This weekend I have been studying Thatcher’s 11 years in power in considerable detail, as I came to the realisation that my teacher hadn’t actually taught us the whole of the Thatcher unit in our course book and so set about teaching it to myself. For those of you who don’t know Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative party member who became the first female Prime Minister of Britain in 1979. As a woman myself and a strong believer in the importance of politics in the empowerment of young people, women, and other misrepresented and minority groups, I was keen to investigate Thatcher’s impact as a role model for young women like me and why perhaps she is still viewed negatively by British society nowadays. Was she really as bad as people make out?
So I started with learning about what Thatcherism actually meant, as despite studying politics last year and learning about Thatcherism as an ideology, I feel like I never fully understood it. Thatcherism is basically the key political ideas that Thatcher stood by and from what I can tell, they were given their own ideological term as at the time, they were considered to be radical compared to the traditional Conservative ideas of preserving individual wealth and private ownership. To give you a bit of background, what Thatcher stood for was the rights and interests of individuals over that of the nation as a whole, promoting individual enterprise, rewarding hard work through low taxes, the importance of law and order to maintain a democratic society, that law, freedom and justice was provided for all by British democracy and she was a conviction politician, believing that as prime minister, she should stick to her own principles rather than trying to reach a consensus which always required compromise. Although I pretty much have the opposite political standpoint on most of her key ideas, I could see the logic behind Thatcherism, so at this point had a fairly positive view of Thatcher, although I was a little skeptical as to how she could have transformed her political beliefs into policy that would have benefited the political and social environment at the time.
Then I went on to learn about Thatcher’s economic policy, which I won’t go into detail with as it is quite complex and long-winded, but overall her attempts to lead Britain out of recession – although they broke the trend of past governments – and her way of economic thinking interested me, despite their limited success. Generally though I am quite sympathetic towards economic policy as it must be so difficult to manage such a vast, fluid concept as a countries economy and it’s impossible to benefit everyone at once, so her economic failures in my opinion were no worse than past governments.
After going on to reading about her intentions to “roll back” (reduce) state intervention in the economy and increase the size of the private sector, I started reading into how Thatcher’s policies caused political and social division within Britain. This aspect of analysing her time in office really interested me, because instead of reading all the complex detail of which policies she introduced to do what, I was actually learning about the impact of her policies and how they affected real people living at the time. What stood out to me most, was a statement saying that Thatcher felt “threatened” by diversity within society. This is what got me thinking about if Thatcher really is a role model and an inspiration to young girls like me because even though she managed to fight her way to the top level of politics – something that would have been unheard of 50, 20 or even 10 years before she became Prime Minister – I certainly don’t agree with some of the things she did whilst she was in that position of power.
Firstly, Thatcher’s viewpoint of homosexuality was that it was a symbol of ‘moral decline’ and that heterosexual families and relationships were the norm which should be promoted to young children of the time as the ‘right’ way to live. As a member of the LGBT+ community myself, I was saddened by this. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ignorant to the fact that discrimination and attitudes towards the LGBT+ community in not-so-distant decades were on a different scale to they are now, but it still upsets me to read about the fact that the government who sets the law and code which the public should abide had a role in stigmatising homosexuality as late as the 1980s. As a result of Thatcher’s beliefs about homosexuality, she introduced a law called the Local Government Act 1988 and in Section 28 of this law, it was stated that discussion and promotion of homosexuality within schools was to be banned. This is something I really disagreed with, because even during my school education I haven’t learnt about homosexuality, in fact i can’t even think of one instance throughout my primary and secondary school education where homosexuality was even mentioned, other than Christian views on homosexuality that we had to study at GCSE, but even then we only briefly touched on it. As a result of this, I didn’t even know that there were other sexualities until about two years ago and only discovered my own sexual identity thanks to the help of my internet and my wonderful blogger friends, so I definitely think education about LGBT+ issues and people is vital in helping the LGBT+ community, especially young people, feel accepted by society and to help others to learn about us and the issues we face. So going back to Thatcher, I an’t imagine what it must have been like for LGBT+ young people back then to live in a society where your sexual identity is repressed in every aspect of society.
Furthermore, as Thatcher was in favour of advancing individual rights over collective rights, she was also against feminist movements of the time. Feminism is also something I am passionate about as a young women, because I believe that nothing: race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity etc should stop anyone from being treated with equal respect and having equal opportunities in life, so naturally feminism is a cause that I am in support of. It sort of shocked me a bit to hear that Thatcher was against feminism, to the extent that she stated that a group of women campaigning against the positioning of American cruise missiles on British territory should be ‘eradicated’, because as the first female Prime Minister, she was in a position to empower young women and make a step forward for the rights and attitudes towards women within British society at the time. Those women that she said needed to be ‘eradicated’ had every right to campaign and what sort of message would Thatcher’s attitude towards them have sent to young girls at the time? That they should remain passive and that their opinions aren’t worthy of expressing?
Honestly, although I could accept some of Thatcher’s early beliefs and policies, I struggle to accept her attitudes towards homosexuality and women. I know I must take into consideration the context of the time in which she was Prime Minister when attitudes towards same-sex relationships and the roles of women were still very traditional, but form the viewpoint of a young 21st century LGBT+ girl, I can’t really see Thatcher as an ideal role model for people like me to look up to. I mean yes, it is inspiring that a woman managed to achieve such power in a time where women were very much expected to be wives and home-makers instead of pursuing careers for themselves, but I think there is so much more that Thatcher could have done as Prime Minister to inspire more young girls to take up careers in politics. Of course, I still think it is important for young girls and women to learn about Thatcher but I hope that one day the stereotype of female politicians and Prime Ministers as being ‘just another Thatcher’ will disappear and the new generation of female politicians will forge their own identities and success stories that will act as a better inspiration for young women of the future.