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Guest blog: Natasha Walter says we should acknowledge Margaret Thatcher's achievement in breaking the male domination of politics

(73 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 08-Apr-13 15:01:53

As you may already know, it's been announced that Margaret Thatcher died this morning, following a stroke.

MN Blogger Natasha Walter (author of 'The New Feminism' and 'Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism') argues that, whatever we may think of Thatcher's political legacy, we must acknowledge her astonishing achievement in becoming this country's first female prime minister.

"I agree with those who say that, even now, at the moment of her passing, we should not sanitise the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. But nor should we deny her achievements. As the outsider who pushed her way inside, as the woman in a man's world, she was a towering rebuke to those who believe women are unsuited to the pursuit and enjoyment of power.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a book in which I said:

"Let's start with Margaret Thatcher. No British woman this century can come close to her achievements in grasping power. Someone of the wrong sex and the wrong class broke through what looked like invincible barriers to reach into the heart of the establishment. Women who complain that Margaret Thatcher was not a feminist because she didn't help other women or openly acknowledge her debt to feminism have a point, but they are also missing something vital. She normalised female success. She showed that although female power and masculine power may have different languages, different metaphors, different gestures, different traditions, different ways of being glamorous or nasty, they are equally strong, equally valid ? No one can ever question whether women are capable of single-minded vigour, of efficient leadership, after Margeret Thatcher. She is the great unsung heroine of British feminism."

Nothing I have ever written before or since has brought so much fury on my head. Obviously, Thatcher was no feminist: she had no interest in social equality, she knew nothing of female solidarity. I was always aware of that. I come from a radical Left-wing family; she was the target against which we raged. I was there on those Embrace the Base and Stop the City marches where we chanted so passionately against her: Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out Out Out!

This anger against her still feels fresh and real, and rightly so - because her legacy still lives on in the policies of the current government, their contempt for the public sector, their stigmatising of the poor. But I hope that her achievement in breaking through the male domination of politics can nevertheless continue to be recognised. And it really was her achievement; she was not a consensus politician or a coalition-builder. As Hugo Young said about her, "She did not want to be liked." That is unusual in women, but it was vital for her success.

Although I find it impossible to identify with Thatcher or sympathise with her, her extraordinary ability to walk that lonely path of power cannot be brushed aside. I think that those of us who grew up when she was running the country began to take it almost for granted that women could wield power - more, that women could relish power and mourn the passing of power.

That's a lesson I fear my daughter is growing up without ever learning. When she thinks of a powerful personage, she thinks naturally of a man in a grey suit; when we thought of a powerful personage, we thought also of a woman with a throaty voice and a string of pearls. I wonder when we will achieve the lasting change which will mean that the next powerful female leader in the UK is not a one-off... and I fear that change might still be a long time coming.

Natasha Walter is the author of 'The New Feminism' and 'Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism'

Alibabaandthe40nappies Mon 08-Apr-13 15:24:41

I'm not sure that she did break the male domination of politics. There hasn't been a female leader of a mainstream party since.

bellaellaella Mon 08-Apr-13 15:29:16

But she did nothing to help other women! As you acknowledge, she was no feminist. She achieved power for herself, not for womankind. Did she pave the way for further woman leaders? No. Let's not celebrate a woman who caused as much damage as this one, just because she held a position of power.

Donki Mon 08-Apr-13 15:35:46

Exactly Bella

SuffolkNWhat Mon 08-Apr-13 15:38:19

She got into power behaving like a man and stayed there for the same. She did more harm to feminism in the 80s than good. She was misogyny in a dress and pearls.

yousankmybattleship Mon 08-Apr-13 16:00:12

What Bella said. If she is a heroine of british feminism God help us all!

CrikeeThree Mon 08-Apr-13 17:52:15

What Bella and Suffolk said.

meditrina Mon 08-Apr-13 18:14:54

She did it. Which showed that it's possible for a woman to it, and from a state school background. That others haven't since isn't because of gender as an absolute obstacle.

SuffolkNWhat Mon 08-Apr-13 18:29:14

State school background and married to a millionaire

LineRunner Mon 08-Apr-13 18:47:39

Sorry but Natasha Walter's analysis is facile on class.

timidviper Mon 08-Apr-13 18:50:26

Margaret Thatcher once said there is no such thing as society or something similar. Her approach was every man for himself and she did exactly that in her career.

