Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Was Margaret Thatcher a Feminist?

Was Margaret Thatcher a feminist?

Yesterday, commenters on my Thatcher post engaged a vigorous and excellent debate on the topic. I recommend it to everyone’s attention.

This morning Mona Charen offered her own view. Today’s feminists seem to want to claim Thatcher as one of their own, but most feminists in the past have reviled Margaret Thatcher:

But no, the feminists loathed her. During her first campaign for national office in 1979, the more polite noseholders said, “We want women’s rights, not a right-wing woman.” The less subtle circulated the slogan “Ditch the B****.” Following the release of the movie The Iron Lady, a feminist wailed on the Huffington Post that Thatcher was “the embodiment of everything that feminism is not: selfish, rigid, and intolerant.”

Thatcher was Charen notes, self-made. Her rise to power owed nothing to a husband or father. It owed nothing to feminism, either. She did not attempt to divide the body politic by gender. She did not see men's interests as necessarily inimical to women's interests.

She had no use for a leftist, statist ideology like feminism and feminists had no real use for her.

Clearly, the odds against her were enormous. She prevailed through the force of her will and the power of her ideas. She never complained about being subjected to discrimination… not because she never suffered it, but because she knew that complaining would have made her look weak.

She led the British conservative party and she served its interests. When she became prime minister she worked for the nation not for a sectarian ideology.

Charen wrote:

Unlike Hillary Clinton, who rode to power on her husband’s coattails, or world leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, whose powerful fathers blazed the trail, Thatcher was completely self-made. She never once complained, as Clinton has more than once, that she was unfairly treated because she was a woman. Many a male MP tangled with her to his cost. She never asked for a vote in the name of women’s empowerment. She had no use for such trivialities. She had a country to save.

Margaret Thatcher understood feminism and refused to have anything to do with it. Surely, she agreed with feminists on some issues, but her grounding philosophy was conservative and revolved around the need to assert liberty and oppose tyranny.

For some time now feminists have been cultivating the habit of co-opting certain individuals to serve their cause. They believe that Margaret Thatcher advanced their cause because she was a woman. They ignore the fact that she rejected their cause. And they disrespect her by refusing to take her at her word.

Contra President Obama, perhaps the least interesting fact about Margaret Thatcher is that she was a woman. Far more important were her dedication to liberty (economic, as well as political), her fierce opposition to tyranny of all sorts, her indomitable spirit, and this above all — that she was proven right. As she said, “The facts of life are conservative.”

Feminism is an ideology and a political movement. Like many liberation movements it comes from the radical left. At root, it wants to organize a vanguard of women to engage in class struggle against the dominant and oppressive patriarchy.

Contemporary feminism wants women to be the vanguard of the revolution, so it insists that it represents all women. One might think that feminists glory in being women, but they believe more often that womanhood was created by the patriarchy as a way to oppress females.

Feminists tend to confuse equality with sameness. They insist that biological differences between the sexes are trivial. They believe that these differences are social constructs that were invented by patriarchs. 

Thus, feminists want women to serve in the infantry even if they cannot pass the physicals. They believe that the physical tests were invented by men to exclude women.

Just about everyone believes that women should be given every opportunity to excel. Everyone cheers the success of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg.

The latter declares herself a feminist; the former does not.

But it quite another story when feminists decide that they are going to use government to impose their gender-neutral vision on the labor market in order to ensure that there are an equal number of women at all levels of the corporate hierarchy.

If a woman like Anne-Marie Slaughter chooses not to pursue a higher level of career success because it will take her too far away from her family, her free choice should be respected. And, we ought to recognize that the disparity between the number of male and female CEOs might have other causes than discrimination and patriarchal oppression.

Feminists are also promoting a new way for women to conduct their lives. They believe that in a good marriage household chores will be equally divided, couples will contribute equally to the household treasury, and that it makes no difference if the woman is the breadwinner.

Women have every right to choose to conduct their marriages and their private lives as they see fit, but it is necessary to point out that a couple that shares household chores, especially the chores that have been traditionally associated with women is 50% more likely to get divorced. And it is also relevant to notice that a marriage where both husband and wife contribute equally financially is 100% more likely to contain abuse. And finally, when a woman is the breadwinner the man is more likely to have been prescribed Viagra and the woman is more likely to have been prescribed medicine for anxiety and insomnia.

Women have every right to live their lives by the principles that feminism espouses, but they should also be aware of the fact that the new feminist life plan might not always be the best for women.

