Perhaps it is ironic, but women’s leadership has never been a topic that has captivated my attention. Since I was little, I have heard my mom’s stories about not being allowed to wear anything besides dresses for most occasions, about growing up at a time when there were no sports for women, about fighting for women to represented and supported in all professions – inside and outside the home. That is her passion. But, perhaps because of the battles her generation fought and won, women’s rights have never been an issue for me in the same way. I grew up dressed in overalls and climbing trees, I played highly competitive soccer from the time I was 10 all the way through college, I excelled at my classes and my work, I was never told that I should not do something as a girl or a woman. I know there are still issues for women, both in the States and in Japan, and I don’t mean to make light of them. But they have never been obstacles to me in my life; I have never been made to feel frustrated or ashamed to be a woman. Quite to the contrary, I have come alive through friendships with my close girl and women friends, I have felt that coming into adulthood is intrinsically interwoven with coming into the strengths of being a woman. So, coming into these connected dialogues in Kyoto and Tokyo, I wondered about the topic of women and leadership and where it would lead.
In Kyoto, we piled a cozy twenty-some people into a few rooms an apartment, welcomed by Akatsuka-san’s hospitality. The World Café conversations I was a part of there were patient, rich as we talked about nurturing new leadership – both as men and as women – that was based on a fabric of relationships rather than top-down control. This type of leadership felt like something one could do, that I could do – we talked about being present with authenticity and intention and the spaces this can open up. We speculated… maybe this more subtle form of leadership, based on presence and relationship, is something women naturally bring forth. We ate homemade cookies and dozens of Japanese treats and drank tea and talked some more.
In Tokyo, we met in a room under a shrine. Literally. A beautiful room under a elegant modern shrine in the midst of Tokyo’s busy streets. Planning for this event had been going on for some time and all the threads come effortlessly together (or so it seemed thanks to the incredible work of the Japanese hosting team). There was a different sense in the room in Tokyo, more of a planned workshop than the atmosphere of cozy get-together and conversation in Kyoto. We heard stories from my mother and Aya-san and then were off into rounds of World Café. I listened mostly, trying to work my way through the Japanese, and was struck by the stories I heard. One woman talked of growing up in rural Japan, in a family where her parents did not want to support her education because she was a woman. Another talked of trying to find her own happiness, the things she loved doing, to balance the difficulty of raising a disabled child. They were hard things; things I have never had to encounter.
The flow from Kyoto to Tokyo was interesting; the same theme but two different places, different groups, different conversations. Maybe what I take away is too small even to be seen, but it is a realization of the assumptions that I had, and that still are a deep part of me – the things I take for granted and expect. I take for granted that I can do anything as a woman, anything that I choose to do and fight for; I take for granted that I can choose to be independent; I take for granted that I can take strength from being a woman; I take for granted all of these simple things and so many more. All of this that I take for granted, all of this was fought for. And I offer thanks.
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