“I owe nothing to women’s lib” – Margaret Thatcher

In the wake of Baroness Thatcher’s death last week, I have seen something that has disturbed me. Not the street parties or the polar-opposite ‘never speak ill of the dead’ crowd. Not the ambivalent folks or the ‘well she was pretty cold but she did do some, um, things’ mumblers. And not even the people who want to proclaim her a feminist because she voted in favour of legalising an incredibly restricted abortion allowance. It’s the people who want to proclaim her a feminist just because she was a powerful, famous ‘pioneering’ woman, that bother me.

Let me make this perfectly clear. It is sexist to assume that women in power must be benevolent, empathetic women who are consciously making headway for other women by trail blazing. It is ignorant to have such little understanding of equity and what feminism stands for, to assume a woman existing in power is inherently feminist. It is laughable to know so little about Thatcher’s politics that the connection between ‘woman’ and ‘feminist’ can be so frivolously applied.

Just because a woman is a pioneer, does not make her a feminist. You can be a pioneer in saying if you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat.

By claiming Thatcher was a feminist icon, simply because she was the first female Prime Minister of the UK, implies that her legacy did something to help women. Without even getting into how the concept of “being in power” is not necessarily feminist in the first place, feminism is about action, not figureheads who meet a gender qualifier. And certainly not figureheads like her.

It’s always pertinent to point out how toxic and pervasive the idea that women must be “hardened” (read: masculine) in order to succeed is. But deciding that Thatcher’s cold neoliberal policies that shut doors on the most vulnerable people in her care, was just her “ball busting” in “a man’s world”, props up the gender binary where strength = masculinity. And where, apparently, men are fine with increasing homelessness.

While young white libertarian women across New Zealand cry over their economics text books for a woman who broke the glass ceiling for those who are comfortable allowing union families to starve, those communities are still healing.

I have met some incredibly socially progressive libertarian women, but Thatcher was a bible-quoting God-botherer. Her social ideologies were conservative. Her economic ideologies were fatal and her “feminism” was non-existent.

Thatcher is only a feminist icon for people who think the only qualifier for feminism is to be a woman. At its most basic level, it requires the concession that women are inherently discriminated against – structurally and socially – and supports affirmative action to change that. Thatcher did none of those things. In fact she did the opposite. Her policies killed women. Solo mothers, working mothers, unemployed women, queer women . Really any woman who was not as privileged as Thatcher herself was lucky to survive a rule that insisted they help themselves…with no means to do so.

Thatcher was certainly an icon. She was certainly “strong”. She was a real life supervillain. And if you can squeeze out some kind of theory on the importance of women being capable of terrible things to fight the “nurturers” trope, then sure, she was important. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

But if you personally want to hold her as some kind of feminist hero, that says something about your feminism. And it says that it is not my feminism, or the feminism of anyone who thinks that the trickledown effect is less helpful than, you know, food.

Worship Thatcher if you want. Speak only of the good you think she did. Ignore her friendships with warlords and the communities she starved. That’s your choice, and people get real choosey when people die. But don’t, for the love of the God she thought she was working for when she refused to help the poor, tell me she was a feminist.

“I hate those strident tones we hear from some women’s libbers.” Thatcher once said. Well thank Christ she can’t hear me now.

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