Lately, feminists have been recruiting young women by saying that if you believe in certain principles then you are, ipso facto, a feminist. It's not quite recruiting; it's signing you up whether you like it or not.

They have made an exception for Sarah Palin. When Palin declared herself to be a feminist, movement feminists roundly rejected her.

But, when did it happen that your belief in this or that principle commits you to an ideology and identifies you as a member of a political or even religious group.

I am confident that I could find a few precepts in scientology that we would all accept. That does not make us scientologists.

If you believe in doing unto others as you would have others do unto you, it does not make you a member of the dozen or so different religions that hold the principle to be an article of faith.


Sam L. said...

"But no, the feminists loathed her. During her first campaign for national office in 1979, the more polite noseholders said, “We want women’s rights, not a right-wing woman.” The less subtle circulated the slogan “Ditch the B****.” Following the release of the movie The Iron Lady, a feminist wailed on the Huffington Post that Thatcher was “the embodiment of everything that feminism is not: selfish, rigid, and intolerant.”

Feminists are self-blinded, no?
There is only one true authorized way to be a feminist, and Mrs. Thatcher was emphatically not that way.

" Contemporary feminism wants women to be the vanguard of the revolution, so it insists that it represents all women. One might think that feminists glory in being women, but they believe more often that womanhood was created by the patriarchy as a way to oppress females."

Remember the phrase, "Chicks up front!"? Was it the Yippies that said that? Put the women in front--as human shields for the male leaders.

n.n said...

Feminism is the same as every other Left-oriented ideology and movement. Its leaders seek to exploit differentials and gradients to advance their political, economic, and social standing. It is incompatible with individual dignity.

As for the difference between men and women, there is a woman's biological responsibility for carrying a human life from conception to birth, and certain physiological differences, which ensure that women on average are physically less capable than the average man; otherwise, the differences are few and individual.

The male and female bodies are simply constructed to serve different purposes, which may or may not influence their mental state. Some women, and men, at the extreme, reject their biological imperatives, and through artificial means seek to compensate for physiological differentiation, but not without consequences to themselves, society, and humanity.

Veronica said...

I do think this post makes a great point in reminding us how much feminist groups derided Thatcher when she was in power. I think this had to do with her opposition to the welfare state, including such programs as state subsidized day care and school milk programs for young children. (I don't recall the details but somewhere in my reading over the past couple of days, there was mention that her opponents called her "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher."

I have no problem with feminist groups opposing Thatcher if those groups disagreed with her policies. That's what politics is all about! But I would disagree (at least in part) with any contention that she herself was unfeminist because she she seemed to support equal rights and opportunities, dignity and autonomy for women. Her opposition to certain programs was part of a broader philosophy of fiscal conservatism, and did not seem to stem from any antipathy towards women's rights.

The issue is ultimately a definitional one - I.e. what does feminism mean. I would define it as valuing and placing an emphasis on women's legal, cultural and social equality. That's a big umbrella and there are lots of ways to "do" feminism and lots of room for feminists to disagree with each other as to how to achieve these goals and what such equality looks like.

A particular individual may hold feminist views in certain respects but not others. Sarah Palin is indeed very feminist in terms of her apparent belief in women's participation in ll sectors of society from sports to the highest levels of politics. She and her husband are also very feminist in the example she sets of an egalitarian marriage. But the she falls down as a feminist by supporting the state's right to intrude on the bodily sovereignty of women in the most intimate of ways, i.e. her opposition to a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy; she also falls down by claiming that her opposition to reproductive freedom is somehow a feminist position. Thatcher was feminist in most respects that I can see but, arguably, did not make women's progress as much of a priority as she could have.

Anonymous said...

Saying Thatcher was a feminist is like saying Martin Luther King, Jr. was a black nationalist. Neither is true.

The other day, when Veronica and I were going back and forth about feminism, I used the definition I found in my Apple dictionary: "The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality with men." I really didn't disagree with that definition, although I view it as equal opportunity, not equal result. For example, I don't think women have any business being selected for combat units in the military, whether they want those assignments or not. That said, I do support equitable pay for same work (read: identical work, not "equal work"), women's right to vote, etc. Simultaneously, women are different from men... that women bear different biological burdens and have distinct social advantages over men. Most importantly, women are wise to recognize their intrinsic attraction to security (in all forms) and that this leads them to make certain choices and results en masse, regardless of whatever equality of economic opportunities are available to them. A woman blaming the economic consequences of a desire for security on men is like listening to men blame women for their disproportionate biological attraction to recreational gambling.

