Margaret Thatcher: The anti-feminist

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister 1979-90

As Amy posted earlier today, Margaret Thatcher has died. She was Britain’s first and only woman Prime Minister, crashing the ancient iron gates of patriarchal politics. Though her actions can be seen as a feminist victory, she herself was not a feminist.  She once said,

“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.”

In case you need more proof of her anti-feminism, here’s another gem from the “Iron Lady”:

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

She was the polar opposite of feminist intersectionality. Thatcher’s conservatism earned itself a name, Thatcherism, a belief in free markets, free trade, competition, a small state, and self-reliance. She once said, “There is no such thing as society….there are individual men and women and…there are families and no government can do anything…it is our duty to look after ourselves.” As Education Secretary, she cut free school milk for children over the age of seven, which earned her the nick name “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.” And her domestic policies as Prime Minister “managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation,” and Thatcher and the Thatcherites slashed social programs, including housing and education. After stepping down as Prime Minister, Thatcher continued to serve the interest of the elites, working, for example, for the Philip Morris Tobacco company as a “geopolitical consultant.” She was also racist, and preferred white immigrants over Vietnamese so-called “boat people.” And she supported South Africa’s apartheid regime, calling Nelson Mandela’s ANC “terrorists.” But don’t worry. She hearted the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Today, America’s right wing politicians are using her legacy to attack the left. One Texan Republican, Rep. Steve Stockman, actually wrote ,“The best way to honor Baroness Thatcher is to crush liberalism and sweep it into the dustbin of history. What are you doing this morning to defeat liberal politicians?” Yeah! What ARE you doing? And at first glance, she appears the mother of America’s current right wing. But unlike today’s right wing, Thatcher wasn’t a total wing-nut. For example, she believed in science. As ThinkProgress points out, Thatcher did several things that the Tea Party and Republicans consider heretic: She increased taxes and believed in climate change, gun control and socialized medicine.

Overall, Thatcher can be remembered for proving that women can be as heartless as men. Which may be a feminist victory, but not one that I’m particularly proud of. And she did make history as a woman, but went on to use her power to work against the most vulnerable, including women and their children.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted April 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this. Too many people trying to use her as an example of feminism when she is anything but.

  2. Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    While I do agree with much of your sentiment that Thatcher was “anti-feminist” (though in many ways as staunchly feminist as she was its adversary), I think that we should look at the life and work of Thatcher devoid of an American/Republican appropriation of her words, ideas, and actions. In Was Margaret Thatchet a Feminist?”, The Gloss explores how her actions, words, and history are exemplarily feminist, despite her own renouncement of the term and historically-situated practice of feminism (in the UK) itself. I’ve been thinking a lot about this after speaking with Saudi woman, Reem Asaad, who does not readily agree with or assume herself to be part of any feminism, even though she believes that economic inequality must be reprimanded in the Saudi kingdom. Not all women who aid and inspire women identify as feminist; that doesn’t mean that their actions cannot be said nevertheless to typify the tenets of feminism.

  3. Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Personally, for me, her legacy is simple. I grew up with the Prime Minister being a woman. Whilst I was too young to be fully conscious of her time as Prime Minister and looking back, I disagree with many of her policies I subconsciously took away the message that it wasn’t odd to have a female leader, because we had one.

    • Posted April 9, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      It’s a tricky one though – we haven’t had one since and there’s a woefully small number of female MPs. And you could argue quite easily that Thatcher contributed to the fact that women have had little political advancement or influence since she was in power.

      So I take your point, but to refer to it as “simple” is incorrect. It’s very complicated, and not particularly pleasant.

    • Posted April 10, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      I totally get what you mean, apparently when she left power, I asked my Ma if a man could actually be Prime Minister. However, having grown up with her legacy, she really didn’t do anything to advance women or how they are treated and perceived, she herself had little time for other women.

  4. Posted April 9, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe that I’m quoting Russell Brand on this but, from his Guardian article on Thatcher’s death and legacy:

    Barack Obama, interestingly, said in his statement that she had “broken the glass ceiling for other women”. Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.

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