I am a Male Feminist: Book Talk at the Nagoya University Gender Research Library

Gender balance, and improving the accessibility of high-quality public education at Japan's national universities to women, is a hot topic in recent years, and for good reason. Female student numbers come in at less than 20% in some fields, and analysis shows that this is not because of a lack of good potential students. According to researchers who have studied the issue, universities have an image problem. Teachers, parents and potential university applicants do not see major STEM-oriented universities as a place where they will feel welcome and be able to thrive, and are simply not applying.


For universities to address this problem, they need to show the public that they are taking steps to include women and girls, and taking visible steps to increase awareness of gender issues on campus. In 2015, Nagoya University joined the United Nations HeForShe campaign, which aims to get men and boys participating in gender equality initiatives. In 2017, the Nagoya University Gender Research Library (GRL) was established. GRL is the first university library in Japan specialising in gender research and feminism, and is open to researchers, students and the general public.


The Gender Research Library on Higashiyama Campus


GRL holds regular events, most of which are open to anyone. One of these is the Book Talk, in which library staff, Nagoya University researchers or students introduce a book that has caught their attention recently. I had the pleasure of joining July's Book Talk, which was hosted by Rino Maruta, who is in the second year of her master's degree at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Rino's research is on social psychology and criminal psychology, and she works as one of GRL's part time staff.


Perhaps fittingly given her area of interest, Rino gave a talk about the book I am a Male Feminist by South Korean writer Choi Seungbeom. A teacher at a boys' school, Choi wrote the book as an introduction to feminism to boost men's understanding of issues that they may not have personal experience of. As such, the book touches on issues such as gender roles in the family, instances of sexual violence and victim blaming, and the importance of men learning about the experiences of women and the significance of feminism. "I think this book is a great introduction to feminism," Rino explained. "I feel like anyone less familiar with the topic would find it to be a great introduction. Japan faces the same problems [as South Korea] such as the pay gap and glass ceiling, so the subjects covered here are absolutely relevant to us too."


Rino Maruta giving her talk


"We started holding the book talks at the beginning of 2023, and we've done 17 of them since then," Mariko Sakagawa, who organizes the events, told me. "Most of them have been given by our graduate student staff, but the library staff and faculty have given talks too. Gender research has a humanities-focused image, but we've had graduate student staff from all over the university including from the Graduate School of Engineering."


The Gender Research Library holds around 20,000 publications on gender, feminism and social sciences in multiple languages. A purpose-built space for learning, study and communication, it puts Nagoya University at the forefront of gender research in Japan.