Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: Inadvertent feminist or simply successful person with breasts?

Look I was born in the 70s, so when I think if Margaret Thatcher I think of a stuffy old lady in big hats with a posh marble-y British accent.  And Meryl Streep. 

But I've learned a few things since then, and I'm not surprised at the divisive post-mortems blanketing the newsmedia.  To some she was a champion of free-markets and a lean government, a no-nonsense, stick-to-her-guns idealist who go things done, politics be damned.  To others, she was a destroyer of social safety nets and pissed all over human rights, calling none other than Nelson Mandela a "terrorist" and cozying up to right-wing dictators.  Lord knows we haven't heard the last of this polarizing analysis.

Thatcher, probably not pondering her legacy.
But one post-mortem I find a bit baffling is the one fawning all over her as a feminist because well... she achieved staggering heights in a male-dominated field while at the same time having a vagina.  Thatcher actually actively disdained the feminist movement calling it "poison" and felt the battle for women's rights was pretty much over.  Then she got down to business being a political ball buster who happened to wear a brazier, bursting open the glass ceiling for all subsequent female politicians.  

Does this make her an inadvertent feminist?

I'm not sure.  Maybe it's like sports heroes who are told that, whether they like or not, they are role models. Whether she liked it or not, she was a woman in a man's world who found a way to carve out success for herself.  In doing so she blazed a path for others, and undoubtedly inspired women on either side of the political divide.  

But the definition of feminist is not "successful trail-blazing woman," it's a champion of a social movement aimed at establishing equal social, political and economic rights for women. Here, Thatcher, rest her soul, would tell you straight out: I am not a feminist. She might even add (and this is a quote) "I hate feminism."  She did little to further any of it's goals during her time in office. 

Do we reduce feminism by claiming all successful women as somehow "feminists?"  Is a feminist defined by someone's intention or the outcome of their actions?

So, can feminists claim Margaret Thatcher? What do you think?


  1. Russel Brand wrote a blog post on the topic for the Guardian:

    "... she had "broken the glass ceiling for other women". Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism."

    Full version is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/apr/09/russell-brand-margaret-thatcher

  2. Good question, Kim, and of course, you forgot to marvel at the fact that Thatcher managed to get as far as she did WHILE HAVING A VAGINA. Which, as we all know, is a severe impediment to getting anything done, at all, or so many in the media would have us believe. Being powerful with a vagina (BPWV) does not, obviously, make a woman a feminist, but of course, most of the world (male & female) equates feminism with ball-busting, and by that definition, then, yes, Thatcher was a feminist. It's a flawed definition but one that's likely not to change until more BPWVs offer better models of what it means to be a feminist leader. Hilary Clinton comes to mind; Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, also...