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Margaret Thatcher - Feminist Icon?

(244 Posts)
OnlyANinja Mon 09-Jan-12 11:06:58

The Guardian asks a number of influential women (apparently) but I'd rather ask MNers.

sashh Fri 28-Dec-12 04:46:52

National archives havve released plans from 1982 which would have brought in charges for education and health care. Do you think men or women would more affected by this?

SantasBigBaubles Mon 17-Dec-12 02:19:44

If Obama, America's first black president hadn't turned out to be a nice guy but instead turned out to be a total, I mean total arsehole. Who did nothing to raise a finger for minorities or the poor or the needy. If he had been a black George Bush, let say.. would you really think it still wasn't an historic event for the African American community? That young black girls and boys in schools were able to say actually, there is something that looks like me in the white house. Maybe I can be the next president.

British girls know they can be prim eminister, they know they can. They also know they have not got to be sweet and girly and try to make everyone like them to do it.

MaryJane69 Mon 17-Dec-12 01:59:47

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

sashh Mon 17-Dec-12 01:37:29


Have you worked in the NHS? Under the Thatcher government some of the iniatives included not being able to refurbish a ward / building. You could knock one down and build another in the same place, then the government could say "we have built x new hospital wards".

If you were in credit at the end of the year you lost that amount the following year, if you went over budget yoou were fined. So at the end of the year things were done to spend the last bit of budget. An entire empty hospital that was due to be demolished was decorated and a perfectly adequate car park retarmaced.

And 'patient events' - that was the worst thing.

Non of this improved health care, improved patient experiences, or saved money.

As for being voted in, well how many people in Scotland voted for her? How many in South Africa?

Expats in South Africa voted for her in droves because she would not impose sanctions, she also encouraged trade with apartheid Souh Africa and referred to the ANC as 'terrorists'.

On a personal note I was earning about £4000 a year when the poll tax came in.

The year before I paid rates of just over £100. My poll tax bill was £2000.

Abitwobblynow Sun 16-Dec-12 19:54:55

From the Wall Street Journal: (because I was thinking, what did she do?)

First, the word "Lady." Mrs. Thatcher was the first and only woman ever to have led a major British political party, and remains so to this day. She was the first woman prime minister in the English-speaking world and the longest-serving British prime minister of either sex since universal suffrage.

Even in 2011, only one important Western country—Germany—is led by a woman. Whatever the sterling qualities of Chancellor Angela Merkel, one must judge it highly unlikely that she will be the subject of a major feature film 20 years after she retires. Mrs. Thatcher was, in effect, the one and only woman. That unique status still fascinates.

And this Lady was first called "Iron" not by her admirers but by her enemies. After becoming leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, Mrs. Thatcher opened a new, controversial front in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. She questioned the then fashionable idea of "detente." Soviet communism, she argued, should not be accommodated. It should be overcome—by repairing the defensive military strength of the NATO alliance and by holding out to the subjugated peoples of the Soviet bloc the promise of Western liberty.

Not many people in the West agreed with her at the time, except one Ronald Reagan, and he was just an ex-governor of California with a dream of running for president.

After Mrs. Thatcher had made a couple of stirring speeches on this theme, the Soviet Red Army newspaper Red Star christened her "The Iron Lady." In doing so, it intended to make a satirical comparison with Otto von Bismarck, the 19th-century "Iron Chancellor" of Germany and to paint her as rigid and harsh.

But Margaret Thatcher immediately saw her opportunity in the insult. There is nothing better than being feared by your opponents. "Iron" means strong. For a woman to be so attacked proved that she had graduated, before she had even become prime minister, into world politics. So she put on her prettiest (red) gown and made a speech embracing her new title. She has been the Iron Lady ever since.

After more than 11 years in power, Mrs. Thatcher left office against her wishes (and without electoral defeat) in November 1990, the victim of a coup by members of her own party.

For some time after that, her reputation went into partial eclipse. The fall of the Berlin Wall vindicated her policy toward communism, but it also made her seem obsolete. Although her economic, financial and trade union reforms prepared the ground for the boom years of the late 20th and early 21st century, her style was out.

