Feminism | Posted by Claire C on 05/29/2013

Margaret Thatcher: How An Anti-Feminist Inadvertently Contributed to the Cause

Margaret Thatcher

With the passing of Margaret Thatcher in recent months, her achievements and contributions have been much analyzed. Thatcher has been described as “the most influential politician of her generation” and a “key political figure of the twentieth century.” One area of Thatcher’s life which has been examined is her contribution to the feminist cause. This is something that cannot be overlooked, especially as Thatcher was the first (and to this day, only) female Prime Minster of the U.K. Political pundits cannot help but describe Margaret Thatcher in regards to her sex, with terms such as “Lady Thatcher” and “the Iron Lady.”

It is generally believed that Thatcher did next to nothing in the fight to further women’s rights in the U.K. For instance, there was only one other woman in her cabinet, preferring to surround herself with men whom, despite being a powerful figure, she often used her feminine charms to influence. Thatcher was described by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian as “[making] it through (the glass ceiling) and pull[ing] the ladder up after her.” Thatcher’s subjugation of women is evidenced by her lack of family-friendly policies, such as freezing child benefits and cutting spending for traditionally women-supported issues, such as healthcare and housing. She showed no interest in childcare provisions and criticized women for not prioritizing their children, accusing them of creating a “creche generation.”

But, despite these feminist shortcomings, does refusing to define herself by her gender perhaps make Thatcher a true warrior in the fight for female equality? Thatcher disliked feminism and distanced herself from it stating, “I owe nothing to women’s lib,” during her first term in power. She denounced the movement as “poison” and at no point in her premiership did she specifically attempt to the make the world a better place for women. However, Thatcher did fight to be seen purely as the Prime Minister instead of the “first female Prime Minister.” She rejected the idea that she should be marked as different from any other Prime Minister solely because of her sex, and, to the extent that she was successful, she achieved something significant for future female politicians.

Margaret Thatcher was not a feminist pioneer. She did not endeavor to further the cause of gender equality. But even if she can’t be considered a feminist icon, by rejecting being defined by her gender over her actions, I believe she did contribute somewhat to the feminist cause. Cathy Young, in Real Clear Politics states, “In the end, she is being judged by her ideas and achievements that mattered for all humanity regardless of gender.” And in that way, Thatcher, despite her political failings in regards to gender equality, surely made her mark on the history of gender equality.

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  • Kirsten @ at 3:53 pm, May 29th, 2013

    To be fair, referring to her as “Lady Thatcher” isn’t specifically a reference to her sex. It was her formal title after she became a Baroness. A Baron would have been known as Lord Thatcher. Yes, her formal title refers to her sex in that because she was a woman she was Lady Thatcher, and if she’d been a man and a Baron she’d have been Lord, but only in the same way that men are Mr and women are Miss/Ms/Mrs. Referring to her as Lady Thatcher isn’t emphasising that she was a woman, it’s just her title.
    Also, being really pedantic, would you mind removing the “England” tag from this post and replacing it with “UK” or “Great Britain”? She was UK prime minister, not just England. They’re not the same thing.

  • Claire @ at 6:00 pm, May 29th, 2013

    Hi Kirsten, thanks for your comment. You made a fair point in regards to the “Lady Thatcher” title. In regards to the tagging, that was done by the website administrators, not me, as I know that the UK and England are not the same. I’m not sure how it can be removed.

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