By Sheila McGregor
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2348

Thatcher made life even harder for women

This article is over 10 years, 7 months old
Issue 2348
Protesting against police racism in Liverpool after the 1981 Toxteth riots
Protesting against police racism in Liverpool after the 1981 Toxteth riots (Pic: John Sturrock)

Labour’s Oona King said, “I don’t care if Thatcher was the devil, it meant so much to me when I was growing up that two women—she and the Queen—were running the country.”

Feminist author Natasha Walter argued that Thatcher “normalised female success….She is the great unsung hero of British feminism.”

Personally I loathed and detested Thatcher. 

She was a class warrior who led the Tory party into battle to destroy the most powerful sections of the working class movement. 

Her victory over the miners in 1985 set the working class movement, and the position of working class women, back.

A section of the women’s movement believed that women were somehow kinder and gentler than men.

I never did. 

Thatcher’s stance as the “Iron Lady” wasn’t about proving that women could be tough. It was about her as a politician.

Some women saw Thatcher’s election as leader of the Tory party and then prime minister as a step forward for women. 

There had been no woman leader of a major political party or trade union at the time.


That reflected society’s discrimination against women and black people. But British society was in transition. 

Increasing numbers of women were entering the workforce and higher education, while the second generation of black Britons was being born. 

Seeing women in positions of leadership and influence in 1979 was rare—that’s why Thatcher stood out.

But Thatcher wasn’t elected because women in Britain were making gains. 

She climbed to the top because she seemed to have the leadership qualities needed to take on and defeat the working class movement.

She wasn’t interested in advancing the cause of women. 

And she didn’t improve life for most women when elected.

Today women still don’t have equality, but they are present in areas of society in a way that was unthinkable in the 1950s and 1960s.

This didn’t happen because of Thatcher.


Similar changes have occurred in the US and Europe without a similar figure. Campaigning by women, and men, is the main reason for these changes.

So what is Thatcher’s legacy? 

Under Thatcher the pay gap between working class men and women continued to widen. 

Unemployment rose dramatically. Whole industries were laid to waste, hitting both women and men.

Privatising public services led to lower pay, longer hours and worse working conditions, particularly women working as cleaners in hospitals and schools.

Thatcher emphasised the importance of the family, yet she derided the very existence of society. 

She paved the way for attacks on the welfare state and public services that relieved some of the burden on working class women.

There is a blue thread that connects her legacy with David Cameron’s attacks on the welfare state today.

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