We all knew Thatcher’s death was coming. She was 87 years old and had been suffering ill health for a long time. The extended obituaries are evidence enough that major media outlets had been planning for this for ages.
Tributes poured in from politicians from across the political spectrum and around the world. Apparently she was many things. I was born under Thatcher and grew up knowing (anecdotally, rather than from experience) about the damage she caused.
A lot of people have been hailing her as a feminist icon. Britain’s first and only female prime minister. Truly it’s a magnificent achievement. She smashed the ultimate glass ceiling and achieved something no British woman has achieved before or since, nor women in many other countries around the world.
But describing her as a feminist icon is misleading. In fact she is quoted as having said: “The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.” She also pronounced “I own nothing to women’s lib”, despite the fact that without the suffragette movement the first woman elected to parliament, Constance Markievicz, and the second woman to be elected to parliament and the first to take her seat in the house, Nancy Astor, would never have achieved what they did, paving the way for Thatcher and all other female MPs.
Not only did she openly despise feminism, but she did little to further the cause of women while she was in charge. In her first cabinet, she appointed only one woman, Baroness Young. In her eleven years as Prime Minister, she appointed just 14 women in the whole of her government.
On BBC news on the day her death was announced, John Sergeant was interviewed about his memories of Thatcher. He described her as “flirty”. He said he that she loved being surrounded by men and that she didn’t really like it when other women turned up.
To be a feminist icon, Thatcher should have used her time at the top to forward the cause of women. She should have highlighted the skills and abilities of women across the country and around the world. She was perfectly placed to appoint numerous women to her cabinet and show the world the force for good women could be. To my mind – quite apart from what she did to public services and British industry – Thatcher failed women everywhere.
This item first appeared as a column in the District Post on Friday 12 April, 2013.