Gain without pain was the theme of the new generation of politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. When Mr. Blair first came to power in Britain in 1997, his signature tune was "Things Can Only Get Better."

Optimism had always been part of Mrs. Thatcher's appeal, too, but it was of a more rigorist kind. Gain comes because of pain, she believed. Nothing can be done without personal effort. Hard truths must be told, dragons slain. Hers was the politics of "either/or." As Peter Mandelson, Mr. Blair's chief strategist, liked to put it, theirs was the politics of "both/and."

“My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day's work for an honest day's pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.” - Thatcher in 1981

From 2007, when the credit crunch first loomed, it started to become clear that "both/and" was going bust in the Western world. The beliefs, the style, the leadership of the Iron Lady all began to look relevant once again. People wanted their leaders to confront problems rather than to brush them aside. They began to look for some iron.

And since 2010, as the debt problem gradually mutated from individuals to banks to entire countries, one of Margaret Thatcher's loneliest battles—her effort in the late 1980s to stop the integration of the European Community (subsequently given the grander title of the European Union)—has begun belatedly to win respect.

The euro was planned against her wishes and introduced after she had left the scene. Seventeen of the EU-27 member-states are part of the euro zone. Now some of them—most notably Greece—are plain bust, and many of them are under the threat of lower credit ratings. Last week, the EU leaders met yet again (by one count, there have now been 17 of these crisis summits) to try to rescue the entire system. They seem, judging by market reaction, to have failed once more. You could almost hear the Iron Lady's well-modulated tones calling "I told you so" from the wings.

What did she tell them? In essence, Margaret Thatcher's views about the relationship between money and politics are simple—her critics would say reductive. In 1949, when, as a 23-year-old, unmarried woman, Margaret Roberts was adopted as a Conservative parliamentary candidate for the first time, she said: "In wartime there was a slogan 'It all depends on me.' People seem to have forgotten that, and they think it all depends on the other person."

"Don't be scared by the high language of economists and Cabinet ministers," she went on, "but think of politics at our own household level."

She wasn't scared, and she never really deviated from such doctrines. They acquired great resonance in the 1970s, when inflation and excessive government borrowing and spending had become the norm. Indeed, they won her the general election of 1979. She preached that a household—and, most particularly, the woman who runs its weekly budget—knows that you cannot ultimately spend more than you earn and that you must "provide for a rainy day."

The same mythical housewife, Mrs. Thatcher asserted, also knows that if you do not provide you cannot be certain that anyone else will. Living beyond your means leads to dependency instead of independence, and dependency leads to degradation.

This was as true for nations, Mrs. Thatcher maintained, as for individuals. She was quite sophisticated enough to understand that nations can and sometimes must borrow and spend on a huge scale. She respected the teachings of John Maynard Keynes, while being highly suspicious of the subsequent generations of left-wing "Keynesians."

But she stuck to her household verities. If Britain could better align what it spent and borrowed with what it earned, then the country could trust the native skills of its people to do the rest. It would once again stand tall in the world and make its own decisions.

It would be hard to deny that Mrs. Thatcher succeeded in bringing some of this about. The top rate of income tax was 98% in 1979 and 40% by 1988. In 1979, Britain lost 29.5 million working days to strikes; by 1986, the figure was 1.9 million. When she started, Mrs. Thatcher had to deal with the most deficit-laden nationalized industries in the developed world. When she finished, the idea of privatization had become the most profitable piece of intellectual property ever exported by a politician.

What is also true, however, is that the sternly prudent housewife ushered in an era in which most citizens were much freer to borrow than in the past. She got rid of the cartel of building societies that had rationed the supply of credit to house-buyers in Britain. More people became owners for the first time, but the less happy consequence was that millions of people began to borrow heavily against their houses, leading to a bust shortly after she left office.

