“Margaret Thatcher was one of those glorious accidents of history. The Tory Party woke up one day and discovered that by mistake they had elected this female leader”
Last night saw the airing of the first episode of a five part series, “A Very British Revolution” about Margaret Thatcher’s rise in politics and time in No10 through a new lens, with archive footage and interviews from her inner circle.
The story of Margaret Thatcher is an essential part of Conservative folklore. The daughter of a Grantham grocer who became the first female Prime Minister.
So often the focus is on the woman who appeared resolute at party conference after the bombing of the Grand hotel in Brighton, the woman who would wear the “Iron Lady” title as a badge of honour, and the woman who would come to have her own “ism”. The focus is rarely on the woman who she was before she secured the keys to No10.
“She actually feeds on obstacles and feeds on problems; and grows as a result of them” – Shirley Williams on Margaret Thatcher
This first part of the documentary gives an insight into Thatcher as Education Secretary and Leader of the Opposition, following the creation of the woman who would eventually become the Iron Lady.
When asked in an interview why she wanted to become leader, Thatcher replied that “I didn’t set out to be leader in any way. I didn’t plan or determine to do it from my youth. I felt that I could tackle it as well as anyone else, and I’ve always believed that when opportunities come, you should take them. And you should use the abilities and talents you’ve been given to maximum extent and stretch them. You’ve got a duty to do so”. A motivational quote worthy of your Instagram feed.
Thatcher openly admitted to weeping when she became party leader – “I almost wept when they told me, I did weep”. The image of the “crying woman” has been used throughout history to portray women – not as passionate – but as weak. This came full circle this week when the media tried to insinuate that the Prime Minister had become teary eyed during a meeting with the 1922 committee. The since debunked claims were made to weaken the image of a female prime minister. Few political women today would ever openly admit to crying. It’s not viewed as a sign of passion or belief, it’s viewed as a sign of weakness – the image of the tearful woman has carried on throughout history.
What is painfully visible in this part of the documentary is the casual, widely accepted, gender bias. One clip shows a man telling Thatcher how “women in politics, it seems to me, are confined to the roles of arts and education”. Thatcher herself appears on screen to say “I don’t think in my lifetime there will be a women Prime Minister – I am always a realist”.
Watching Thatcher rehearse her speeches in a lower voice to get rid of the
“shrilling” and ditching her trademark hats and patterned outfits for a more sleek skirt suit, reminded me of so many modern women who have been forced to do the same.
40 years later are political women still being forced to tweak their voices, micromanage their wardrobe and stay firmly within a conventional box? Unfortunately so.
The greatest takeaway from “Making Margaret”? Not much has changed in 40 years.