Was Margaret Thatcher A Feminist?

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher – a woman who was or was not a feminist – died this morning at the age of 87. She was the first female Prime Minister in the UK. She died of a stroke after a long struggle with dementia. There are a lot of different people who will describe her in a lot of different ways. She was known for her strong stand against the miner’s union, and her close relationship with Ronald Reagan, and the words you use to describe her might depend on how you feel about those topics. However, whatever you feel about those things, it’s still worth remembering that she was the first female Prime Minister in the UK.

I think our friend Hugo Schwyzer made an interesting point when he said that:

Margaret Thatcher Hugo Schwyzer

I think that’s true. I also think it is worth remembering that when Margaret Thatcher was Secretary for Education in 1974, women in Britain could not sign for their own credit card, mortgage or loan. And she managed to be the Secretary of Education.

Does that, then, make Margaret Thatcher a feminist?

Well, it certainly makes her a very strong woman, and one who had to undergo some of the struggles feminists deal with on a regular basis and should relate to. She was frequently dismissed by members of her own party for being a “grocer’s daughter.” That wasn’t some bizarre insult, she was, literally, a grocer’s daughter.

It’s not surprising, then, that she was given to quippy turns of phrase that are appreciated by some members of the feminist movement like, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

Regarding her economic policies, she also claimed, “My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” That seems to fit very closely with the feminist notion that women and men deserve equal pay for equal work.

Thatcher also defied any notion that men had at the time that a female Prime Minister would be too “soft” given her refusal to be moved by… anything. The lady was not for turning. Interestingly, in a recent Reuter’s Poll 40% of men voted her Britain’s most capable Prime Minister, while only 32% of women did.

Truly, Margaret with her great strength and willpower seems like she ought to be an icon for the feminist movement. Except.

Except she really hated feminists.

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    • Daniela

      Oh, thank goodness. I was beginning to worry that something had happened to you, Jen, since I didn’t see a post about Maggie when I checked this morning.
      Also, good points.
      But mostly, I’m glad you’re alive.

      • http://twitter.com/JenAshleyWright Jennifer Wright

        I mean, I spent a lot of the morning weeping and gnashing my teeth, so that took up some time.

    • jamiepeck

      She was so not a feminist. I think I explained why in my last article on feminism. http://www.thegloss.com/2013/04/04/culture/sheryl-sandberg-lean-in-socialist-feminism/

      • seriouslyjamiepeck

        it’s almost like people don’t have to agree with your views! shocking!

      • Benita

        Best. Username. Ever.
        Sorry Jaime, all of us self identified feminists do not have to tick off all the boxes in your socialist wishlist to be feminists.

      • jamiepeck

        The first and most basic thing necessary to be a feminist (or join any social justice movement, for that matter) is to be willing to think collectively and systemically, which is something Margaret Thatcher was very resolutely against.

      • MR

        Agreed. But she was eccentric and wasn’t afraid of the male Tories (Conservatives), and I will always respect her for that.

    • Eileen

      I don’t know if she was a feminist, and to be perfectly honest I don’t really care. There are a lot of really cool women in history that I admire for screwing sexism and having their way, and most of them weren’t feminists. Lady Thatcher (or now that she’s dead, do we go back to calling her Mrs. Thatcher?) acted like any other powerful politician, except she did it while being a woman, a wife, and a mother during a time when my grandmother needed a letter of permission from her husband to take her kids to the doctor. And I will always get a kick out of that.

    • Alessandra Martellacci

      I don’t think a key factor in this discussion has even been broached. Margaret Thatcher did not need feminism. She did it. She became a full fledged, equal person. She did everything feminism wants for women without dipping her toes in the pool of feminist collective. Her successes and failures do not belong to women at all. They belong to humanity. Feminism is a (very vital) philosophy dedicated to helping women realize humane conditions all over the world. We are not supposed to be divided as a species; men and women. We are supposed to be human beings. She was. There is no need to read Nietzche if it is already known that god is dead. Why give her the traits of feminism when she had no need for the philosophy of it, because she lived it?

    • jamiepeck

      Now I’m going to quote Lynne Segal, who is much more concise than me: “Some women have argued that it was Thatcher who provided the best role model for helping women release their true potential. No she did not. She was the perfect role model for the ever deepening gulf between women, as the privileged few have been able to rise to the very heights of political or corporate power, even as the majority of women, affected at every turn by the rolling back of welfare and the politics of individual success she promoted, are ever more firmly left at the bottom of the heap.”