Yes she broke into a male dominated world but that was achieved with the benefit of her husband's money and she did nothing to help or encourage any other women onto that path. If anything she made it harder so, no, I'm afraid I don't see much to celebrate.

Xenia Mon 08-Apr-13 18:57:40

She was wonderful and transformed the nation. Loads of feminist admire her, just not on mumsnet which seems to be populated by Guardian reading low earners.

The suggestion that certain values are male or female is very very sexist indeed.

She transformed the fortunes of this nation and allowed a generation of women to get ahead.

yousankmybattleship Mon 08-Apr-13 19:03:20

Xenia. I'm a low earner. Not because I lack education or a work ethic but because I choose to work in the voluntary sector providing a direct service to the most vulnerable in our society. Not something to be sneered at.
I'll agree with you that Thatcher transformed the fortunes of this nation though. She undermined public service and destroyed whole communities of hard working, decent people.

LineRunner Mon 08-Apr-13 19:22:09

Bored with Thatcher now.

Loooking forward to the truth, though, about what she oversaw. Criminal behaviour. Immoral behaviour. Nepotism.

aftermay Mon 08-Apr-13 19:26:11

'Guardian reading low earners' Just what are you doing on here, Xenia? You can't seem to be able to keep away. You sound bitter and unhappy and that's generally, not just today.

Januarymadness Mon 08-Apr-13 19:42:44

She did something for me as a child of her time. I never ever saw my gender as being a barrier between me and anything. I was born into a country that had a female monarch and a female pm. It never occured to me that I was the wrong sex or the wrong class. I only found my gender and working class background to be a problem when I was well into my 20s trying to establish a career in the middle of an old boys club.

creighton Mon 08-Apr-13 21:57:59

what is natasha walter on about?

mt was an outsider who pulled the ladder up after she climbed it using her husband's money.

she was abetted in her 'lonely walk of power' by her mates keith joseph, alan walter and an assortment of lads who wanted to do the working classes down.

all i get from the piece above is that natasha walter is a rich girl playing at being left wing. why doesn't she go and get a real job and see what it is still like for women, old women, young women, minority women in this society? if natasha walter is so concerned about her daughter not having throaty voiced feminist leaders to guide her, why didn't ms walter take up the gauntlet of lonely path walking and set an example? oh no, she preferred the rich left wing stance of making a living by writing tripe and not contributing anything other than hot air to society.

everything mt did was for herself and her rich mates. she is nothing to be admired.

also, can someone tell me why xenia is obsessed with low earning women?

creighton Mon 08-Apr-13 22:00:35

did mt inspire her own daughter to do great things, as a great feminist leader?

Lessthanaballpark Mon 08-Apr-13 22:11:43

"just not on mumsnet which seems to be populated by Guardian reading low earners."

Aw, it's comforting to know that even though Maggie's gone, her spirit will always live on in Xenia's posts...

Not quite a full house...

yousankmybattleship Tue 09-Apr-13 08:22:23

SolidGold grin

Xenia Tue 09-Apr-13 08:27:08

Certainly she had huge support in this country from all classes and was noted in and served longest of any prime minster of the last century. It is right what is said above - those of us who grew up at a time of a female monarch and female prime minister. Plenty of women did so very much better with that inspiration. She had and has much support.

MissAnnersley Tue 09-Apr-13 09:36:56

That is a great link SolidGold.

sieglinde Tue 09-Apr-13 11:19:23

She didn't appoint any women to the great offices of state...

solidgold, wonderful link.

Xenia, she earned peanuts; she MARRIED MONEY. Xenia, are you listening? She was everything you inveigh against. She was dependent on her HUSBAND.

MmeLindor Tue 09-Apr-13 11:58:09

I don't think that Thatcher did anything for women, or for feminism but as a symbol of what women could become, she was inspiring to many girls.

And perhaps she shaped our political futures, by giving us an 'anti-heroine'. A living ghost of Xmas past, and future if we did not have compassion and respect for our fellow women.

Be driven, be passionate, believe in yourself, but not at the expense of others.

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