Margaret Thatcher Feminist? No, But Her Career Was a Step Forward For Women

Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister from 1979 to 1990, has died from a stroke at the age of 87. Her death has many talking about the role she played when she was in power and the legacy she will leave behind, especially as a woman and what she did to help the female cause. As the first female prime minister of the UK, some believe she is a feminist icon who helped the image of woman worldwide, while others believe she could have done much more in the area of women’s rights.

As a conservative, Thatcher did little to advance women’s rights in her country on paper. In looking into what she did for Britain there is little to nothing about her moves toward improving life for women. Thatcher was more focused on education, industry, and trade unions and housing. Many of her policies were not crowd pleasers. While she was Education Secretary in the Health Government from 1970 to 1974 she made the decision to get rid of free milk at schools for seven to eleven year olds, gaining herself the nickname “Milk Snatcher.” Also known as “The Iron Lady,” Thatcher had more of a reputation of being a woman in a man’s world of politics and fitting right in to their harsh environment.

Although there was certainly more she could have done to help the cause of women’s rights, her simply getting her foot in the door was a big step for women. This was especially important when considering her conservative standpoint. With the recent news of Thatcher’s death, many prominent feminists have made comments on her life and times and what she meant for their movement. It is interesting to hear their many differing opinions. Mary Beard, classics professor at Cambridge had this to say: “Well, she wasn't a feminist, nor will she ever be a ‘feminist icon’ in my sense of the word. But we can't deny that having our first woman prime minister was a major symbolic leap forward. And it's salutary for those of us on the left to be reminded that positive social change does sometime come from the right.”

There is certainly something to be said about Thatcher’s presence in politics in general. As the first female prime minister, she set an example for other women and girls that is undeniably important. Although her policies may not have been so female-focused, just her being there and being the first said something big. Author, Linda Grand said about Thatcher, “There is no question that she was a role model. In the same way that after Obama it could no longer be said that America was so racist it would never elect a black president, Thatcher in Downing Street sent out a straightforward message to women that anything was possible.”

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Julia Birnbaum

Julia Birnbaum is a student at Sarah Lawrence college with a passion for writing and a love for all things pop. Julia is currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy.

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