The Iron Lady is as polarising in death as she was in life. While some mourn her passing and hail the late Baroness as a pioneer, others have been holding street parties in celebration of her demise. But, other issues aside, what did Thatcher do for female empowerment? Is she a feminine icon? We discuss.
On hearing of Margaret Thatcher’s death yesterday, Meryl Streep, who played the former prime minister in a Hollywood film about her life, The Iron Lady, said the following: ‘Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer, willingly or unwillingly, for the role of women in politics. To have come up, legitimately, through the ranks of the British political system, class-bound and gender-phobic as it was, in the time that she did and the way that she did, was a formidable achievement.’
The key section of Meryl’s tribute to Thatcher is the part where she acknowledges Thatcher’s perceived unwillingness in becoming a symbol of female empowerment. Because, although on the very surface Thatcher seems like the ideal feminist icon, she appeared to feel little solidarity with women.
One thing is certain, Thatcher disliked feminism, saying, during her first term in power: ‘I owe nothing to women’s lib.’ This idea is affirmed by her biographer, Allan Mayer, who wrote that ‘in Margaret Thatcher’s view, her sex is an irrelevancy, and she is annoyed by people who make too much of a fuss over it.’
A quick review of her actions while in power does little to shatter the view that Thatcher didn’t put women’s issues at the top of her agenda – she froze child benefits, accused working mothers of creating a ‘creche generation’ and during her entire tenure in Downing Street only appointed one woman to her cabinet (Janet Young). She also did little for female issues such as rape, domestic violence, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual inequality.
Instead, Thatcher was tirelessy ruthless, doggedly ambitious and saw her gender as largely irrelevant. She was a woman in a man’s world but rarely acted that way. She led by example. Was pro-achievement and didn’t see the need to force equality for women.
The arguments will rage on about Margaret Thatcher’s policies, but one fact remains: she was the first, and so far, only female prime minister this country has seen. And, because of that, showed women it was possible to reach the top rank.
Is Thatcher a feminist icon, see what she had to say in her own words:
‘Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.’ (1979)
‘The battle for women’s rights has been largely won.’ (1982)
‘In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.’ (1965)
‘I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it.’ (1975)
‘The women of this country have never had a prime minister who knew the things they know. And the things that we know are very different from what men know.’ (1979)
Do you think Margaret Thatcher is a symbol of female empowerment? Let us know in the comment box below.