In her determination to open markets to the world—five months after coming to power, she abolished all exchange controls on foreign currency—Mrs. Thatcher left an ambiguous legacy. In 1986, her "Big Bang" in the City of London abolished the commission system for stockbrokers and broke up the old City club. The prohibition of proprietary trading went. The separation between commercial and investment banks ceased. Foreign banks, notably American ones, moved in. What everyone now hates and fears as "casino banking" could not have happened without these changes.

Many accused her of promoting the greed that she personally deplored. The veteran British commentator Sir Peregrine Worsthorne encapsulated this critique of Mrs. Thatcher with vivid unkindness. She set out, he said, to reform her country in the image of her father (a hard-working, puritanical Methodist grocer) and ended up creating a country in the image of her son (a wheeler-dealer who pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2005 to charges related to helping finance an abortive mercenary coup in Equatorial Guinea).

It might be fairer to say that the West today is suffering from welcoming the sunny side of Thatcherism while forgetting its minatory aspects. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took on board the ideas that markets matter, that foreign investment should be welcomed, that people should be allowed to get rich. This was new ground for a socialist party. But they ignored Mrs. Thatcher's eternal vigilance, her dislike of public spending, her obsession with personal discipline, her belief that you cannot, ultimately, avoid paying your bills.

The same happened across Europe. Even countries like Germany and France, which love to criticize the "Anglo-Saxon" culture of speculation, threw risk to the winds. Their banks lent so dangerously that today the entire Continent is cracking under the strain. The euro zone that they constructed only pretended that its "convergence criteria" for budget deficits and national debt had been met by all entrants.

There was never a solution to the problem of a one-size-fits-all currency with a common interest rate trying to yoke together radically different economies. There was never an answer to the question: "Is there a lender of last resort?" Now the initial flaws in construction are undermining the whole building.

On all of this, Mrs. Thatcher was brave and prescient. In 1988, her famous *Bruges Speech, excoriated by all European leaders, warned of Europe's becoming "a narrow-minded, inward-looking club…ossified by endless regulation." *To her, Europe was much wider than the EU. It included all the countries of the east, then struggling to throw off communism. Her pro-Americanism came to the fore. She spoke of "that Atlantic community—that Europe on both sides of the Atlantic—which is our noblest inheritance and our greatest strength."

Her most controversial remark was her attack on both statism and super-statism: "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels." She was fiercely opposed to European economic and monetary union.

Last week's summit in Brussels took place exactly 20 years after the Maastricht Treaty, by which the EU agreed to establish a single currency (with Britain securing an opt-out). Today, the answer in Brussels to the problems caused by centralization is to centralize some more.

This time, Britain, led by David Cameron, was so worried that it went further than Mrs. Thatcher ever did and vetoed a new EU Treaty. But the other member states will find a way around this. What is needed, Europe's leaders say, is a fiscal union. Even as the structure totters, its designers are trying to build it higher.

There are reasons why Margaret Thatcher's views on Europe, powerful as they were, failed at the time. She had become unpopular at home. Her criticisms of European policy were sometimes expressed in anti-German tones that made people suspect her motives. Above all, she seemed to be swimming against the tide of history. The wall had fallen. Germany was reunited. The old nationalisms had been conquered, people said. "Europe" had triumphed, and all of us, east and west, would now live happily together in "our common European home."

“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects.” - 1981
In his speech resigning from the cabinet in 1990, by which he toppled Mrs. Thatcher as Conservative Party leader and prime minister, her former close ally Geoffrey Howe accused her, in her obsession with preserving the British nation-state, of living "in a ghetto of sentimentality about our past."

It does not look quite like that now. Indeed, it was Mrs. Thatcher herself, a couple of years after she left office, who identified the problem with European construction. It was, she said, "infused with the spirit of yesterday's future." It made the "central intellectual mistake" of assuming that "the model for future government was that of a centralized bureaucracy." As she concluded, "The day of the artificially constructed megastate is gone."

There is precious little sign that today's European leaders want to listen to what Mrs. Thatcher said. The manic building of a continental megastate continues apace. But Margaret Thatcher's legacy will never be one of elite consensus. As the Western world sinks deeper into obfuscation, it is her habit of tackling the hard bit of every question that continues to look good and to seem more relevant than ever.

