Margaret Thatcher. She achieved that which Hillary Clinton to date has failed to do. She became her country’s head of government, the leader of her country. In all the tributes and memorials that have been written about Margaret Thatcher over the course of the last several days, few have talked about her as a role model for women. That’s because she’s not, never was. Margaret Thatcher understood that government, economic freedom and personal liberty are gender neutral.
In the era leading up to when Margaret Thatcher came to power in her own conservative party and then won the national election in 1979, women’s rights and feminism were front and center in the United States. Women were entering the workforce, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan were feminist icons. At the office, women were wearing button-downed oxford shirts, short floppy bow ties, and suits that were cut from the traditional men’s cloth. Was it a case that women felt dressing like men to compete with men would help them be “taken seriously” and break through the “glass ceiling.” Clearly, Margaret Thatcher didn’t follow that dress code. With her bouffant hair, pearls and feminine suits, her power radiated from her person and her beliefs.
Today, there are many influential women in politics, government, the media and business. But they’re not Margaret Thatchers. President Obama recently apologized for his comment about California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s appearance, “he fully recognizes the challenges women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance.” If that had happened to Margaret Thatcher, she probably would have smiled, and made a whimsical, pithy comeback to be added to her notable book of quotes. She was known for many.
In our current climate, forty years and counting after feminism came into the national consciousness, there are still women’s groups, women’s leadership institutes, women’s empowerment, women’s this, women’s that. As long as we continue to have those gender-specific groups instead of everyone sitting at the table, women’s advocates who look for sexist stereotypes in every particle of speech and action, who worry about the numbers and percentages of women who make it to the top, and those who wonder if they can or can’t have it all, choosing to talk rather than do, there won’t be any Margaret Thatchers on the horizon any time soon. Yes, not even Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg, whose bestseller, Lean In, has caused its own brand of controversy. Margaret Thatcher had a comment about power,
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
Margaret Thatcher did not compete as a woman in a man’s world. She competed as her own person. She ran for office and was defeated several times, but she never gave up, and kept in the game. She rose to the top of the conservative party based upon hard work, clearly defined principles and policies, and never wavering from what she believed. As in so many environments we live and work in today, where building consensus is viewed as critical skillset to success, Thatcher’s views were thus,
“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
When she spoke, it wasn’t to a particular class or gender, but to her countrymen. One needs to look no further to see that’s what’s missing in today’s divide and conquer class, gender warfare.
Thatcher’s Britain in the mid-70’s has echoes of where America is today. In a 1975 visit to the United States, when she was already elected head of the Conservative Party, she described Britain as an “eleventh-hour nation” dedicated to “the relentless pursuit of social equality.” When rebuked by British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan, she replied, “It’s not part of my job to be propagandist for a socialist society.”1
The “Iron Lady” was a well-deserved moniker. From the Falklands intervention, which no one expected her to undertake, the miners’ rancorous strike where her firm refusal to back down broke the strike’s back and earned her the enduring hatred of many affected Britons, to her unwavering support of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy which brought down Soviet empire, like her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher was a national and world leader of exceptional capability. Our present day leaders look small in comparison.
“There is no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”
“The trouble w/Socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”
“No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.”
“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.”
1 Hugo Young, Iron Lady, A Biography of Margaret Thatcher, (New York, NY: The Noonday Press, 1990) pp. 120-121