Margaret Thatcher: ‘Is Margaret Thatcher A Woman?’ asked the envious Polly Tonybee
IN May 1988, Polly Tonybee wrote about Margaret Thatcher in the Washington Monthly. The diatribe was entitled “Is Margaret Thatcher A Woman?”.
Yes, she was. And a mother. But Tonybee wants to present Thatcher as a man, her Spitting Image puppet made flesh.
True enough, Thatcher never gave another women a job at her Cabinet table. But, then, it was her simply being there, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, that makes her a symbol of female emancipation and power. Like her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher believed she could be Prime Minister. And she made it happen.
In 1974, she said:
“It will be years – and not in my time – before a woman will lead the party or become Prime Minister.”
“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.”
In particular, ask Maggie. When at age nine, she received a school prize, Thatcher said:
“I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.”
Do you dislike her for that comment? Put those words into the mouth of Manchester United’s overachiever Sir Alex Ferguson or Barack Obama and then how do they appear?
Back to Tonybee, whose article began:
Among world leaders, Mrs. Thatcher stands out in the crowd. In a row of suits, the eye is drawn to the single dress among Western leaders. Love her or loathe her, she isn’t ignored. Women who succeed are twice as admired, because no one really thinks a woman can do it.
But she did do it. But Tonybee then attacks her for being a woman:
She is a Queen Bee and she likes to stand out alone. In cabinet photographs, she doesn’t want some other woman diverting the eye. However, the only reason she rose to such
power herself was as a token woman.
Tonybee wanted Thatcher to play identity politics. And reduces her success to tokenism.
However, the only reason she rose to such power herself was as a token woman… Mrs. Thatcher, by a stroke of opportunism and daring, offered herself as a candidate against him when others demurred. She toppled [Ted] Heath on the first ballot. It was a remarkable coup. Most of the Conservative members of Parliament had thought she had little chance. They only wanted to give Heath a fright. Imagine their horror when they found that, overnight, the most dominantly male, reactionary, and anti-woman party in the land had voted itself a right-wing woman leader and future prime minister. She would probably not have made it to the cabinet if she hadn’t been a token woman, for her politics were not in tune with the leadership of that time. She would never have made it to leader, albeit accidentally, if she hadn’t been a woman. She has experienced nothing but advantage from her gender.
So. In Tonybee’s world, the chauvinists were unhappy the ‘”anti-woman” Party had elected a woman to be their leader. Thatcher had not only become a member of Tonybee’s bastion of misogyny but was elected by its members to be leader. And she had achieved it all because she was – get this – a token woman.
Recipients of the Woman’s Own Children of Courage Awards with their trophies and Mrs Thatcher, who presented them at Westminster Abbey.
Tonybee then continues to chop away with her hatchet in an article that becomes less and less about the woman who lived her dream than the woman who resents that success.
She married a rich and stupid man who had all the necessary credentials to help her on her way. Few imagine it was a love match.
Tonybeee says Thatcher “sacrificed her children”, the twins Mark and Carol:
Their public image is too public and mostly unattractive and unsuccessful. Mark made a bad start as a racing driver. He is now married to a Texas millionairess and makes his living out of business consultancies. Carol is making an embarrassing career in journalism where her name is her main asset.
On women in the workplace:
And now that some women are breaking through to the top in most occupations there are women like her all over the place-in their executive suits with the little string ties or floppy jabots and padded power-dressing shoulders.
Why was it then that my mother and her generation punched the air when Margaret Thatcher got into power and kept voting for her? No rich. Not millioanairesses married to stupid men. Members of no elite clubs. Not, like Tonybee (aka Mary Louisa) related to philanthropists, writers (like her, Tonybee’s dad wrote for The Observer) and historians. The women who cheered for Maggie were working mothers. Were they all taken in? No. They were empowered. Of immigrant stock, my family now owned their home, bought shares in institutions, were not forced to join unions and wanted to make money. Margaret Thatcher changed the culture. It wasn’t all good. The belief in the power of one was disruptive.
Thatcher is often cited as saying “There is no thing as society”. Her full quote went:
I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’
Does that ring true today? Would you vote for that message today? Maybe. Maybe not. But you’d hear it , even if it was delivered by a woman. Because thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s drive and self-belief, we don’t live in a democracy where half the electorate has never seen someone who shares their primary sexual characteristics lead.
Lead photo: Margaret Thatcher, MP for Finchley, being kissed by her twin children Mark and Carol as they leave for school. Date: 20/10/1959.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, after she handed over a copy of the deeds of 39 Amersham Road, Harold Hill to the Greater London Council’s 12,000th council house buyer, James Patterson and his wife Maureen. With them are their three children, twins Vernon and Martin and 16 year old Leisa. Date: 11/08/1980