An iconic prime minister: She was a giant; her gender just a footnote
by Barbara Donnelly Lane
April 14, 2013 12:00 AM | 1279 views | 2 2 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Maggie Thatcher was a boss. She led her country out of economic calamity—a period of crushing debt and runaway inflation—to an era of sustained prosperity in which the British people were able to forget their Winter of Discontent and return to the glory of being a relevant European nation.

Dare I say she brought to the U.K. a sense of hope and change? Even her enemies concede her time in office was transformational.

Like a modern reincarnation of Queen Elizabeth I, Thatcher had the “heart and stomach of a king.” She was the Iron Lady because she did not flinch in the face of tyrants but stood tall for freedom. Even Moscow acknowledged Lady Thatcher was a conviction politician with courage unbending. Yet it has been contended by some on the left that whilst she was the U.K.’s first — and only — female prime minister, she did not advance the cause of women.


It is true that Thatcher viewed “feminism” as a “poison” for which she had nothing but disdain. Instead of waxing on about the limiting qualities of her naughty bits, she insisted on being judged as a serious power broker who cared little for the reductionist nature of identity politics. The reality that she was a woman is secondary to the fact that she was a great leader.

For women like me who want to be judged for our individual talents and contributions — not for membership in some “sisterhood” that dismisses gender differences whilst clamoring loudly for special treatment — she was inspirational.

Unlike a queen, she did not inherit her position. She came from relatively modest means, the daughter of a grocer. She won scholarships that paved her way to Oxford. There — almost a century before Betty Shanahan, CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, proclaimed “In a white-male dominated environment … (women) think there’s something wrong with them, but there is something wrong with the environment,” to explain high female dropout rates from STEM programs — Margaret Thatcher was getting on with it and becoming a chemist.

Additionally, a strong-willed and opinionated Margaret first ran for office before marrying her husband. This is an important distinction because British feminists like Rachel Roberts of The Independent have implied that only through her marriage was Thatcher able to have the economic wherewithal to take risks and pursue her political ambitions.

Roberts notes, “Margaret Thatcher’s rise to the top really says that behind every successful woman, there must be a man of means — if not a rich daddy, then a wealthy husband.”

Apart from being utterly dismissive rot, how is that not sexist?

Does Rachel Roberts really think that a woman who went to Oxford on scholarship, worked as a chemist in the 1940s and had the gumption to run for a seat in parliament isn’t entitled to a little clap on the back for raising herself up by her own high-heel straps to improve her position?

The fact that Margaret chose Denis Thatcher to become her life partner does not open the door to attack. It further illustrates her good judgment.

When Hadley Freeman writes in The Guardian that Thatcher “wasn’t a feminist icon, and she wasn’t an icon to women,” she also seems to have missed the plot entirely when it comes to women like me.

Sure, Thatcher can’t — and wouldn’t even want to — wear the “feminist” label I personally abhor. But she will always be an icon — even a hero for some women — because she was accomplished, brilliant, and worth emulating.

After all, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger told the Wall Street Journal, “(Thatcher) was the most distinguished British prime minister since Churchill.”

This is the kind of high praise that should impress people most.

You see, I don’t admire Margaret Thatcher for simply breaking a glass ceiling in British politics. I also do not care whom she appointed to her cabinet. She inspired me because her formidable accomplishments have measured up with nary a reference to the footnote that was her gender. She was a giant.

What could be more modern or liberated than that?

Barbara Donnelly Lane lives in east Cobb, formerly lived in the United Kingdom and blogs on the website.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Concerned Citizen
April 16, 2013
Beautifully written and straight to the point! I wish our politicians today would show the backbone that she showed when it comes to dealing with our national debt. She knew how to prioritize.
April 14, 2013
I think you nailed it, Ms. Lane.
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