My first ‘proto-political memory’ comes from when I was a young primary school child, perhaps 7 or 8, being asked several times something along the lines of “what do you want to be when you grow up, a nurse or a teacher?” I remember resisting that categorisation, not wanting to be pigeonholed. At the time, I don’t think I saw it as being about gender or power, but I refused to answer the question. I see it as ‘proto-political’ in hindsight. It is clearly gendered but that wasn’t how I thought about it then.
I have a strong memory of being introduced to the idea of collective action. When I was 8 or 9, in primary school, the boys used to play football at lunchtime on a football field behind the school. When it was time to return to class, they always took a long time to leave the football field and get back into the classroom. The girls were there on time, and so spent longer at their desks. I commented on this to our male football-enthusiast teacher, who suggested to me that the girls could go on strike and refuse to start before the boys. I can’t quite remember whether we did actually go on strike but this moment has stuck with me very vividly, for the realisation that we didn’t have to accept this unfair state of affairs and might have strength in numbers. I am not quite sure i would call this ‘political’ exactly.
The definitely ‘political’ memory is of attending a demonstration supporting abortion before the Irish Abortion referendum in 1992. Aged 16, with a schoolfriend and her feminist mother, I went to my first demonstration. The genius chant “get your rosaries off our ovaries” probably contributed to this moment being so memorable. I remember feeling slightly awkward and self-conscious but reasonably confident in my position. I don’t remember it as a political awakening or beginning of a commitment to activism or as showing me the excitement or power of being part of a crowd, or anything marvellous like that. Yet evidently it made an impression.