Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher - Was she good for feminism?

, 16 August 2001

I owe nothing to women’s lib.

Margaret Thatcher

…Mrs Thatcher’s success was built on other women’s failure, and

she [had] a vested interest in keeping them in their place. As Prime

Minister, she once wrote to the 300 Group, set up in 1980 with the

aim of getting at least 300 women MPs into Parliament, …’Progress is

being made but at a slow pace. We want lots more women coming forward,

lots more chosen.’ But she showed herself to be remarkably resistant

to the idea of promoting them once they had made it into the

House of Commons. In her eleven years in office, Britain’s first woman

Prime Minister failed to put another woman into her Cabinet of twenty

or so males, with the short-lived exception of Baroness Young. Her

ministerial appointments amounted to only eight women, only one of

whom rose higher than the ranks of junior minister.

Susan Faludi, Backlash

Everybody hated Margaret Thatcher but I think she had a tough

time because when you have a woman in power she’s called a bitch,

but if it was a man it would be like, ‘Go for it, you’re really

doing it.’ If it’s a woman, it’s like, she’s being malicious.

Caroline Abomeli (aged 15), You Go, Girl!, in On The

Move: feminism for a new generation

The Original Spice Girl.

Geri Halliwell

The Spice Girls… don’t understand that trumpeting milk-snatcher

Thatcher is like any woman or person of color cheering on Clarence

Thomas – an man who voted against affirmative action any chance he

got. (Politically, Margaret Thatcher was Reagan with ovaries. Women

didn’t gain much under her prime ministership in terms of equality.

Everyone did get a dashing of stereotypes surrounding female

leadership, which certainly counts for something.)

Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, ManifestA

Anyone who has watched her will know… that Thatcher is

ambivalent about such a role [as ‘grand matriarch’ of the

Conservative party], as she has been about every traditional

feminine role. She is, on the contrary, a patriarch. Her heroes

are her father and Winston Churchill. Her great strength is in

bringing together masculine and feminine. As Beatrix Campbell

wrote in her fascinating book, The Iron Ladies: ‘She has

not feminized politics… but she has offered feminine

endorsement to patriarchal power.’

Susanne Moore, Head over Heels

Margaret Thatcher is a problem, because people don’t like her…

But if you think about it in the sense that she was a woman Prime

Minister, she’s impressive, not inspiring, but impressive. She’s made

a real impression.

Julia Press (aged 18), You Go Girl!, in On The Move: feminism for

a new generation

Many people believe that the secret of Margaret Thatcher’s

success as Britain’s first female Prime Minister, and indeed one

of the reasons for her rise to power, was that she managed to

distance herself from women and women’s issues. For the eleven

years of her premiership she kept able women away from the higher

echelons of government; she froze child benefit… A working mother

herself, she criticized others for condemning a generation of children

to the ‘chaos’ of workplace chreches – if only there were some, most

mothers felt – and, by implication, to an adult life of vice and

violence. Ironically, throughout the 1980s every other woman in

Britain had to suffer the constant reminder that feminism was

redundant and that unparalled opportunities were open to women: if

a woman could occupy 10 Downing Street, she could do anything.

Naomi Wolf, Fire with Fire

Just think, the women of this country have never had a Prime

Minister who knew the things that they knew, never, never. And the

things that we know are very different from what men know.

Margaret Thatcher

In spite of her own remarkable achievement and in spite of all

[the] indicators of progress, many feminists have found it

difficult to embrace Margaret Thatcher and what she came to

represent. Indeed it has become the conventional wisdom within

some intellectual cirlces to portray her as positively

anti-feminist… Whether you love her politics or hated them, she

offered us all a model of female power that was no longer just in

the realms of fantasy, but gritty reality. To this day, Margaret

Thatcher remains a constant reminder to us all of how much she

transformed the prevailing relationship between women and power:

how much she upset the natural order of things.

Helen Wilkinson, The Thatcher Legacy, in On The Move:

feminism for a new generation

The best compliment they [men] can give to a woman is that she

thinks like a man. I say she does not; she thinks like a woman.

Margaret Thatcher

It is perhaps the anticlimax following this mass entry of women

into a male bastion [at 1997 General Election] which has led

commentators such as Helen Wilkinson to re-evaluate the legacy of

Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street years… Free market feminism –

the concept that, given notional equal access to the economy, it is up

to women to realise their potential by competing in the modern

workplace – is certainly Thatcher’s legacy to women… It is nakedly

individualist, racist, promotes competition within a meritocracy, and,

given all these things, is the stance most likely to cause women to be

downtrodden in the wake of one power-feminist success. Thatcher’s

legacy is a complex one, yet it is not suprising that a woman so

vilified during her prime ministerial years would now be ripe for

rehabilitation. However, her rise to supreme power at the 1979

General Election is marked by the strange ‘coincidence’

(remembering that she had been party leader since 1975) that

during this election there were fewer women returned as MPs that

had been the case for nearly thirty years.

Imelda Whelehan, Overloaded

The inability [of feminists] to accept worldy female power is most

clearly shown in the way that the women’s movement disowned Margaret

Thatcher… Women who complain that [she] was not a feminist

because she didn’t help other women or openly acknowledge her debt

to feminism have a point, but they are also missing something

vital. She normalised female success… No one can ever question

whether women are capable of single-minded vigour, of efficient

leadership, after Margaret Thatcher. She is the great unsung

heroine of British feminism.

Natasha Walter, The New Feminism

I don’t care if Margaret Thatcher was the devil, it meant so much

to me that I was growing up when two women – she and the Queen – were

running the country.

Oona King MP, as told to Natasha Walter in The New Feminism

Mrs Thatcher was not just another British Prime Minister… she was

the first woman to do the job. This fact, this singular achievement,

is used time and time again in answer to women who complain about the

discrimination they suffer in their everyday lives. If Mrs Thatcher

could do it, the argument runs, so could anyone else. The unspoken

implication is that the woman making the complaint simply has not

tried hard enough… Sometimes the argument is taken even further…

as evidence not only that unparalleled opportunities are open to

women… but that there is now a definite advantage in being

a woman. …But to discuss Margaret Thatcher in terms of a positive

meaning for women is a mistake; there isn’t one. …Her success lay in

her ability to perform a trick, one which was both clever and

successful but nevertheless dishonest, and it was this: to all intents

and purposes, Mrs Thatcher disguised herself as a man. But, and it is

an important but, she never renounced her right to claim the

priviledges of a woman.

Joan Smith, Misogynies

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