Belfast Telegraph

How the Iron Lady showed that women could rule the world

By Gail Walker

Margaret Thatcher has been the most important public figure of my lifetime – thus far.

Political commentators and historians will doubtless over the coming days give more objective renderings of the triumphs and failures, the good and bad aspects of her legacy.

Me? I would just like to say that 'Mrs T' made the modern world possible.

To mention just a few moments: she tamed the unions, smashed the miners, unleashed Big Bang capitalism, faced down the hunger strike, humiliated the old schooltie Tory wets, crushed Galtieri and won the Falklands war, outfaced the unionists over the Anglo Irish Agreement, bulldozed the Berlin Wall.

The clue to her greatness was not just the events themselves, it was how she did things.

Just look at the verbs: 'tamed', 'smashed', 'unleashed', 'faced down', 'humiliated', 'crushed', 'won ...

All the words that one would normally associate with masculinity.

In other words, she rode roughshod (there's another one) over the beloved shibboleths of male chauvinists and hardline feminists. Woman wasn't necessarily the pacifier, the conciliator, the passive peacemaker, the domestic goddess. Clearly, if the world was run by women, it wouldn't be one huge Mumsnet; people would still fight tooth and manicured nail for what they believed in.

As the punk movement could only dream of in their anthems, she ripped it up and started again. No wonder Thatcher was often depicted as a dominatrix. Because her vibe was edgy, sexy, powerful. Her Eighties sidekick Madonna may have had the pointy Gaultier bra, but Maggie held the whip of real power, not pantomime.

For any woman who grew up in the Eighties, it's impossible to under-estimate her influence.

You didn't have to like Margaret Thatcher to benefit from a culture that suddenly didn't put boundaries on what a woman could do. She didn't inherit or marry her power.

Many aspects of Thatcher's legacy can be questioned, but this one cannot – she established once again that being a woman was not some kind of existential curse.

On the contrary, just like being a man, it was only the starting point – allowing you to be strong, to be ideological, to be principled, to be pig-headed, to be cruel. To be right. To be wrong. In other words, To Be.

And all with a great sense of style.

Belfast Telegraph


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