Today, the Baroness Thatcher (after her retirement from politics, she was given a peerage) was laid to rest. In death as in life, Margaret Thatcher poses problems for feminists. As the first and the only female Prime Minister of Great Britain, she shattered a ceiling whose hardness resembled granite more than glass. Yet once in office, she did not fit the role expected of women pioneers. She did not merely part company with contemporary feminists. She disdained and ridiculed them.
The feminists hate me, don’t they?” she asked in a 1982 interview, three years into her tenure as Prime Minister. “And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”
“I owe nothing to women’s lib,” she announced, and many feminists gladly returned the compliment. They have accused her of pulling up the drawbridge behind her once she had gained entry into the corridors of power. They have noted that in her eleven years at Ten Downing Street, she appointed only one woman cabinet member, and that one was to a rather unimportant position in the House of Lords. Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post blogger, has recorded Thatcher’s place in feminist history. Or rather, her lack of place.
Look at your average list of Female Trailblazers and Great Women in History and Women Leaders — Ashley Judd’s there, Chelsea Clinton, even Princess Diana — but there’s a giant hole shaped like the Iron Lady. The Guardian’s list of 10 Best Female Pioneers includes Coco Chanel and Kathryn Bigelow, but Margaret Thatcher? Go fish.
The Guardian’s list of the Ten Best Female Pioneers includes Eva Peron, but Thatcher’s nowhere to be seen. She does make About.com’s list of Top 100 Women of History, but then again, so does Rosie the Riveter, who is literally a fictional character.
Yet Thatcher’s position on feminism was more nuanced than her critics, and Thatcher’s own dismissive comments, might suggest. Continue reading