SantasBigBaubles Sun 16-Dec-12 19:43:33

Sassh, she doesn't have to have done anything for other women to be a feminist does she? I know plenty of feminist who aren't actively trying to improve the plight of other women. They and I would consider them feminist because they feel women are equal can do any job and won't let their sex hold them back. I certainly consider myself feminist and will spend hours arguing on FWR or sign petitions online but tbh honest I am not an activist. I wish was, but I haven't prioritizated that.

Abitwobblynow Sun 16-Dec-12 19:27:18


the NHS is a socialist construct, and is unsustainable. I really wish people would get their heads round this and let go of the brainwashing.

Beveridge envisioned a temporary structure, one in which people would eventually get so healthy, that it would shrink to nothing. Hasn't turned out that way, has it?

The NHS WILL BE REFORMED. It doesn't matter who is running the govt., any of the liblabcon, it will be reformed. Reality and economics and not ideology will be the final factor.

Can people please allow some reality to enter their thinking space! What was so awful about what she did? Ultimately? She took on the unions and reformed - which was badly needed - the economy. And guess what: she did it WITH THE MANDATE OF THE PEOPLE. That is the bit you all forget! The voters wanted her to do it! They had had enough of stupid shop stewards like Scargill and Robinson! The 1950s trades union model of collective bargain was outdated, not fit for purpose and needed to be confronted.

This bitter nasty bile against a person who achieved a lot is irrational, distorted, ranting nastiness.

Abitwobblynow Sun 16-Dec-12 19:14:13

LittleGnu, how did she ruin countless lives? Please elaborate. Have you compared those 'ruins' by the number of people whose lives got better? Just wondering.

And, if you are going to wheel out the miners, please check your history. MORE MINES WERE CLOSED under the previous LABOUR GOVERNMENT, than Thatcher closed. Why should an unproductive industry be subsidised ad infinitum.

I personally don't like the tone that was used, but once they chose the grandiose moron they did to lead them (Scargill, what a twat), the confrontation was inevitable.

Or do you want to discuss Wapping? Shipbuilding? In fact, what is your point?

I personally do think she was a feminist icon.

SledsImOn Sun 16-Dec-12 06:41:52

In fact I think it did the opposite.

SledsImOn Sun 16-Dec-12 06:40:56

I'm sorry, I can't see her as any sort of icon. She might have been a woman in power and in that sense, she demonstrated that women can hold power and cause a lot of things to happen.

But as they were mostly rather bad things, I don't think she did the cause of womankind any good whatsoever.

People in general tend to refer to her with resentment, rather than admiration or love. How on earth does that make women more respected?

sashh Sun 16-Dec-12 03:53:06

Yes, that. She did what she could for the time.

Utter bollocks.

Can you give one, just one, example of how she improved things for women? Or for families? Or for society?

rubberglove Sat 15-Dec-12 17:27:35


Greed, corruption, elitism, lack of empathy - that is how she 'opened her doors'.

DoingitOnTheRoofTopWithSanta Tue 11-Dec-12 20:09:20

haven't read the whole thread, and there is very little that Thatcher ever did that I don't absolutely abhor, BUT - I think that today it's easy for people to forget how different women's experiences/lives/prospects were in 1979 to how they are today and therefore underestimate her astonishing achievement at becoming prime minister despite her gender. It was amazing/unheard of/unbelievable.

Yes, that. She did what she could for the time. It's easy to look back now and say she should have done xyz, but had she done those things she'd have probably never got in to office and never opened the door for other women who will hopefully do XYZ.

rubberglove Tue 11-Dec-12 18:41:12

I almost vomited up my tea when I read this thread title. She is no role model for any decent human, man or woman.

And why do female role models have to be 'successful' in the way we are brainwashed to view success these days.

