(Originally appeared on WorldIrish.com on 8th April 2013. You can find the original post here: http://www.worldirish.com/story/31544-opinion-margaret-thatcher-did-a-mans-job-as-a-woman-but-most-importantly-as-her-own-woman)
My claim to fame as a four year old was a comparison made between Margaret Thatcher and myself by a nun. Luckily, my mother was a feminist who saw funny side, because in 1980’s Ireland, it could have been the start of a civil war! The comparison was borne out of negotiations on the swop of a child’s handbag with two elderly nuns. For what else would a mini – maggie squabble over? I The nuns knew of my intentions and left me away with it. The commented to my mother “Mrs. Kavanagh we have another Margaret Thatcher on our hands here!”
Her political ideology cast her as the marmite of politics, you either loved her or you hated her. However, the impact of her legacy is already borne out in the fact that you cannot turn on a TV, log on to internet news site or social media platform without avoiding her name today.
Without doubt, Margaret Thatcher was, to put it mildly, a polarizing figure. She is regarded by some as the doyenne of free market economics which pulled the United Kingdom out of a long period of economic decline. For others, she is regarded as a supporter of autocratic regimes, a destroyer of unions through the miners strikes and, devastating communities through the poll tax. Yet, for a politician she is known more for her policies than what she wore. She is debated for what she implemented rather than who she married.
Female celebrity and notoriety today revolves around how thin, fat, fashionable or otherwise a woman is. Kate Middleton has a Facebook tracker for what she wears every day and Lady Gaga is subject to debate for her fashion (or butcher’s counter choice). However, Margaret Thatcher is a woman who will be remembered for her job. She will be studied because of the career choices that she took, and the affect which her policies had on the world we live in now. I was reared with the belief that a woman was just as capable as a man at any job. This of course, extended to politics and running a country. This is what Margaret Thatcher meant to me.
She did a man’s job as a woman, but most importantly, as her own woman. She took on a political system and she succeed. She became the first female party leader of an English political party and then became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom. She did all this prior to the introduction of gender quotas. She fought and triumphed in a world that valued women as housewives, mothers or beauty queens.
Politics is a hard game for women. A female politician is more likely to be ridiculed for what she wore than her own intellectualism. So much so that the attention given to women over such issues is just as likely to keep them out of politics as the hours required to do the job. This has been acknowledged and steps are being taken to increase the level of participation for women through legislation.
She did all this before, political reform and gender balance were words on political manifestos. Personally, she showed me that if you work hard enough you can achieve what ever you wish regardless of being a woman. That your gender is not a barrier but something that can allow you to put you own personal stamp on what ever career you wish to achieve.
The legacy to women of Margaret Thatcher should not be a divisive and brutal reexamination of past policies but of ambition and drive which, contrary to today’s female celebrity, can go out their and change the world either for better or worse – you decide.