Margaret Thatcher, through example, made the world a better place for women. As we digest the passing of one of history’s most impressive and memorable figures, we take a moment to give thanks for the example she set.
Even if Margaret Thatcher had not become the first — and so far only — female Prime Minister of Britain, her accomplishments would have been impressive. Born in 1925 to a grocery store owner, Margaret learned the value of hard work at a young age — working at her father’s grocery stores (he owned two) and getting excellent grades in school. In fact, her academic accomplishments won her a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford. During an era when women attended university to avail themselves of potential spouses, Thatcher took her studies seriously. Her political ambitions, hard work, intelligence and refusal to allow gender to deter her took her to the highest political office in Britain. What was the takeaway for women? Gender and an upbringing void of privilege were no longer excuses to not succeed.
On her journey to Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher lost several campaigns for smaller government positions — to men — but she never gave up. In 1951, she married Denis Thatcher. Two years later in 1953, Thatcher became a lawyer specializing in taxes and gave birth to twins. Bear in mind Thatcher was doing this during a time when women spent their days in dresses, ironing their husbands’ shirts and exchanging casserole recipes. Even for our generation, where it’s expected that we juggle domestic and career duties, it can be difficult to find the support we need. Thatcher proved through hard work, commitment, smarts and a good support system that women can make their mark by fulfilling conventional roles and through successful careers.
There actually is an “i” in “team”
Margaret Thatcher wasn’t called the “Iron Lady” for nothing. She had stones bigger than some of her male counterparts. If she believed in something, she stuck by it and refused to relent to the opinion of her male peers. In an interview with Women’s Own in 1987 Thatcher said, “They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”
Such strict independence served as an example to women to have the backbone necessary to stand on our own two feet, so we had something to fall back on when life took an unpredicted turn. It reminded us to be self-sufficient and independent, not to the exclusion of others, but so we don’t lose ourselves in others.
Thatcher was both celebrated and vilified for many of her economic policies. What she taught women is that we have the smarts and capability to think outside the box when it comes to financial matters. She demonstrated how to problem-solve our way through economic challenges, something millions of women face. Whether we’re single mothers, stay-at-home wives of male breadwinners or young women trying to make ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck, Thatcher reminded us we have as much right to financial talent and control as the next guy.
Our grandmothers, in the spotlight
The Iron Lady reminded many of us of an exaggerated version of our grandmothers. So many of our grandmothers were pioneers, even if it was on a smaller or less public level than Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher inspired us with how she pioneered the concepts of modern-day feminine liberties, much the way our grandmothers pioneered concepts of hard work, dedication and determination in a more personal way. For example, my grandmother wasn’t the first female prime minister of Great Britain. But the woman raised five children without running water, disposable diapers or modern-day appliances, with limited financial means, and did it all cheerfully.
It is this sort of resilience demonstrated by our grandmothers and public figures like Margaret Thatcher that keeps us grounded when we’re having a bad day. If they could do what they did, given their circumstances, certainly we can find solutions to our problems.