer non-binary… Harmful sexist attitudes and policies hurt everyone.”
For Dr Lawless, the attitudes and prospects for this generation of students is cause for hope. Dr. Lawless believes, “this generation is a lot less binary… the country has transformed.” From a dedicated gender academic, the acknowledgement of the societal liberalization that has occurred in Ireland’s recent history indicates an uplifting sense that progress has been achieved. There is work to be done and under the direction of Dr Catherine Lawless, the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies will continue to focus its efforts on promoting increased awareness and advocacy for gender, feminist and LGBTQ related issues at Trinity.
“In a world in which a self-confessed sexual predator is President of the United States, in which women and children continue to be trafficked and sold,” and “rape continues to be a weapon of war,” Dr. Lawless believes that the existence of the Centre is “critical.” In the eyes of Dr Lawless, “feminism aims to help everyone, female, male, gender-neutral, queer non-binary… Harmful sexist attitudes and policies hurt everyone.” We as a student-body and faculty have the power to stamp out the legacy of sexism in academia and with leaders like Dr Lawless, it could be sooner rather than later.