Margaret Thatcher died today. Didja notice? She was one of the most divisive and significant (for better or worse) figures in British politics, the first female leader of the Conservative Party, the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. No other woman has ever risen to the ranks that she did, held as much power within Britain as her, nor broken the barriers of the male-dominated political world to such an extent. So what did her leadership mean for women in general? Was she a feminist?
Well, in her own words, no.
“I hate feminism”, she once told her adviser Paul Johnson, “it is poison.” In the words of many others too, a resounding ‘no’, because she did not use her position to help other women. Neither did she openly acknowledge the importance of feminism for paving the way for her to achieve such power, actively claiming she owed nothing to the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Natasha Walter, however, once argued that “She normalised female success. She showed that although female power and masculine power may have different languages, different metaphors, different gestures, different traditions, different ways of being glamorous or nasty, they are equally strong, equally valid … No one can ever question whether women are capable of single-minded vigour, of efficient leadership, after Margeret Thatcher. She is the great unsung heroine of British feminism.”
This seems to me an entirely simplistic analysis that poweful female = female icon. She did not care for social equality and despite emerging as the country’s leader at the height of the women’s movement, she did not display solidarity with women. Her premiership is described by Linda Grant as “a wrong, contradictory note for feminism.” The anti-feminist, if you will.
Despite the amount of power she held, she made no attempt to progress the British government from the misogynist hub it remains today.
For many in Britain, her legacy was a destructive one; for mining communities, for unions and yes, for women. She did nothing to combat sexual inequality, sexual discrimination, nor anything to help with childcare, domestic violence or rape.
I will not be joining in with any street parties or celebrations in her death, but I won’t be mourning her either. Symbolically, her premiership was a massive leap forward for the position of women, but symbolically isn’t enough.