Letters from TZ

Death of an ‘Icon’ Lady

The last time I wrote about Margaret Thatcher, it was the eve of the Kenyan election. She was still alive and the Kenyan question was yet unanswered. As I write this, the Baroness is dead and Uhuru Kenyatta is president. On that occasion, I referred to Thatcher as the longest serving British Premier, which of course is untrue. Woman is to error. There are others who served longer terms than she did, but history will certainly remember her as Britain’s first female Prime Minister (so far, the only one) and the longest serving Premier of the 20th Century.

She left and indelible mark on Britain’s political landscape, drawing lavish praise and stinging criticism in equal measure. The Iron Lady was a strong woman – many times the only woman – among men, but rather than defer to their masculinity, she took them on with enviable grit and fortitude. If ever there was a symbol of ‘girl power’, Margaret Thatcher was it. She was an independent woman who took many tough and unpopular decisions without apology.

The Baroness ruled with a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach that was blind to issues of gender. She wasn’t a woman who used her position to empower other women simply because they were female. She was her own person and expected everyone else to be as well. Many took offense to that. British journalist, writer and avowed feminist Julie Bindel is one of them.

Bindel recently penned a scathing attack on the former Premier’s legacy, saying that Thatcher was in no way whatsoever, a feminist. “To suggest so is an insult to the many women who sacrificed their lives to make things better for women, when she was responsible for making things much worse,” Bindel writes for the UK’s ITV news. “She despised women, she despised feminism, or any concept of equality for anyone who experienced oppression.”

In the article, Bindel accuses Thatcher of not liking women, because she refused to appoint any to her cabinet. According to Bindel, Thatcher believed that women ought to stay home and raise their children. The inference being that the Iron Lady thought she was the only female worthy of leadership – the only woman strong enough to tough it out with the big boys.

Bindel has the right to her feministic sentiments, but let’s face it, politics is an arena for the bravehearted. And Margaret Thatcher had all the bravery in the world. She had the gumption to make the hard decisions and she to deal stoically with the fallout.

Actress Meryl Streep, who played Thatcher in ‘The Iron Lady’, a role for which she won an Oscar, had this to say: “To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas – wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now – without corruption – I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle.”

I agree. Wholeheartedly. The lady, like she so famously said herself, was not for turning. She led by the courage of her convictions, “wrongheaded or misguided as we may see them now”, and that was admirable.

She was under no obligation to single women out for special treatment. Her role was to lead the British people, collectively, and also as individuals who were capable of choosing their own destiny. She asked the individual to rise to empowerment, whether they were rich or poor, male or female. Empowerment is the mainstay of the women’s movement, is it not? Why then should Margaret Thatcher be relegated to the gutter of feminism history?

Are feminists failing their own ideology by branding Thatcher a bitch for refusing to treat the female collective as a cause that needed saving? According to Bindel, the Baroness refused to accept that the majority of women do not have the privilege she had, including a rich partner, and lots of childcare provision. Does she therefore disregard Thatcher’s respectable working class background? She was after all, as Michael White of the Guardian reports, “a grocer’s daughter, born above the Grantham shop.” Or does she imply that women cannot advance without the assistance of a rich partner? Either way, it doesn’t look good.

At the end of the day, whether she was a ‘true’ feminist or not is insignificant. She was true to what she thought was right. And that, when all is told, is all that really matters.