Thatcher's role for women and the influence of women in politics on women's rights

BBC NEWS | Politics | Thatcher's role for women Patricia Hewitt, a minister Tony Blair's Cabinet, told the BBC News website: "Margaret Thatcher broke through the glass ceiling in politics. But it is a tragedy that, having become the UK's first women prime minister, she did so much to undermine the position of women in society.

Margaret Thatcher damaged women's place in the workplace, undermined families and communities, and did nothing for women in public life. It was a wasted opportunity on a gargantuan scale."

This is a much more interesting piece to commemorate Thatcher's political demise. Partly because it exposes another implicit 'trickle-down' theory of social change. I.e. one big breakthrough for a woman will 'break' the glass ceiling which will be no more. This is beholden to a very common model of causality that we often employ to reason about social and political changes.

But Britain had female rulers before. In fact, they are some of the most important ones: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and now QE2. Neither of them did anything for women, yet somehow it doesn't seem worthy of note.

Thatcher's lower-middle-class origins certainly have something to do with it but also the fact that her rise to power came during a time when an idiom existed for talking about 'women' rights' and 'rolemodels'. (There is hardly a more patriarchal society than northern Albania - yet, a burnesh - a woman taking on the role of a killed husband is a very highly valued position.)

Another aspect of why not only Thatcher's influence on women but her womanhood as such are often disputed, is the fact that she is an archconservative. And conservative women are unfortunately often defeminized in public discourse (and I say that as a left-wing feminist). Although, Ann Coulter is a definite exception to the rule. (Interestingly, the same happens to black conservative politicians in the US - see here for one discussion.) I know at least one woman who considers Thatcher her role model but who, not being from the UK, was completely unaware of how controversial a figure she was.

Perhaps, a more fitting way of celebrating this dubious landmark is the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to become Lyberia's first woman president (and also the first woman president of an African country). Unlike Thatcher (who according to the BBC article thought that all the women's rights had been won), Johnson-Sirleaf is much more aware of her role as a woman politician, as this CNN excerpt suggests:

 "I hope young girls will now see me as a role model that will inspire them," Johnson-Sirleaf said an interview with The Associated Press at her Monrovia villa late Monday.

"I certainly hope more and more of them will be better off, women in Liberia, women in Africa, I hope even women in the world."

The big question remains, will she go beyond being a role model and implement policies aimed at increasing women's rights. And the signs are good, as she wants at least 30% of her cabinet to be women (unlike Thatcher who only had one other woman in her cabinet and unlike much of the Western world where women's rights are supposedly one of its civilized accomplishments). On the other hand, the fact that, as CNN reports,buttons from her presidential campaign say Ellen -- She's Our Man. suggest (despite all their playfulness) that she is filling what is still considered a male, rather than a gender-neutral, role.

Another woman to keep an eye on is of course Angela Merkel. Interestingly, in her case the stories I've seen don't mention her gender beyond the obvious headlines. The fact that she's a first leader from the former East Germany seems to get mentioned nearly as often (and frequently in the same sentence). The fact that Merkel's gender isn't made into an issue - simply a record to be noted - could be a double edged sword. On the one hand, it could indicate that a woman chancellor is not an particularly aberrant proposition. On the other, it could set back real grass roots efforts to promote gender equality. A balance may be impossible to strike.

Here's an article about women in positions of power illustrating how small a club these two women have joined. And here's a reminder that there are still enough morons to make gender equality a worthwhile issue to discuss. Trey Caliva concludes that "Simply put, a woman isn't suited to be president of the United States." Because:

As the leader of the free world, the position of president demands a great deal. Enormous pressures must be endured daily; important decisions with far-reaching consequences are required consistently from the office. Therefore, the president of the United States must be able to handle it.

Men and women, as you are well aware, are inherently different. Aside from physical traits, which are mostly aesthetic in a job such as the presidency, the job is a strain on emotional welfare. Impartiality is integral in an office that virtually every country in the world looks to for guidance. Men, in general, can think and lead with reclusion from their own personal feelings, something by and large not possible for a woman. Anyone who has ever dealt with a woman or been forced to watch Lifetime, knows they don't easily hide their emotions.

Leadership at the highest level in our government cannot be swayed because of a feeling or sympathy in any way. Tough choices sometimes will have to be made. In that case, would it be wise to deal with someone who could potentially be emotionally unstable? Stability is strength, and strength is often needed the most from the White House.

It is, of course, possible that this is simply a parody of troglodyte sexism, in which case I apologize for the 'moron' label.