When Margaret Thatcher became a Conservative MP in 1959, she was living in a really badly run country. She was surrounded by men who like ancient warriors in New Guinea thought it was OK to go on and on and on fighting each other in endless male ritual tribal battles which never solved anything and made their country progressively poorer.
Trades unions versus business bosses; the battles never stopped. And when we had power cuts and the three day week we all had to put up with the fallout when the ritual battles got real.
Let me give you an example of 'normal' life in the 1970's pre-Thatcher. When you moved house, it took a minimum of three months to get a phone line sorted out from the nationalised 'business' called the Post Office which controlled the phone lines. Sometimes it took six months - just to get one landline and also acquire the handsets which demanded a separate difficult process - for the handsets too were nationally controlled. (None of this was true in the capitalist USA and it wasn't true in Britain after Mrs Thatcher set up British Telecom in 1980.)
When we moved house in the mid 1970's, my then partner and I pleaded for a new phone on the grounds that as journalists we had a professional and exceptional need to be connected to a phone line and should be put in the same priority category as doctors. Amazingly, we were treated to a new phone and phone line within a month. We were thrilled. It seems totally unbelievable now, but all this bureaucratic bother, inefficiency and slowness was then seen as inevitable. How we joked about the rumour that it was actually quicker to get a phone line in Soviet Russia.
As a woman with brains and ambition, Mrs Thatcher thought all this stagnation wasn't a joke. She thought she could do better. And she did. She wasn't the first woman to think like this - most women think they can do things/run things/solve problems better than men - but she was the first to seize power and to prove that her practical solutions would get better results for Britain than the tired old ideas of her male political contemporaries. In 1975 she told People Magazine:"If you want something said ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman."
She wasn't perfect and she was criticised for many things, especially her apparent lack of feminism. She definitely wasn't a traditional feminist, but, the fact that she was the UK's first woman Leader of the Opposition and then the first Woman Prime Minister, becoming the longest serving British PM of the 20th century, says a lot more than theories. Feminists believe women can lead their countries. Mrs Thatcher proved they can not only do that but be a towering political figure who changes the temperature of the water she swims in.
I remember when political arguments about a woman becoming Prime Minister always ended with the men saying triumphantly: "Well whatever you say, a woman can't be Prime Minister because a woman can't lead troops in war." Mrs Thatcher knocked that one firmly into history. And all women and men should be really grateful to her for that. After all one of the key feminist arguments is that if you don't use half the brains of your country i.e. women, you will handicap yourself in the world.
Very few people would be stupid enough to say Mrs Thatcher wasn't clever- she had a First Class Degree in Chemistry from Somerville College, Oxford, (where she studied under Dorothy Hodgkin, later the first and only British woman to win a Nobel Prize for Chemistry), and she was a successful professional working mother. She often used her 'housewife' experience in getting her political points across.
Feminists criticised her for that too, but clever women politicians have never had a good press. Remember Hillary Clinton's problems when she told the truth and said the was never going to stay home and bake cookies? So no wonder Mrs Thatcher's sometimes folksy 'housewife' approach worked in her era.
Mrs Thatcher did 'think the unthinkable' and, unlike the male politicians then and now, she actually did the unthinkable.
And yes, I do think she is a feminist icon. She faced down snobbery over her lower middle class origins as a grocer's daughter from the Midlands and defeated patronising male opposition to a woman having a career in politics. All feminists know they can run the world better than the men. Mrs Thatcher took her chances and won a small war and three elections in a row using these feminist instincts. And by doing so she inspired millions of other women to be more independent and feminist in their approach to life.