Thatcher and women’s liberation

This is the first in a number of personal reactions to Margaret Thatcher’s death that we will be publishing on the blog.

“Was Margaret Thatcher a feminist?” Along with “Can you be a feminist and wear high heels?”, this is one of the media’s favourite questions for feminist commentators. And like the latter (equally tiresome) question, it has a short and a long answer.

The short answer? A decided “no”, from the lady herself:

The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.

The long answer? Well, it’s still ultimately a “no”, but here’s why.

Margaret Thatcher was indeed the first female Prime Minister. She made it to the top in a sexist, male dominated society. She proved, it could be argued, that women and men are equals.

But she did it on men’s terms. And she did it without sparing a second thought for other women.

She may very well have inspired and boosted the confidence of some individual women. But the key point here is that feminism – unlike Thatcher’s ideology – is not about individualism. Feminism is about liberation for all women.

Liberation for all women is not achieved when a single wealthy woman takes a position of power.

Liberation for all women is not achieved through economic policies that increase social inequality, poverty and unemployment, and decimate entire communities.

Liberation for all women is not achieved by attacking workers’ ability to organise*.

Liberation for all women is not achieved through the demonisation of gay people.

Liberation for all women is not achieved through criticising and refusing to support mothers.

Liberation for all women is not achieved through racism and support for murderous dictators.

Thatcher may have succeeded as an individual woman, but her actions cemented the structural oppressions that blight women’s lives both in the UK and worldwide. Even within the confines of the contemporary political system and her own party, she failed to support women, appointing only one woman to her cabinet during her eleven years in office.

Margaret Thatcher is no feminist icon. Rather, she is a perfect illustration of how important it is for feminists to focus on liberation, on the creation of a new society that allows all genders to be free from all forms of oppression, rather than fighting for the rights of already privileged women to gain “equality” with their male peers.

*Apologies for the rather biased BBC report – I struggled to find an alternative link.

Photo created from work provided by Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, shared under a Creative Commons licence, via Wikimedia Commons.