My problem with feminism as an "-ism" is the ideological dimension that seeks to separate women from society and put them in in opposition to men. This is inherently a form of social suicide, as men aren't going away. Then these same feminists are angry because they don't get any respect. Well, you have to give to receive, but that's not what feminism is about. It's an activist philosophy that makes enemy out of 50% of the population, shrouding them in academic dogma like "patriarchy." The point is that feminism looks at mainstream society and declares it morally disastrous and unjust, ad infinitum. They offer a separatist viewpoint that is socially dysfunctional and impossible to achieve because it's all couched in absolutist terms. No "justice" is going to come from such a belief system. Only anger, victimization, misery and social chaos. That's what idealistic social movements do... consequences be damned.

When you look at ideology and activism, the most pronounced and "in-your-face" demonstrations come from the Left side of the political spectrum. I put feminism in that category, specifically because of episodes like the one about Sarah Palin, which is tied to her politics, not her achievements. Stuart is spot on. Left-wing political operators harken back to the same stuff over and over: their opposition to social inequality and social hierarchy. Yet these things are part of the human condition, warts and all. We can try to ameliorate social inequality, but government laws, regulations and programs always seek to create outcomes by force (or threat of force), which makes true reconciliation impossible, because it is de facto reverse discrimination. This is rarely necessary. Human societies require some form of hierarchy, lest we have chaos. All Leftist social movements feature hierarchical leadership... otherwise, they crumble. Yet they decry them for everyone else. It's very strange.

Cont'd below...

Anonymous said...

Cont'd from above...

The true problem is when unjust social structures become institutionalized through legal sanction, and those that want to grow and seek upward mobility cannot because of rules and regulations. This is what happened with Jim Crow. Yet this is not what happened with Rosie the Riveter when her husband got back from World War II. Having women in the WW2 industrial workforce was a necessity brought on by a manpower shortage. Women welding steel is certainly possible, but it's an anomaly. I'm not sure how much women enjoyed those jobs, but theirs was a critical contribution to the war effort. Then the men returned. Did those men come in and demand their welding masks and irons back? Did women become legally excluded from industrial jobs? Or was there more of a social change in America, with men and women marrying, starting families, and wanting men to have economic opportunity as breadwinners within a traditionalist family model? I suspect this was the case, and women returned to the home. Unemployment was low in the 10 years following WW2. If a majority of women had continued in the workforce, unemployment would've been much higher because there weren't enough jobs available. There was a return to traditional roles, like it or not. And this was socially prescribed and enforced, rather than through patriarchy or government edict. There was no sweeping, institutionalized prohibition of women in the workforce or in entrepreneurial ventures. After all, let's be honest, women do a fine job of keeping other women in line...

And I think we all know one clear maxim in all of this: the greatest threat to women's liberation is other women. Women tend to be socially normative. They attack those amongst them who break from the pack, whether into the lead or falling behind. All the male chauvinist efforts in the world pale in comparison to the cruelty women inflict on each other. Men may attack each other with physical violence, but I have seen few things that are more savage and damaging than the social violence women hurl at each other. The manipulation, back-stabbing and gossip is remarkable.

Perhaps "patriarchy" isn't what's holding women back. Maybe, just maybe, it's the "matriarchy" they find themselves in, that demands such conformity. Or maybe it's both. But feminism is focused on just one side of the equation. That usually doesn't turn out so well.


Anonymous said...

One last thing on all this...

I think we all know marriages and relationships where the man runs the show. I think we also know lots of other marriages and relationships where the woman runs the show. We also know of marriages and relationships where the man and woman are co-equal partners and creators in their life goals.

What I oppose is a feminist agenda to impose its will and see one of these "relationship arrangements" as superior or desired between two consenting human beings, or how the structure operates on a societal level. Feminists pursue legal or regulatory remedies to enforce their agenda, whether the population at large, or in part, agrees with them. They don't seek to persuade. Feminists want to impose their will and values on others. That's the kind of craziness that "-isms" bring to politics that creates all this animosity, suspicion and sclerosis at all levels. It doesn't work.

