Don’t even think of calling Margaret Thatcher a feminist
A portrait left by mourners outside the home of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher after her death was announced in London Monday. (REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)
You can call her an Iron Lady, a political dominatrix, even (goddess forbid) a tough cookie. But don’t even think of calling Margaret Thatcher a feminist.
The late British leader was in fact a femme fatale in the literal sense: her policies were an axe blow to the welfare state, the union movement, financial regulation, economic and social equality and ultimately the kind of free-market capitalist system she proudly embodied.
Nevertheless, in the parade of admirers who have thrown verbal bouquets on her metaphorical coffin are successful women praising Thatcher’s “trail blazing” and “inspirational” qualities, as though she were a latter day Queen Boadicea leading a female army to victory against male hegemony.
Not so. When asked about feminism -- which means the promotion of women and women’s equality – she habitually spurned it. “Feminists hate me, don’t they?” she reportedly said. “And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is a poison.”
Feminists, in Thatcher’s view, were a species of socialist – always rabbiting on about equal rights instead of clawing their way to the top. Though she could admire women’s sensible stewardship of the family finances, and down-to-earth habit of acting rather than arguing when a crisis loomed, she never made the connection to the condition of women as a whole.
Other female leaders have done that. And women looking for inspiration could turn to former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland – a doctor, public health and environmental advocate and member of the activist Council of Women World Leaders who mobilize action for major women’s issues.
When it comes to trail blazers, few could better Johanna Sigurdardottir, not only Iceland’s first female prime minister, but the world’s first openly lesbian national leader. With an ongoing campaign for equal wages and an end to sexism, she won Iceland the media title of most feminist country.
Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who unflinchingly called women’s rights “the signature issue” of her term as U.S. secretary of state, and brought them to the fore at every turn. “We need to make equal pay and equal opportunity for women and girls a reality,” she said, “so women’s rights are human rights once and for all.” If the polls hold up, she may get the chance in 2016.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards. She was the Star’s European bureau chief based in London from 1997-2002.