Herstory at its fucking finest.
Iron Lady, Milk Snatcher, Attila the Hen, The Great She-Elephant; there were an abundance of heads to Maggie’s Monster. Each wielding a policy more unpopular than the last between its gnarly teeth. But the thing that all these heads have in common is they all possess a feminine prefix. This monster is undoubtedly a woman. Throughout her career, Thatcher’s womanliness was dissected, debated, revered, questioned, used to insult her, used as a gimmick and generally offered on a plate to all. Critic or otherwise. In unusual journalistic consistency, this hasn’t changed since her death yesterday. Obituaries, dedications, even celebrations are littered with fashion, womanly wiles, maternal instincts, sex appeal. For a very interesting and scholastic look at the role gender, femininity & appearence have played in the media coverage of the Baroness’s death, Gender Historian Caroline Pennock’s PLEASE STOP TELLING ME MARGARET THATCHER IS A STYLE ICON is: Spot. On. So spot on in fact, we decided to take Caroline’s ball and saunter with it, and collated more excerpts focused on Thatcher’s femininity (the well informed, the less so and the plain old hideous), along with some of Thatcher’s own thoughts on gender and a truly wonderful visual aid from our Flo. The lady’s not for returning, but the themes of gender and femininity for women of political stead continue to do so with all the furore of the 1980s. Enjoy.
“Thatcher’s alleged ‘masculine’ leadership style did not deter her from exploiting her status as a woman. All her cabinets had exclusively male ministers, thus even further emphasising the exemplary position of the Prime Minister. Being a woman did have advantages. Thatcher’s leadership style was marked by a high degree of skill in switching between gender roles: She was an expert ‘gender-bender’. She used her toughness to confound her male colleagues, who were not sure how to react, precisely because she was a woman. On the other hand, she also used her feminine charms when necessary.” Gender Politics with Margaret Thatcher: Vulnerability and Toughness, Anneke Ribberink, Gender Forum, June 2002.
“Surely some of Thatcher’s fascination rests purely in her womanhood. She was the first female British prime minister, a ferocious force in pearls and a bouffant. She had to face the blazing sexism of her peers and countrymen, and accept regular assessment as a ‘shrill’ ‘housewife’ ‘bitch’.” Margaret Thatcher, Grotesque Puppet: Impact on Pop Culture, Salon, April 2013
“The image of Thatcher in a tank evokes associations with the symbolic traces of Britain’s empire, and a model of masculine adventure and stoic national pride – qualities resonating with the Thatcherite notion of ‘enterprise culture’. But it also juxtaposes heavy-duty military weaponry with Thatcher’s visible, perhaps slightly outmoded, femininity: the vaguely regal Englishwoman costumed in pure, floating white. If women are conventionally excluded from the grand narratives of warfare – of the public ability to die for one’s country – they are nonetheless invoked in sublime nation symbols such as Britannia or Lady Liberty, in wartime address to the nation as a family and in notions of the pure and morally policed homeland.” Thatcher, Politics and Fantasy: The Political Culture of Gender and Nation, Heather Nunn, 2002.
“Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.” Margaret Thatcher, 1979. Found in Pearls, Politics and Power, Madeleine M. Kunin, 2008.
“Thatcher’s femininity was her secret weapon. Always elegant, always formidable, but also capable of personal kindness to her staff and helpers, she understood Tory men. Most of them had been brought up by fearsome women of authority: nannies, matrons, distant and detached mothers, whom one did not challenge or disobey. A woman leader baffled them. They simply did not know how to relate to her, and they were uncomfortable with anything that looked like competition or defiance.” Shirley Williams, Secretary of State for Education 1976-79 and co-founder of SDP on Margaret Thatcher.
“Margaret Thatcher, a better politician than wife and mother.” A headline from The Times, April 2013.
“The politics of bodies denotes that women in power are judged by their looks and appearance far more than their male peers. Thatcher biopics from The Iron Lady to Margaret and The Long Walk to Finchley all feature her image change (losing the hats and adopting more suits) as a pivotal moment in her career.” Amber Jane Butchart, Body Politics and The Iron Lady, Theatre of Fashion, January 2012.
“In general, more nonsense was written about the so-called ‘feminine factor’ during my time in office than about almost anything else.” The Downing Street Years – Vol 2, Margaret Thatcher, 1993.
“In the end, Lady Thatcher’s mastery of power-dressing may prove to be one of her more helpful legacies to women.” Margaret Thatcher: ‘I wear my Sunday best seven days a week’, The Telegraph, April 2013.
“Thatcher’s image, rather than appealing solely to one aspect of femininity, was a tense mixture of conflicting and mutually reinforcing signifiers. Angela Carter identified it as a composite of feminine archetypes, including Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington, Elizabeth I as Gloriana, Countess Dracula, and one of P. G. Wodehouse’s aunts – tropes sharing a certain type of burlesqued and grotesque dragon-femininity.” Rhian E. Jones, On Thatcher: Icons and Iron Ladies, January 2012.
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Margaret Thatcher. Found in Why Female Politicians Aren’t Always Pro-Women, Ann Friedman, New York Magazine, April 2013.
“If history is any guide, it is exceptionally hard to make femininity work to your advantage in a political career. Several strategies are available to those who try. Hilary Clinton, for example, intimates that whereas she may have no obvious feminine qualities to speak of, a vote for her is a vote for feminism itself, a principled stand in favor of sexual equality. Some, like French Politician Ségolène Royal – or the woman she so resembles, Eva Perón – play the role of the mystical hysteric. Some exploit their status as wives or daughters of prominent politicians – Hilary Clinton and Eva Perón, again, or Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter. It helps considerably if the husband or father has been martyred. Sonia Gandhi followed her martyred husband. Benazir Bhutto followed her martyred father – and followed him, sadly, all the way to martyrdom. In her success in capitalising upon her femininity, Margaret Thatcher had no equal. Yet she adopted none of these strategies. She had no use for feminism and no use for women, either.” There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, Claire Belinski, 2008.