And if it all comes down to abortion, Veronica, I don't know what to say. Don't brand it as feminism, brand it as a single issue like "reproductive freedom" if you want, or even "abortionism," or whatever you want, because a good chunk of of women oppose abortion. I'm not looking to have a discussion about abortion here... what I am reflecting is the monolithic outlook many feminists have about these issues. It's an ideological movement that does not speak for all women, and that's not because of "patriarchal indoctrination."

Margaret Thatcher is an excellent example. She and Dennis had their marriage, and it operated whatever way they chose to construct it. She may have voted to permit abortion, but that doesn't earn one the label of "feminist." It's the much bigger, idealistic, and divisive feminist ideology that she eschewed. I suspect she just wanted to be Margaret Thatcher. Is that too much to ask?


Veronica said...


This is great. Thanks for engaging! I don't expect we will ever agree and that's ok, right? We can still talk. I will start with your first comment.

First, I think it's completely wrong to characterize feminism overall as a separatist movement. Yes, I think the notion of separatism was floated by a tiny minority of lesbian feminists back in the 70s, but they were a tiny minority of feminists. Almost all of us have relationships we value with fathers, brothers, lovers, husbands, sons, men we work with, and/or men we are friends with.

Recognizing the concept of patriarchy does not categorize all men as enemies. Do you really believe patriarchy does not exist? Do you really believe that our culture did not value and enshrine in its institutions rule by male authority figures in almost every facet of society for hundreds and hundreds of years until perhaps very recently? How does recognizing that fact categorize men as the "enemy"? Isn't it simply fact?

If anything, feminism has resulted in enhanced relationships between men and women. We study together, work together, share much more similar responsibilities at home and at work , and overall are far less segregated from each other than in past decades. Indeed, the more patriarchal the society, the more segregated the sexes -with Saudi Arabia and the Taliban being prime examples.

With regard to the other issues you raise, I am not sure it is fair to say that feminists "blame men" for inequities that still exist in society between the sexes. At best, I'd say that's a very simplistic way to phrase it. The reason women haven't achieved 100% equality in every endeavor is related to whole morass of cultural issues. After all, it is REALLY early days still; the first generation to really have grown up in an arguably feminist society is just graduating from college now!

Inherent sex differences may well account for some different choices men and women make, but it is hard to untangle that from social and cultural influences. In any cases, even if certain sex differences are really inherent, that doesn't mean they should just be indulged. Risk taking men would be wise to temper their impulses with some caution; risk averse women should force themselves out of their comfort zone if they want to achieve big results. As we've heard recently from self described feminist Sheryl Sandberg ( channeling a young Margaret Thatcher perhaps), much of the burden lies with women to "lean in" and do the work despite whatever socialization or other internal barriers we may face.

You say that social hierarchy is just part of the human condition. That's easy for you to say because (I assume based on your name) that you are a man. No, I'm not saying you are my enemy, but you are differently situated than I am with regard to this issue. As a woman, I simply cannot afford to shrug my shoulders and accept subservience as my lot in life. Despite our supposed preference for the easy and secure path in life, many, many women (not just Thatcher) have pushed back against the supposedly unshakeable and natural gender hierarchy to flourish in every field of human endeavor.

Veronica said...

Tip at 633 am,

My recollection of post WWII history is that the women were canned from their jobs once the men came home. I bet plenty were damn pissed off about it, plenty of others never thought to question it, and plenty others were quite happy to enter into traditionalist family arrangements. But let us be clear: leaving these jobs was not a free choice by the women. (My mother was terminated from her secretarial job in 1970 when she married based on an employer's policy against employing married women, and she is still angry about it o this day.). I don't think enforcement of traditionalist family life by non-government forces such as corporate America, social norms, or churches should just be accepted merely because they are not governmental institutions.

While I don't agree that women are any more like mean pack animals than men are, I do agree that there are plenty of female enforcers of sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, traditionalism, etc. And my response to that is, "So?" If someone is arguing against my right to equal participation and status in society, I really don't care if that person is a man or a woman. Again, this is not a fight of men versus women but of patriarchy versus feminism.

Veronica's said...

Tip at 9:03 am

You say that feminism imposes it's will on people in a totalitarian kind of way. I disagree:

1) Your first example was the issue of hierarchical marriage versus egalitarian marriage. I cannot think of any legal or regulatory remedies feminists have taken to try to force couples to live in an egalitarian way. In the U.S. (is that where you are from?), any couple who wants to can decide that it is the woman's role to "submit" to the husband - and many couples indeed make this decision. But they are not just freely making this decision in a vacuum. There are huge numbers of Americans who have religious leaders (Southern Baptist convention, anyone?) telling them that God the Almighty requires the husband to lead and the wife to submit. Now THAT is imposing something! Feminists cannot compete with traditionalist when it comes to imposing their views on how couples should arrange their marriages. We are not "imposing" anything by merely arguing our point of view in forceful terms; we are, however, refusing to leave fundamentalist religious viewpoints unanswered in the marketplace of ideas.

