How Thatcher put women on equal footing

Annabel Denham
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DURING yesterday’s funeral of one the most powerful British women since Elizabeth I, I recalled Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader’s spiky attack on Theresa May, the home secretary, last year.

The latter may still get as many column inches for her choice of footwear as her policies, but Harman was wrong to decree it impossible to be both a Conservative and a feminist, despite the likes of Louise Mensch doing little for the Conservative cause.

The truth is that Harman won’t be weakening my Tory allegiance anytime soon. In the interview, she continued that “delivering for women in this country – in equality, childcare, maternity pay and leave – is Labour’s mission”. But a life of state dependency under a Labour government doesn’t appeal to me, I suspect it wouldn’t to many women, and it especially wouldn’t have appealed to the Iron Lady.

Thatcher, by her own admission, was no feminist. But the feminism she hated was the kind that suggested women weren’t making it to the top because men were oppressing them. It is the same line of thought that suggests capitalism oppresses women. On the contrary, Thatcher embraced the changes that personal and Hayekian economic liberty brought.

Thatcher was no bra-burner, but through her actions she has become a feminist figurehead. Yes, statistically, there are fewer women on boards, and fewer senior female politicians. But I believe that, for the most part, women are paid less not because of that feminist notion Thatcher so loathed, but because we don’t ask for more. I believe that there are fewer women on boards because many women choose to leave work to become homemakers and look after their children. Because of the boundaries Thatcher broke – studying chemistry when few women were scientists, tearing down glass ceilings to make it to the highest office in the land – no one truly believes women are less capable, or less intelligent, than men. We may be closer to getting our first black Prime Minister than our second female one, but a cursory glance beyond our shores – to Germany’s Angela Merkel, for example – shows women are getting there.

Thatcher didn’t pay feminism lip-service, but as per her famous quote, she did far more for the cause by doing than by saying. In the words of Meryl Streep, who played Thatcher in 2011’s The Iron Lady, “to have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream: the real-life option of leading their nation; this was groundbreaking and admirable”. So many of Thatcher’s children, myself included, wouldn’t be where they are today had she not put women on even footing.

Annabel Palmer is business features writer at City A.M.