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Is Margaret Thatcher a Woman? - PDF - / Send As Email
No woman is if she has to make it in a man's world.
by Polly Toynbee
In The Washington Monthly, May 1988, pp. 34-37 - Previous Article / Next Article

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Is Mar aret Thatch
a bornan?
No woman is if she has to make it in a man's world.
by Polly Toynbee
Among world leaders, Mrs. Thatcher stands
out in the crowd. In a row of suits, the eye is
drawn to the single dress among Western leaders.
Love her or loathe her, she isn't ignored. Women
who succeed are twice as admired, because no
one really thinks a woman can do it. As Dr.
Johnson cruelly said, "The wonder is not that
they do it well but that they do it at all."
So has she been a good thing for women? Most
feminists say unequivocally, No. For her catalog
of unsisterly sins is long, and growing.
The only prime minister since the war to ap-
point no woman to her cabinet, she has given
fewer government jobs of any kind to women.
Conservatives overwhelmingly predominate in
the House of Commons, and the small number
of women in Parliament is in large part due to
the failure of the Conservative party to select
women as candidates in any but the most hope-
less seats.
She is a Queen Bee and she likes to stand out
alone. In cabinet photographs, she doesn't want
some other woman diverting the eye. The longer
that there are no other women at the top in
politics, the more remarkable her success looks.
However, the only reason she rose to such
power herself was as a token woman. Edward
Heath, the Conservative leader she eventually
deposed, admits having appointed her to his
cabinet as secretary of state for education only
because he needed a statutory woman. After
Heath lost the 1974 election, certain elements in
Polly Toynbee, a former editor of The Washington Monthly,
is a columnist for The Guardian in London.
the Conservative party were determined that he
should go. Mrs. Thatcher, by a stroke of oppor-
tunism and daring, offered herself as a candidate
against him when others demurred. She toppled
Heath on the first ballot. It was a remarkable
coup. Most of the Conservative members of
Parliament had thought she had little chance.
They only wanted to give Heath a fright. Imagine
their horror when they found that, overnight, the
most dominantly male, reactionary, and anti-
woman party in the land had voted itself a right-
wing woman leader and future prime minister.
She would probably not have made it to the
cabinet if she hadn't been a token woman, for
her politics were not in tune with the leadership
of that time. She would never have made it to
leader, albeit accidentally, if she hadn't been a
woman. She has experienced nothing but advan-
tage from her gender.
Once Thatcher was leader, everyone, or nearly
everyone, said she could never be elected. The
country was not ready for a woman prime min-
ister, they said. The British were not accustomed
to more than the occasional token woman in
public life. As education minister, Mrs. Thatcher
herself said in a television interview that she
thought there would never be a woman prime
minister in her lifetime.
According to feminists, we still haven't got a
woman prime minister-not a real one. Mrs.
Thatcher is only a surrogate man. When she first
won the leadership of her party, she pronounced
clearly to her press officer that she would never
give interviews on the basis of being a woman.

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