Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Thanks to Maggie for helping me find my kind of people

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

One of the first celebrities to pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher after the announcement of the ex-PM's death was none other than Geri Halliwell, the Union flag-festooned Girl Brittania herself.

Famed for her own formidable leadership skills, which tragically rubbed her Spice Girl colleagues up so far the wrong way she had to resign from the group, Geri paid tribute to "our First Lady of girl power", the woman she credited with teaching her 'anything is possible.'

Welsh Valley songstress (™) Katherine Jenkins also decorated her tweet of sadness with a 'GirlPower' hashtag, while American actress Elizabeth Banks called Thatcher "a role model for women and young girls across the world".

It grieves me to question the wisdom of Ginger Spice, but as a teenage girl growing up in Thatcher's Britain, that's not quite how I remember it.

I was very young when the Woman of Steel took power in 1979, but I became a teenager when she was riding the UK like a bouffanted Boadicea, transforming the country's political and cultural landscape of the 1980s. As a pretty ambitious little feminist, I noticed that the PM had two X chromosomes, but beyond that, I couldn't see where the similarities between her and other striving women lay. Within three years of her election success she declared the battle for equality done and dusted. "I hate feminism," she said, with her customary ambivalence. "It is poison." In her entire 11-and-a-half-year leadership Thatcher appointed one female cabinet minister, Baroness Janet Young. Young took her seat in the Lords and therefore wasn't around to bother the PM in the Commons. Best remembered for her unfailing fight against equality for gay people, poor old Janet didn't last very long in the cabinet, and for nearly 10 years Thatcher presided happily over a female-free cabinet in a parliament where women who weren't the prime minister were generally treated with loud, leery catcalls when they rose to speak. As Cherie Blair noted, she smashed the glass ceiling, but only for herself "and that was enough for her".

For me personally, Margaret Thatcher's barely challenged series of election wins did provide some kind of inspiration for the teenage me; she gave me an innate, unwavering disrespect for power-seekers and for the establishment in general. I began to define myself as being against, or at least unable to relate to, the majority in most things. In other words, I rejected George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys and nurtured a crush on Nick Cave (I still have the badge).

This attitude of contrariness developed into the clothes I wore (generally black, tight and weather-inappropriate), and then into the books I read and films I paid to see. My ideas about fighting the Man (so neatly exemplified by the mass-approved Margaret Thatcher) weren't immensely sophisticated, but they were liberating and energising, introduced me to lots of interesting, unusual and funny people, and, to be honest, have never really gone away.

I remember life under Thatcher as being a bit like the Grand National. It was great if you were a winner, able to excel within the rules of the race. But if you fell down or were tripped up, you got trampled on. As did anyone who stopped to help you. For people like me, who wandered off the racetrack, it turned out there was a place where other like-minded souls would gather protectively around you. And for helping me find that place and those people, I suppose I have to thank the Iron Lady.

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