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Meet Our Allies: Interview with Prof. Kentaro Maeda

Gender gap is alive at the nation's most prestigious university, the University of Tokyo, where less than 20% of the undergraduate student are female. Despite the wide gender gap, Professor Maeda is one of the leading professors who supports women's empowerment at the University of Tokyo.

In this week's #HeSupports, we interviewed our advisor, Professor Kentaro Maeda from the University of Tokyo.

Learn more below about his experience with WE Int. and insightful views on the importance of tackling gender inequality as a political problem.

What was your first impression when you heard about the establishment of WE Int.?

When a couple of students came up to me after class to tell me about WE Int., I was immediately excited by the idea. Having been at the University of Tokyo for most of the past two decades, I had never heard about a student group dedicated to the empowerment of women. It was pretty obvious that our university was suffering from chronic gender inequality, but most of us weren't really having a serious discussion about it. It was great to learn that students were finally beginning to speak up against the status quo.

Why did you agree to become the supervisor to WE Int.?

Why not? Of course, feminists had long taught us that women are perfectly capable of liberating themselves, and the idea of a male professor "supervising" a female student group sounded a bit odd. I had always felt uncomfortable when explaining the concept of "mansplaining" in class. But considering the current state of affairs, in an overwhelmingly male dominated academic environment, I thought that the least I could do was to offer any support that the students needed from the faculty. And most of all, I had been waiting for something like this to happen for a long time. So I simply felt honored that WE Int. gave me this opportunity.

You teach a course called "Diversity and Inclusion" at GraSPP, which appears, from students' perspective, to be the only course that deals with the gendered impacts of public policies and the issue of intersectionality. How do you define your main objective for teaching such an "unordinary" course?

My current project is what I call "gender mainstreaming" in political science education. A typical misunderstanding about the concept of gender is that it is only related to women. In fact, gender norms affect everybody, including men like myself. For every Liberal or Marxist theory of something, there is usually a Feminist theory that explains it from a radically different perspective. However, I don't think that political scientists have given the feminist literature enough coverage in conventional political science courses. I think it's about time we treated "gender" as a mainstream concept and gave it the status it deserved. We should talk about gender when we talk about elections, or wars, or any other political phenomena. We should train both female and male students to think about gender inequality as a fundamental problem in politics. The fact that Diversity and Inclusion looks "unordinary" means that we still have a long way to go, but I am happy that a large number of male students are taking this course too.

As an academic and educator, what kind of changes do you want to see in Japanese academia in general or at the University of Tokyo?

The University of Tokyo is an excellent academic community, and I have always been happy about meeting the brightest minds from Japan and from around the world. But I think we can do better. We should create a space where students and academics from various social backgrounds can meet and exchange their ideas. The huge influx of international students at GraSPP in recent years has transformed it into the most intellectually diverse department at the University of Tokyo, and I hope similar changes will happen elsewhere too. I also think that we should encourage students to engage in political discussions more often. The situation is probably similar in other Japanese universities, but there seems to be a strong aversion among students against raising political subjects when talking to each other. Avoiding politics may be a smart strategy in a society where there is a strong normative pressure to conform to the status quo, but is it really worth staying neutral in an unjust world? I think we should provide an environment where students can be open about their different opinions without feeling the fear of sticking their necks out. That way, both the students and the faculty can learn more from each other, and ultimately, create a more robust intellectual ecosystem.

How do you think the activities of WE Int. can drive some of these changes?

The arrival of WE Int. will send a clear signal that there are students who are not afraid of challenging the system of gender inequality. I hope that WE Int. will inspire other students at the University of Tokyo to talk more openly about the problems they face in their daily lives. You don’t need to be a feminist to realize that many of our personal problems are in fact political problems that need to be tackled through public debate. The first thing that needs to be done is to point out that there is a problem, and I think that the establishment of WE Int. is a much-needed step in this direction.

Professor Kentaro Maeda

"I am an Associate Professor of Public Administration in the Graduate School of Law and

Politics at the University of Tokyo. I am also affiliated with the Graduate School of Public

Policy. I received my doctorate from the University of Tokyo in 2011 and began my career

as a pretty ordinary political scientist, specializing in the political economy of advanced

capitalist democracies. However, during the research for my first book, 『市民を雇わない国

家 A State without Civil Servants』(in Japanese, The University of Tokyo Press, 2014), I

stumbled upon the fact that the public sector was one of the main drivers of women’s

employment in many countries, and that Japan’s public sector was too small to play such a

role. An even bigger surprise was that no one had pointed that out before. Since then, my

research has focused on the causes and consequences of Japan’s gendered political

institutions. The main findings will be reported in my second book, 『女性のいない民主主義

Democracy without Women』(in Japanese, Iwanami Shoten, 2019)."