April
8th 2013
Are you there, God? It’s Margaret.

Posted under: European history, Gender, jobs, unhappy endings, women's history

A savage handbagging!

It’s a big day for women’s history today as we note the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  Here’s a roundup up some of the things I’ve seen on the non-peer reviewed interwebs:

  • Echidne weighs in on Mags:  “Thatcher was not a feminist, of course.  She is famous for openly disliking feminism, partly because she was blind to what feminism had given her:  The right to run for office, the right to vote.  She believed that her successes were based on nothing but her own talents and her own hard work.  Women’s concerns she brushed off like so much dandruff on the shoulders of her black suit. . . . So what is Thatcher’s legacy for women?  I would imagine that she would be angry at such a question.  Those women, always pestering her when she was nothing like them!  She was one of the boys, or at least a Smurfette among Smurfs.
  • Note:  when Echidne calls Mags a “Smurfette among Smurfs,” she’s not suggesting that her legacy is tiny or mockable.  She’s pointing out that there is only *one* Smurfette among a whole colony of Smurfs, and that Smurfettes therefore tend to spend a lot more time and energy defending their position in the boys’ club rather than opening the door to and making room for more Smurfettes.  Just so that we’re clear on that point.
  • Remember this post from last year (first bullet point only)?  Sure you do!  As I have pointed out many times on this blog, and as recently as only yesterday (!), it’s a much smarter and more lucrative career move to be a female antifeminist than to be a feminist.
  • Echidne also directs us to Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville, which gives us a thorough rundown of the misogyny deployed against her by both her political enemies as well as members of her own party.  For example, “The Iron Lady” was not her only nickname:  “Her other oft-used nickname, which she did not wear proudly, was ‘Attila the Hen.’ Thatcher was so dubbed by a male peer, and it stuck. (No wonder she embraced Iron Lady, given the choices.) The moniker was frequently invoked beside the usual parade of “woman-only” (or emasculating) indicators—strident, shrill, hectoring, shrewish, etc. The British Members of Parliament often launched the nastiest, substance-less sexist attacks, as MP Austin Mitchell: ‘It’s been a touching spectacle: the brave little woman getting on with the woman’s work of trying to dominate the world.’ Yowza.”
  • Coincidentally today, Tenured Radical invites us to imagine a world without women’s studies programs, very much like the one Mags preferred, in which there were no women but Exceptional Women like her to make their mark on politics, economics, diplomacy, history, and the like.
  • Finally, Glenn Greenwald reminds us that it’s OK to speak ill of the dead, especially when the dead are world historical figures.  (In fact, it’s what we historians do!)  Greenwald writes, “[t]ellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away.  Here, for instance, was what the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez:  ‘To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.’  Nobody, at least that I know of, objected to that observation on the ground that it was disrespectful to the ability of the Chavez family to mourn in peace.”  Sorry, Marge!
  • As for handbagging:  see an explanation here.  Yes, Thatcher’s handbag was a sexist stereotype, but it was (as Robin Givhan explains) also deeply evocative of her political performance as P.M. and of her public performance of womanhood.  And it’s another reason why we need more women in political power so that carrying a handbag becomes about as distinctive among world leaders as wearing a necktie is today.

 

 

 

7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Are you there, God? It’s Margaret.”

  1. Susan on 08 Apr 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    I happened to catch a few minutes of the News Hour, and heard James Baker say twice in 2 minutes that she had turned the tide of history. My mother’s comment: “Well, he was obviously pleased with it the first time, so decided to use it again!”

    I think it’s only Americans who have trouble balancing the bad and the good when people die…The Brits, as you have noted, have no difficulty in being critical. The Guardian, for instance, makes it clear that she was important, but has plenty of suggestions that her impact was not — to everyone — positive.

    The irony is that while Thatcher did not see herself as tied to other women on most issues, she was — as you point out — the target of plenty of garden variety misogyny. It turns out that being rich and powerful does not insulate you from that.

    I spent 1979-80 in the UK doing dissertation research, and it’s almost quaint to think about the things that shocked us then. The post-war social democratic consensus was challenged for the first time, but in small ways, and mostly focused on the poorest of the poor. She valued the good of the individual over social or common good (famously, she is once reported to have said, “There is no such thing as society”). It’s taken for granted in contemporary politics — as is the austerity she preached in the treatment of those who lacked wealth — but it was very radical then.

  2. Historiann on 09 Apr 2013 at 6:36 am #

    Another link: Paul Krugman writes, “There will presumably be a lot of commentary about Margaret Thatcher over the next few days, although probably nothing like the “Reagasm” of 2004. And there will in particular be many assertions that Thatcher turned around a moribund British economy. So, is this right?”

    I forgot that Reagan died only in 2004–in my memory, I mixed it up with Nixon’s death in 1994! I love the term “Reagasm,” which is half the reason I linked to the post above.

  3. Tenured Radical on 09 Apr 2013 at 9:38 am #

    On the NewsHour last night, George Schultz and James Baker were repeatedly asked whether Thatcher was feminine; whether she sacrificed her femininity for being the leader of the free world and whatnot. It was just bizarre. The boys said, Oh no! Although Baker told this fascinating story about how early on in her political career she was mocked for dressing too smartly, so she hired Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad agency, who gave her instructions on how to become more *dowdy.* This gave her hte advantage, Baker pointed out, of being able to once again up her game when she became PM.

    Then the first woman PM of Canada (Kim Campbell?) came on and gushed about how she was the first great female world leader (they can’t say head of state because of the Queen), and I’m thinking — Golda Meir? Indira Ghana? Benazir Bhutto?

    I think this must have been the reason to allow that movie about Thatcher’s dementia: it made everyone else soft in the head and permitted everyone to forget what a horror show she was.

  4. Tenured Radical on 09 Apr 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I meant Indira *Ghandi* –

  5. Sweet Sue on 10 Apr 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Farewell, Maggie, we knew ye only too well.

  6. GlassPen on 10 Apr 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    Thought this bit of graffiti summed it up nicely:

    “Iron Lady? Rust in Peace”

  7. Historiann on 10 Apr 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Excellent! I love it.

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