“Why are there so few women at the University of Tokyo?” A revealing poster displays real comments made to women on UTokyo campuses



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“Why are there so few women at the University of Tokyo?” A revealing poster displays real comments made to women on UTokyo campuses

This content contains sensitive topics that may trigger flashbacks, especially for individuals who have experienced gender discrimination. Viewer discretion is advised.

Since May, the UTokyo Gender Equity Initiative #WeChange has been running a new project dedicated to addressing gender bias. We began by posing the question “Why are there so few women at the University of Tokyo?” and displayed it across the campus from Wednesday, May 1 through Monday, May 20. We have now put up a poster that visually showcases one of the underlying causes of such gender disparity, aiming to encourage thoughtful discussion within the UTokyo community.

What are the headwinds that could obstruct women’s educational/career paths?

Despite a growing awareness of gender discrimination, outdated gender roles deeply rooted in gender biases still prevail. For instance, the University of Tokyo, with its predominantly male faculty and student body, mirrors these ongoing gender biases. Seemingly innocuous remarks such as “You are a girl, so a local college is good enough” or even ostensibly well-meaning words like “It is a male-dominated world; are you sure you are okay?” can cloak underlying gender biases. At the University of Tokyo, we label this type of language that could potentially undermine women’s ambitions and impact their future opportunities as “#Headwinds” of negative speech. Our goal is to confront and eliminate these gender biases by identifying and calling attention to such statements. The quotes on the #Headwinds posters are taken from actual remarks made to 687 students and researchers at the University of Tokyo, who contributed to our survey.

Following the feedback from our survey, we have taken steps to prevent flashbacks.

The poster we have displayed has a semi-transparent “Question Poster” overlay to caution viewers about potential flashbacks. This precaution was adopted following feedback from survey respondents who reported trauma related to past experiences. Please consider the deep emotional impact these words might have before you decide to turn over the poster.

Words displayed on the poster

*This list was created from words collected in our survey.

・We can pay your brother’s tuition, but…
・If you can’t get a job, just find some guy with money.
・Why not go to a local university?
・A woman who’s good at math is basically a guy inside.
・Just marry rich and live happily ever after♡
・Guys don’t like girls from Todai.
・I prefer cute, silly girls over smart ones from Todai.
・Grad school? What’s the point for women?
・Todai? But you’re a girl.
・You’re a girl. Don’t wait another year to take the entrance exam again.
・Women aren’t cut out for research.
・You’re not very feminine.
・Who cares where a woman got her degree?

・It’s a man’s world. Can you handle that?
・You’re pretty cocky for a woman.
・A fancy degree won’t help you find a husband.
・Now that you’re married, you don’t need to work.
・If you want to do research, you should give up any idea of having kids.
・You’re a woman, so you don’t really need to work.
・Women can be hard to work with.
・Part of a woman’s job is to be nice.
・For a woman, you really care a lot about research.
・You can bring your female perspective to your research.
・You don’t need to find a permanent position, do you?

・Having women around really brightens the place up.
・It’s usually the mother who picks up and drops off kids at school.
・It’s fine for you to have a job, but don’t forget the housework, too.
・People will think your husband doesn’t earn very much.
・Young kids really need their mothers.
・You want a promotion even though your kid is still little?
・It’s not good for a woman to be so loud and assertive.
・Important positions shouldn’t be given to women.
・Wow, she can do it all! Both work and family!
・We need your sensibility as a woman.
・I feel sorry for your children.
・We’ll reach out to the mom if anything comes up.
・If you don’t need the money, why not just stay at home?
・Your husband is so nice to let you work late.

The poster features insights from alumni of the University of Tokyo.

Here we introduce the alumni who contributed to our project, along with the remarks they received:

Ms. Lena Okajima

Ms. Rena Okajima,
CEO of ALE Co., Ltd.

Throughout her education—middle school to university—she was told:
“A woman who’s good at math is basically a guy inside.”

This project has shown me that little has changed since 30 years ago. Although there have been some improvements, I sincerely hope that we can one day eradicate all unconscious bias.

Ms. Mayu Yamaguchi

Ms. Mayu Yamaguchi,

a New York State lawyer

She recounted a comment from a former boyfriend:

“I prefer cute, silly girls over smart ones from Todai.”

Clearly, the issue goes beyond mere words. When I began my career, I became aware of the structural obstacles that can impede one’s progress. While changing how we speak alone won’t solve everything, I hope it can at least help unfurl our wings of potential, allowing us to soar high, unimpeded by the verbal headwinds.

The leaflet is also available

The leaflet that provides further information about this project and the UTokyo Gender Equity Initiative #WeChange is available on campus and here (※Be sure to read from the 1st page).