Margaret Thatcher: a role model for feminism?

Margaret Thatcher was British Prime Minister from 1979 - 1990

Margaret Thatcher was British Prime Minister from 1979 – 1990

The death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher has been about as divisive as her life in power. A figure of many dispositions: controversial, yes. Iconic, yes. But a role model for feminism? Debatable.

Okay, so she has been known to say things that may appear to be positive for the development of women within society. Take this for example:

“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

Although it’s quotes like this that inspired the Spice Girls to use Lady Thatcher as inspiration for girl power, this statement appeals to female superiority rather than gender equality. It’s not really feminism either. Nothing about the statement is appealing to the rights of women.

Besides, it has been known for Thatcher to openly condemn the feminist movement. She once told the New Statesman: “The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.” And she didn’t really do too much in the way of developing the rights of women in the work place and very little to encourage women to get involved in politics. In fact Lady Thatcher only appointed one woman, Edwina Currie, to her cabinet.

But what I would say is that the only ever British female Prime Minister is dead. She was the first woman to achieve the position, and the last. I think this is something to celebrate. I wouldn’t go as far as President Obama and say that she showed women “that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered”, but I would say that she is an example of what is possible. After all, she was elected by the people of Britain to be their Prime Minister in three general elections.

Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have voted a female Prime Minister into office for four terms, and Norway has had a woman in charge for three. Angela Merkel is the Chancellor for Germany and she previously headed up the European Council. So why is Britain so behind?

You don’t have to be a feminist to be a positive example for women, therefore I think that Margaret Thatcher should be admired by men and women alike for her motivation to take on societal convention.

Margaret Thatcher dies age 87

Margaret Thatcher died at the Ritz hotel in London

Margaret Thatcher died at the Ritz hotel in London

Former Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher has died aged 87, after suffering a stroke earlier this morning.

Lord Bell, Thatcher’s spokesperson, said: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke this morning.”

The Iron Lady died at the Ritz hotel in London, where she has been living, following an operation in December last year (2012). Neither of her children was with her when she died.

Over the past decade, Lady Thatcher has suffered regular bouts of illness, including a series of small strokes and dementia. She is to have a state funeral with military honours at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Prime Minister David Cameron has cut his European trip short and is set to return to London following the news. The flag at 10 Downing Street is currently flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for the former Prime Minister.

Baroness Thatcher was the first, and only, female British Prime Minister from 1979-1990, winning three successive general elections. She was a former member of the Conservative Party and is a controversial figure due to her radical reforms. Her death has caused mixed reactions worldwide.

Here are some celebrity tweets in response to the news of her death:

David Cameron @Number10gov

“It was with great sadness that l learned of Lady Thatcher’s death. We’ve lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton”

Barack Obama ‏@BarackObama

“She stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.” —Obama on Margaret Thatcher’s passing

Harry Styles ‏@Harry_Styles

RIP Baroness Thatcher .x

Stephen Fry ‏@stephenfry

Was in the air when the news came in about Margaret Thatcher. Such a force in Britain through my university days through to my 30s

Ross Noble ‏@realrossnoble

Bloody typical Thatcher dies when I am in rural Australia. I hate to miss a good street party.

Lord Sugar ‏@Lord_Sugar

Baroness Thatcher in the 80’s kicked started the entrepreneurial revolution that allowed chirpy chappies to succeed and not just the elite

Rylan Ross Clark ‏@RylanClark

Getting a bit of backlash about thatcher, maybe I’m not up on history???

James Argent ‏@RealJamesArgent

Just heard Margaret Thatcher has died…Very sad news! RIP x

Geri Halliwell ‏@GeriHalliwell

Thinking of our 1st Lady of girl power ,Margaret Thatcher , a green grocer’s daughter who taught me any thing is possible…x

Piers Morgan ‏@piersmorgan

Brave, divisive, formidable, tough, stubborn, dominant & domineering, Margaret Thatcher bestrode the world like a political colossus. RIP

Sarah Millican ‏@SarahMillican75

A lot of miners are discovering they can dance today.

Johnny Vegas ‏@JohnnyVegasReal

Geography won’t allow myself to go right now but strongly suggest if you’re out in Manchester to get yerself down to @thelassogowrie #toppub

What radicalised me

I believe in gender equality. Do you?

I believe in gender equality. Do you?

I’m a feminist. I am. And sometimes, I’m not entirely sure why, but I feel embarrassed to say it. The term, more often than not, is greeted with a roll of the eyes, a funny look, a patronising conversation or a shameful glance away. I guess that’s why a lot of women and men don’t say it aloud. Maybe it’s because of the social stigma associated with equal rights activists created over a couple of centuries ago. But I shouldn’t feel ashamed because of it, and I certainly shouldn’t want to avoid the subject. Anyone who believes in equal rights for women is a feminist. So be proud and say it aloud: I am a feminist.

I went to an all girls’ school, so yes, we were often on the receiving end of lesbian jokes, sexual banter and quite degrading comments outside of school, particularly from the nearby boys’ school. I was sometimes put in an awkward position in conversation where sexual ‘banter’ was thrown around and I wouldn’t be able to catch up, or where I’d feel so uncomfortable I wanted to implode, but I would brush it aside; I thought that was how you interacted with the opposite sex.

From what I can remember, I was only made to sit through one or two ‘don’t let being a woman stop you from doing what you want to’ assemblies, and I distinctly remember looking to my friends and rolling my eyes, thinking blah blah blah. Sexism is so old fashioned, I thought. This Head Teacher (who was a woman and we never referred to her as our Head Mistress) was so out of touch. The school was a grammar school, so we were pretty much a bunch of determined young girls who aimed high, never even considering sexism to be an obstacle we would have to face.

It wasn’t until after I left school that I realised that sexism was a problem. I was being introduced to women my age or a little older, who were convinced that their partner’s career was more important than their own, that being viewed as a sexual object was necessary to gain social respect, that life would inevitably result in the giving up of a career in order to bring up children. I found myself arguing. I was suddenly challenging things that I had previously accepted to be normal. I’m not saying these ambitions are wrong, I’m saying that women who don’t know that they have a choice, that’s wrong. One woman I worked with said to me that her work was less important than her husband’s career because she will only ever have a ‘job’.

In the UK, women hold less than a third of top jobs and earn 14.9% less than men. There are only 146 female MPs compared to 502 males MPs. Why is this? Why don’t women feel the need to demand more? Like men? I don’t always blame the employer, but I do blame society for not encouraging women to achieve more. If a woman decides not to pursue her own career, then I agree with their decision. If a woman feels forced into giving up her career to look after her children, then I don’t agree.

We’ve only ever had one female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who despite being the butt of many a joke, is the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century and was elected PM in three consecutive general elections. Yet, society cannot see past her gender, sometimes blaming her sex for her faults. Male PMs are slated and hated all the time (take Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for instance) yet still we insist on voting more men into power. The future of one woman should not be determined by the actions of her female predecessor, ever. Gender should never be an issue.

And for that reason, I am a feminist.