2) Abortion: You say that feminism does not speak for all women on the issue of abortion. But surely feminists have NEVER claimed that every woman believes in a right to abortion. That would be silly and manifestly false. We DO claim to be in favor of reproductive freedom for all women. This, by the way, includes the right NOT to get an abortion, which is equally important. You see, advocating for the right to abortion does not "impose" anything on women who disagree. A woman who disagrees need not get an abortion. In contrast, those women (and men) who oppose the right to abortion seek to impose their will on the rest of us. They want to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. Now, we may disagree about whether such force is a good thing or not, but there is no doubt who is imposing the force of the state to override individual choice by women.

3). Now one example that I can think of where feminists have passed laws to override free choice is in the area of antidiscrimination legislation (which I support). In the past, women's individual freedom was severely curtailed by virtue of having been largely excluded from the lucrative sectors of the economy. Many employers simply did not hire women for certain jobs - generally the higher paying, more powerful jobs. Even Sandra Day O'Connor couldn't find a job outside the secretarial pool after graduating number two from Stanford Law School. As a result some exceptional women (the Margaret Thatchers and others) were able to get around these problems through sheer talent and drive, but the vast majority of average women had a choice between eking out a meager living as a teacher or a secretary, or relying on a man for financial support. In contrast, average men could make a pretty good living without having to have any special talent or drive. So yes, antidiscrimination legislation involves an imposition on the will of employers, but results in a massive improvement in the individual freedom of women to structure their own lives.

Anonymous said...

Veronica @1:37P:

Feminism is totalitarian because it is (a) ideologically blind, and (b) separatist in nature. It is an idealistic view of the feminine. It seeks to champion women, not equalize men and women. If there was ever equality in any sphere of life, feminists would continue to complain.

(1) You've talked about "patriarchy," I've talked about "matriarchy," and somewhere out there is "equality." It doesn't matter. When you have a bunch of crazy feminists running around loudly proclaiming "all sex is rape," and these women are not definitively repudiated, it's wacky. In terms of Southern Baptists, no one is required to be a member of a religion. They're not imposing anything. Any woman of that congregation can walk out. People are responsible for their own choices. And "fundamentalist viewpoints" are, by definition, impossible to refute. Move on.

(2) I am not interested in getting into an abortion argument at all. What I am claiming is that feminism is largely monolithic on the topic. What many on the pro-choice side fundamentally do not understand is there are people on the other side of the issue who view abortion as murder of innocent life, regardless of the interests of the mother. If they could acknowledge that, and still make their argument on libertarian grounds, I suspect they'd have more adherents, or at least people who understand them. Again, I'm just sayin'... nothing to get worked up about. I'm a message-bearer, not an activist.

(3) I see your point. But I think we've gone WAY beyond the day when Sandra Day O'Connor couldn't get past a secretarial position. There is discrimination out in the world in all forms, on both sides. But sitting around whining about it and talking endlessly about how there's so much injustice in the world never won over anyone. As long as feminists continue to indoctrinate young women about how unfair the world is, the the longer we have to wait for detente. The women who head-up most women's studies departments at universities are angry, leftist malcontents, endlessly blaming men and "patriarchy" for everything, while never owning their own crap about anything they put out there. It's weird stuff, and there's no accountability.


Anonymous said...

Veronica @12:48:

Crazy thought. I'm going out on a limb, but here goes...

I invite you to give up the whole construct of "patriarchy" as a vehicle for debate. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy... one can see "patriarchy" anywhere. I get the whole misogyny thing, but the "patriarchy" bit? Please. It's like viewing a police lineup and pointing out the human beings with 10 toes. It's like a little girl in Salem exclaiming that some inconvenient person is a witch. In other words, it's boring. I've seen what you've written as a commenter, and I'm confident that you have better stuff in your quiver than that. It's beneath you. This is 21st century America, not Saudi Arabia. You're a good foil. Step up. Leave the minor league tricks behind...

Your favorite fan,


Vernita said...

This is cool!