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Margaret Thatcher - Trailblazer for women?

Posted: 05/04/2013 17:07

When Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, she had ticked not only one box, but another much larger one. She was from a working class background, which is a contrast to the middle-class, Oxford-educated background that a large number of Tory MPs are from. More importantly, she was female, certainly attacking the typical stereotype of a male Tory boy. A few years later, she became the first (and hitherto still the only) female Prime Minister of Britain. She transformed the economy, introduced a range of Neo-liberal policies, many of which were unpopular, and led the country to victory in the Falklands War, earning the title of 'Iron Lady', and rightly so. It is therefore not surprising that Margaret Thatcher has been titled one of the greatest Prime Minister's of the last five decades, in a recent poll (February 2013) carried out by thecommentator. In addition, Thatcher ranked 6th in a poll carried out by the Daily Mail (March 2013) in a list of the most inspiring women of all time, surpassing the likes of Michelle Obama, Princess Diana and Hilary Clinton.

This of course is an achievement, but what did Margaret Thatcher actually do for the rights of women? When she became Prime Minister, there were only 27 female MPs in Parliament, and when she left office, this number had only increased by 16. Taken at face value this suggests that women were clearly not rushing to grab seats in Parliament and transform politics. It is not as if Thatcher was fighting for policies such as statutory maternity pay or a change in social attitudes towards women. Rather, she was advocating Laissez Faire economics, inspired by her special relationship with President Reagan in the United States. She wasn't your typical female, portraying a more sensitive side or softer attitudes towards issues. Arguably, Thatcher got to where she did by acting like a man. When asked what she wanted to eat, she would reply with "steak", typically a "man's" dish. She was a female Prime Minister with a male's attitude.

But it is too easy to criticise Thatcher. When she became leader of the Conservative Party, several members of her own party thought it was strange. They, alongside many other people, thought that it would be impossible for Thatcher to juggle a career in politics, be a mother, and, dare I say, a housewife. However, this was no different to a woman pursuing a career in banking, or law or even medicine. Just as in politics, these careers require meeting the needs, and often demands, of people, whilst balancing motherhood and household duties. The only difference in Thatcher's case was that she was in Politics, a field so male-dominated, that she surprised many people, including those in her own party. Perhaps the only way she could prove herself was to not play the traditional or stereotypical notions of a woman, but rather, show characteristics of a man. Whilst many will say that there is a glass-ceiling and women are still not reaching the top positions in employment; Thatcher broke the boundaries as to where a women can reach in the workplace - she became Prime Minister, thus showing women that anything is possible if you really want it.

Just because Thatcher was a female, it did not mean that she had to help women. Once she had achieved her aim of becoming Prime Minister, she had her own agenda. If helping women was part of it, then great; but if her policies did not necessarily benefit women, she was not going to change them. For Thatcher, her position and her achievements were due to meritocracy. She did not get there because of positive discrimination, but rather due to competency. Her policies had to reflect the needs of the country as a whole, the economy and International Relations. Just because she was a female, it did not mean that she had to do anymore for women than a male Prime Minister would. She said herself that "If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing" - Margaret Thatcher. Consequently, as a female myself, and in general, the female population, need to understand and appreciate that.

Nevertheless, whilst not openly advocating policies for women; merely Thatcher's position as leader of the Conservative Party and subsequently Prime Minister, showed women that in a rather male-dominated world, women could achieve something. This does not mean that every female has to enter into politics to show men that they are 'Iron Ladies', but if anything, whatever a man could can do, a woman can also do. The fact that the USA, a Superpower, has never had a female Prime Minister shows just how far Britain has developed in contrast, with regards to women in Politics. Yes, there is still a gender imbalance in our British Parliament, but there is nothing stopping women from changing that, and Thatcher successfully proved that.

 

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