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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher does NOT deserve feminist praise.

Feminist Icon? Um, no.

Yesterday, Margaret Thatcher succumbed to a stroke and passed on. Her death is likely to dominate the next week or so in news cycles.

For those who don't know, she served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-90. Although she is known for her conservative fiscal policies, the dominating note of her legacy will be that she served as the first woman prime minister, especially remarkable given that she took that office more than three decades ago while the United States has yet to elect a woman as president.

Those observing the feminist blogosphere when the news broke likely noticed two things: some feminists giving a respectful "tip of the hat" to her accomplishments as a woman and most feminists decrying her legacy as a "trailblazer".

I am absolutely in the majority camp that believes her being a woman is completely outweighed by the bullshit she pulled while in office, and I'm somewhat surprised that some women were quick to rush to her defense.

To be fair, regardless of political ideology, no woman should be the subject of misogynistic attacks. Thatcher was not my cup of tea, but I'm not about to attempt to reduce her by pointing out she's a woman through juvenile and hateful sexism, and I detest the sexist assholes online who used such tactics.

But many of those defending Thatcher were seriously attempting to make the argument that her being a woman of power in politics is worthy of considerable praise.

I kept seeing different variations of this statement:

"I didn't like Thatcher, but I respect her achievements as a woman."

Really? You do?

Look, I think a somewhat reasonable case can be made for women who get into positions of power and reject gender in a consistent fashion. I'm not saying I agree with that, but I can understand (and sort of respect) the rationale.

Thatcher didn't do that. She spent her career creating policies that oppressed working women, appointed only one woman to her cabinet while in office, and generally did next-to-nothing to support women's rights.

But that didn't stop her from galvanizing conservative women with bumper sticker quotations, such as:

"In politics, if you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman."

This is one of her most famous sayings, and yet, it's really quite hollow, and she knew it was hollow when she said it. She wasn't trying to inspire women with those words; she was trying to get their votes with cheap sound bites.

In fact, that saying was a textbook example of man-bashing, and if anything, actually hurt feminism by perpetuating the ridiculous stereotype that feminists hate men.

She was a woman when it was politically convenient, but when it came to actually supporting women's rights, she was quite hostile:

"I owe nothing to women's liberation. The feminists hate me, don't they? And I don't blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison."

The narrative as it is already being shaped by international media is that Thatcher was "an unwilling feminist icon."

No, she wasn't. You don't get associated with feminism when you spend an entire career working directly against its philosophy.

If Margaret Thatcher had been a man, there would be little praise in the media and absolutely none from anyone in the feminist community. And rightly so.

Why is she any different? Her being a woman in a position of power doesn't grant her "feminist icon" status.

There has to be action behind words. And in her case, there weren't even words. You can't just say "I'm a feminist" and fail to back that up with progressive acts.

We can't reward Thatcher with feminist praise when she blatantly sold out women to get to her position.

And for the record, I sincerely question whether I deserve to be called a "feminist" on a daily basis. I constantly ask myself if I'm doing enough for women's rights. Have I earned my place alongside other feminists?

It's a question I'll spend a lifetime attempting to answer, but here's what I do know without a doubt: Margaret Thatcher does NOT deserve feminist praise.

We must be more careful in picking our heroes.

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  1. This couples nicely with what I read this morning by Diane Abbott:

    "But Thatcher was certainly not a feminist either in principle or in practise. She is alleged to have said that feminism was "poison". Far from seeing herself as a role model to female politicians, she actually promoted fewer female MPs than her male predecessors. She was the archetypal successful woman who revelled in being 'one of the boys'."


  2. Thanks for this insightful article. I'm so tired of people praising women just because they are/were women. So what? How is that praise worthy? I didn't get to choose to be woman, but I did active choose to be a good, progressive, feminist.

    Owning a vagina doesn't make you right or righteous.

  3. I agree with this so much. Seeing all the ridiculous posts on Facebook that day was infuriating. I don't care if she was a woman in power. She was a bitch and certainly not a feminist.


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