Margaret Thatcher was no feminist, but she's still a women's icon
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When the shortlist for the new leader of the Conservative Party was whittled down to Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom back in July, it was hoped that this first all-woman election would be free of sexism. But then, Leadsom gave an interview in which she said being a mother would make her a better leader than May, who wanted children but couldn’t have them. The hope that gender wouldn’t be an issue had been destroyed. Fortunately, so had Leadsom’s chances of being leader. Yet even if she had become Britain’s second female Prime Minister, you could guarantee that some pundits on both the left and the right would call Leadsom ‘the new Thatcher,’ as many did call Theresa May. That we automatically reach for this comparison, lazy though it is, is a testament to enduring importance of Britain’s first female leader. It is in recognition of this importance that BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour last week announced that Margaret Thatcher had topped their list of ‘most influential women of the past 70 years,’ beating other candidates including feminist Germaine Greer, Beyoncé, and the fictional Bridget Jones, of diary fame. Many members of the panel were not the biggest of Thatcher fans, but like anyone who ever thought seriously about her, they realised she had a kind of power, of which being a woman was an essential part. Over 40 years ago, during the leadership election that put Thatcher at the top of the Conservative Party, a slimy backbencher called Hugh Fraser ran against her, purely out of his belief that a woman should not be leader. Fraser has been deservedly forgotten by history, as has the sheer amount of naked sexism that Thatcher faced before she got to Downing Street. Though by 1979 a woman had been on the throne for nearly 30 years, Thatcher was different from Her Majesty the Queen. She was not someone who would sit silently and smile, but a woman who threatened the established order.
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