I am more inclined to admire the carers I worked alongside in the NHS, on minimum wage but helping the suffering and bereaved.

grimbletart Tue 11-Dec-12 12:49:10

Why has this zombie thread been relaunched?

doyouwantfrieswiththat Tue 11-Dec-12 12:18:35

As far as I knew, the prime minister acts under ministerial/civil service advice, with discussion and voting through the Commons and Lords. Am I completely wrong? Can we actually function as a dictatorship in the UK? I may need to brush up on my constitutional & administrative law.

sashh Tue 11-Dec-12 07:37:55

she's a fantastic role model for what woman can achieve

By stepping on other women, putting them down, not promoting them?

Or do yo mean by supporting Pinchet and his fabulous human rights record.

Or maybe by running down the NHS?

Or perhaps the poll tax?

She was the only woman in her cabinet.

I worked for the NHS under Thatcher, you have no idea the harm her policies (and it was her, no minister did anything that wasn't her idea) caused.

Have you noticed the lack of afordable housing there is these days? That's what happens when you force councils to sell houses and don't let them build more.

doyouwantfrieswiththat Mon 10-Dec-12 21:54:44

She helped save the open university.

she was known as the milk snatcher because she stopped free milk for over 7's (we didn't fancy it much after it had been in the sun all morning anyway), but she was instrumental in raising school leaving age to 16.

she helped develop 'mr whippy' ice cream grin

she was a very successful woman in a male dominated world, still male dominated today though nowhere near as tough as it was then.

I grew up in the 80's when you were supposed to hate her but I admire her brains, energy & determination, I think she's a fantastic role model for what woman can achieve even though I don't share her politics. I also remember the strikes,( power cuts, bread queues & piles of festering rubbish) in the 70's.

scottishmummy Mon 10-Dec-12 21:14:27

no fan but she did rise up in male dominated politics
was mc but not landed or titled like the other horahs
however she had questionable morality,no empathy,and attacked the working classes and unions

rosabud Sat 08-Dec-12 08:55:45

I haven't read the whole thread, and there is very little that Thatcher ever did that I don't absolutely abhor, BUT - I think that today it's easy for people to forget how different women's experiences/lives/prospects were in 1979 to how they are today and therefore underestimate her astonishing achievement at becoming prime minister despite her gender. It was amazing/unheard of/unbelievable.

Some of the very ordinary things I remember at the time she was elected include a comedian on TV making a joke about how she was "going to run the country, just as soon as she'd finished washing up and doing the ironing," I remember the audience laughing hysterically and, as a young child, thinking "Oh, yes, he has a point!" Not because I was anti-women or anything, but because that was how society was already training me to think. I also remember my Dad, a perfectly ordinary decent man, saying things like he was now ashamed to be called an Englishman (we were living abroad at the time.) People forget that such attitudes were not extreme or odd or laughable in 1979, they were the norm, and simply by overcoming all of that to get to the top, she allowed young girls like myself to look at the whole situation, at women's position in society at the time, and start seeing it for what it really was - pretty awful.

sashh Sat 08-Dec-12 01:49:57

Mocking someone's debilitating illness is extremely low. There is no excuse.

Normally I would agree, but for MT I will make an exception.

Evil, pure evil.

Gladyss Sat 08-Dec-12 00:58:24

No definately not a femail icon. A woman who handed the 'medicine' for other to take whilst doing untold damage to the country. Taking away the tax benefit involved in company pension schemes was the down fall of final salary pension schemes, allowing money to be moved out of the country allowing more global movement of money- no loyalty to where it has been earned. and finaly disempowering the unions which now means lack of protection against bad employers (even when the unions had over stretched their power) She should be ashamed of her legacy.

WinkyWinkola Fri 20-Jan-12 08:43:37

By perceived slights, do you mean the gender pay gap? For example? How silly of feminists to think this isn't right.

GirlWithPointyShoes Fri 20-Jan-12 02:16:40

I have always assumed that equality was a political issue.

qwerty5 Fri 20-Jan-12 01:58:02

Of course Thatcher was not a feminist. If she had been, she'd have been expending all her energy on perceived slights against women instead of embarking on the rather more holistic activity of politics.

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