NEW YORK, April 9, 2013 ― The political legacy of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is well known throughout the world, but could she be remembered as an icon for women?
As the first female British prime minister, Thatcher, nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” is better known for her free market policies and her contribution to ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union than as an inspiration to women. In fact, she was often criticized for her lack of advocacy for women’s issues. Thatcher was frank about her feeling towards the feminist movement in being quoted as saying “I owe nothing to Women’s Lib.” While clearly not a feminist, Thatcher’s career was an inspiration to women.
Margaret Roberts (Thatcher’s maiden name) entered the world of politics in 1949 as a candidate for Member of Parliament (MP) when most women were absent in the workplace. At the time, less than 4 percent of elected officials were women. It took her 10 years to win a MP seat, finally succeeding in 1959.
Despite campaigning, Thatcher managed to achieve a work life balance. Two years after her first defeat, Ms. Roberts married entrepreneur Denis Thatcher and in 1953, Mrs. Thatcher gave birth to twins Carol and Mark. Given the era, it is remarkable that she had a husband who supported her career outside the home.
Before she became Prime Minister in 1979, the percentage of women MPs remained under 5 percent. Thatcher was a true pioneer. Unlike many women today, she lacked the option of having likeminded female role models or mentors to help her navigate the old boy’s club. The wife, mother and politician broke that glass ceiling on her own.
Nevertheless, critics say she did not make any inroads for women. They note that as Prime Minister, Thatcher missed opportunities such as closing the pay gap between men and women, which expanded during her time in office.
Thatcher wanted to be known as a leader in her own right. She saw that if she could have a successful career in a field dominated by men despite difficult odds, other women could also succeed. She saw her gender as capable, not in need of assistance. One of Thatcher’s most noted quotes was, “In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”
The first female Prime Minister probably would appreciate being an inspiration to women, yet she may prefer to be known as a model of great leadership to both genders.
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