Mansplainer #2: Is Margaret Thatcher’s Legacy Holding Women Back?

Brezhnev took Afghanistan
Begin took Beirut
Galtieri took the Union Jack
And Maggie over lunch one day
Took a cruiser with all hands
Apparently to make him give it back

– Roger Waters (on Pink Floyd’s “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert”)

The passing of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has led to a divisive public discourse over her legacy and whether it should be celebrated or denounced. While some would call her “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty”, others contend that she was a war criminal on account of the sinking of the Belgrano.

The controversial figure, who once called Nelson Mandela’s ANC “a typical terrorist organisation”, is being heralded as a feminist icon, even though she did not see it that way herself.

“I hate feminism. It is poison.”

Even though she is still reviled in the public sphere and even in British Parliament (and justly so, I might add), it is still disconcerting that sexist language and misogynistic overtones have dominated the public conversation, even to the point of rocketing “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” to #1 on the UK charts.

Such animosity is understandable given the context of Thatcher’s role in the bloody battle of Orgreave, a violent conflict between police and unionised miners. But that does not excuse targeting Thatcher for her gender or labelling her with gendered profanities. Fortunately, amid the white noise, there is one voice of reason that stands out balancing the hardships and woes of Thatcherism with the advancement of women to positions of power in global politics. That one voice is Morrissey:

“Iron? No. Barbaric? Yes. She hated feminists even though it was largely due to the progression of the women’s movement that the British people allowed themselves to accept that a Prime Minister could actually be female. But because of Thatcher, there will never again be another woman in power in British politics, and rather than opening that particular door for other women, she closed it.”

Well, almost.

Ok. I lied.

Not at all.

Morrissey, who’s known for sticking his foot in his mouth (and apparently singing) has a knack for coming down on the right side of issues in a way that is so terribly wrong, it makes you question if his moral compass has a needle. Yes, it was hypocritical of Thatcher to denounce feminism when she would have never been allowed to vote, let alone be elected as Prime Minister, without it. But did Tatcher close the door to politics on women by doing such a terrible job?

This question reminds me of the recent backlash when acclaimed film director Lynne Ramsay backed out of “Jane Got A Gun” on the first day of shooting. This lead to the inevitable stream of misogynist comments touting that this alleged screw-up heralded the end of women film directors. Because directing is still seen as a man’s world, and the number of woman directors is scarce, all women directors are held accountable for Ramsay’s actions as thought one large failure of a woman would spell the end of women being allowed to direct. Think about that. Not showing up on the first day of shooting is a risky and expensive move, and one that is potentially career ending. Men get fired or dismissed from directorial roles all the time. But does one rotten egg spoil the batch? Do we hold all men accountable for one who screws up? Of course not.

True equality means holding men and women to the same standards in their professions. This means that if men are going fumble, screw-up, and be utterly disastrous, it would be a double standard to expect anything different from women. The patriarchal structure that holds women back in male dominated fields, be it politics of film-making, is also responsible for perpetuating these double standards. The idea that women have to be perfect in order to succeed, while men get to flounder or stumble by, is a mechanism that prevents women from substantively penetrating these fields. Compound that with the cut-throat nature of film-making and politics, in order to succeed in either field one must adopt stereotypically alpha-male qualities, or risk being denounced, degraded, and bullied for exhibiting traditionally feminine qualities.

Which brings us back to the question posed in the title. Is Margaret Thatcher’s legacy holding women back?

No.

Patriarchy is.

Mansplainer is a blog about women written by a man. The goal is not to speak on behalf of women or present myself as a saviour, but to present my views and understanding of feminist issues, to show solidarity with the feminist struggle, and to hopefully contribute to the dialogue in a meaningful way. If I am wrong about something, let me know and I will address it.

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