Margaret Thatcher – Was she good for feminism?
I owe nothing to women’s lib.
…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.
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 creches – 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 unparalleled 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.
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 circles 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.
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 upto 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 worldly 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