Here's Why Margaret Thatcher Is Definitely NOT A Feminist Icon

It is somewhat sick-making to see a successful woman lauded as a feminist icon and to be told any other woman who equals her owes her a great debt; when said woman would quite happily climb over her sister’s heads to triumph.
Publish date:
February 5, 2013
feminism, british politics, Feminist icons, Margaret Thatcher

Remember when Geri blurted out to The Spectator that Maggie Thatcher was the first Spice Girl? I do. When a friend of the family gave me Wannabe (on tape!) as a birthday present my mum said she wasn’t sure if she approved of me liking a Tory voting band.

By the time the admittedly bloody catchy single Say You’ll Be There was released, I was over The Spice Girls so this disapproving didn’t bother me. Also the only person I have ever heard of rebelling against their family by turning Tory is Eric Pickles. So…we can all see where that road leads. Cautionary tale.

Anyway I was a Kula-Shaker girl (I KNOW I WAS REALLY COOL) and Tory or no, The Spice Girls were not for me. When’s Rebecca (who is an excellent bet if you’re looking for a funny and/or intelligent read. Seriously, go read her stuff) posted the article 5 Awesome Feminist Baby Names she didn’t pick Geri, Victoria, Mel (x2) or Emma. Her first suggestion was Margaret Thatcher, reasoning: “Look, whatever your politics, you gotta give the Iron Butterfly her due. This broad strong armed a nation whilst wearing pearls.”

The Spice Girls, with their girl power and songs about getting with their friends and zig-a-zig-ah are sometimes cited as ‘90s feminist icons. But does being part of the machine that tried to exploit and sanitise the movement Riot Grrrl was toting make you a feminist icon? It’s a difficult one - I don't know.

But I do know that being the first woman British Prime Minister does not automatically make you a feminist icon. Because A) that rather reduces feminism to a case of girls vs boys and B) the first woman British Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher.

Perhaps this was a bit of Brit-baiting, and I'm certain it wasn't intended to offend. However, in the UK we still live with the ramifications of Thatcher’s policies. Everything that is happening to the NHS, pensions, public transport…Thatcher paved the way for.

While Thatcher was in power I was a child living in the Midlands (nearest bustling village? Alcester – high five to all those who know how to pronounce that). I was not a miner, or a resident of Brixton or Cardboard City.

There are a wide range of people directly affected by the Thatcher government policies. Other than having the misfortune to be born under her government I was not a Thatcher victim - unless you want to count the whole Thatcher, Thatcher Milk Snatcher thing.

So yeah, let’s blame her for why I am 5’1 ½. Stunted by the denial of calcium at primary school.

However, I am still very aware of her legacy now and it’s not because I am short.

There are many valid reasons why people were offended by the Thatcher feminist name pick. But let’s focus.

In Rebecca's post, Margaret was suggested as a feminist girl's name feminists in honour of Thatcher. In Great Britain invoking the name Thatcher brings up many things: Spitting Image, bile, the time she misunderstood that old joke about Moses taking the pills (she meant tablets) but not ever feminism. Ever. EVER. EVER.

Oh, but why Squeamish Kate? She was, like, Prime Minister! Maggie Thatcher, Girl PM!

Here’s the pernickety issue. To be a feminist, while your politics can vary pretty widely and wildly (as I think I have previously demonstrated to some of your chagrin on this site), there is one rather vital requirement and that is you have to like women.

Maggie allowed a grand total of ONE woman to her cabinet, Baroness Young. There’s also the quote that damns any notion of feminist values: “I owe nothing to Women’s Lib.”

Paul Johnson, one of Thatcher’s advisers, told The Spectator magazine that Thatcher said (rather uncolloquially): “The feminists hate me, don't they? And I don't blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”

You can enjoy tremendous amounts of success and still deny feminism. One only has to look at Katy Perry to know that. It is somewhat sick-making to see a successful woman lauded as a feminist icon and to be told any other woman who equals her owes her a great debt; when said woman would quite happily climb over her sisters' heads to triumph.

When I asked friends in a totally scientific survey on Facebook about their thoughts on Thatcher and feminism one replied: “I consider her approach to feminism to be akin to ‘first off the boat’ anti-immigration reactionaries. [She] wouldn’t have become Prime Minister without feminism, did everything she could to pull up the drawbridge and piss out the window.”

And so, that is why, if you are going to name your baby after a Maggie and cite feminism as the reason you'd be much better off going for Maggie Simpson.

Follow Kate on Twitter @squeamishbikini.