When I was three, I used to go to a wee playgroup in the church round the corner from my Granny’s house. I loved that playgroup, and I especially loved the woodworking table. Back in the 70s when health and safety was less of a deal than it is now, there were painted blocks that could be put together with real hammers and real nails to make all kinds of interesting constructions. Unfortunately lots of the other kids loved the woodworking table too. Getting a space was never easy, and it was always dominated by the boys.
One day, as I was idley playing with the stickle bricks, I spotted one of the boys leave the table. Seizing my chance I rushed over and started happily hammering away. I had only been there for a couple of moments, when an ill aimed thump saw one my blocks go shooting off the table and across the room. As I went to retrieve it, one of the boys who had been lurking around the edge nabbed my seat and refused to give me it back. The resulting altercation drew the attention of the playgroup manager who came over to adjudicate, telling me that I had forfeited my seat, and that I should look for other things places which had spaces. The Wendy House for example.
I looked at her with horror. The Wendy House was ruled over by a matriach called Susan. One of the oldest and the tallest member of the playgroup, she ran it with an iron fist, barking orders at her minions to clean and cook, ordering them out whenever any sign of disobedience was was shown, or when any challenge to her totalitarian leadership threatened. I was not going to the Wendy House.
As the tears started to well, one of the helpers came over and told the playgroup manager that she had seen me arrive at the table just a few minutes before, and that it was good that I had gone to pick up the block without being asked rather than having to be nagged at like the boys. And besides, girls never got a chance on the woodworking table.
The nursery manager laughed, turned to the boy and suggested that he came with her and helped put out the snacks instead. Then turning back to the helper said “Just be careful, you’ll end up turning that one into a feminist, you know“. “Whats a feminist?” , I asked the helper, as the manager walked off. “Someone who thinks that girls should work at the woodwork table and that boys should put out the snacks”, said the helper.
And with that, my little feminist conciousness was raised.