The Myth of the Iron Feminist

It came to my attention yesterday that the former PM, Margaret Thatcher, has passed away.

This, in itself, is old news – more interesting is the way this development found its way throughout the hubbub of the train and into my book-focused conciousness.

A student, returning from the Easter break, exclaimed to her friend that the Iron Lady had died, to which her companion dryly responded, ‘Justice.’

Surprised by her reaction, the first student asked how she could be so callous, to which she again responded, ‘she was a callous woman. An evil woman.’


For many outside Europe, the bitterness with which many Britons greet the news is fascinating – for those appalled by British vitriol, Maggie was Meryl, a feminist and a scion for women in politics.

In Britain she is synonymous with political tyranny, miner’s strikes, snatching milk from toddlers in kindergartens and the Falklands War.

Over the Channel, she locked horns with the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as she contended the reunification of East and West Germany, made peace with Mikhail Gorbachev and tensed relations between Britain and France.

Across the oceans, the legacy of the Falklands War continues to rear its head and Argentina continues to shake a tireless fist over the Malvinas Islands.

For those unswayed by her record in international relations, the fact that she committed such bold acts warrants an applause for furthering the role of women in politics and a swarm of memes comprising tired quotes of ‘If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done,ask a woman’ have been unleashed.

But herein lies the rub: she may have been the first female Prime Minister, yet this does not make her a feminist.

Over at Feministing they highlight this disparity, and to encourage you to read the article in full, I comprise but a few quips from Thatcher herself on the female cause:

The battle for women’s rights has largely been won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. I hate those strident tones we hear from some Women’s Libbers.


The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.

For Thatcher, being at the top was a matter of personal victory – any man, or woman, that threatened her power was greeted with equal disdain.

Couple this with the fact that she never promoted a woman from the Commons to the Cabinet during her time at Number 10 and the reality that Thatcher was less an icon for female empowerment and more a factor contributing to dis-empowerment emerges.

So let us not fall into the tired routine of deifying the dead – the memes and proclamations of ‘what she did for women’ ring empty.

As Frankie Boyle tweeted, ‘Looking forward to hearing about who found all the horcruxes;’ and so that chapter in British history (save for the ill-legacies) closes.

See also:

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This entry was posted on April 9, 2013 by in Feminism, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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