When Margaret Thatcher was finally forced to resign in 1990 after more than eleven years in power, a newspaper commented on her impact on culture and society by pointing out that a generation of British children had grown up with a female Prime Minister and that they now had to familiarize themselves with the fact that ‘she’ [the Prime Minister] was no longer a woman.
I suppose it was this or another commentary of this type that Phyllida Loyd, the director of The Iron Lady, and Meryl Streep, its lead actress, read before making this movie.
Was Margaret Thatcher a feminist? On that, and Thatcherism more generally, I recommend reading an insightful essay by Germaine Greer written a few years ago upon occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Thatcher’s election entitled ‘The Making of Maggie.’ In brief, Margaret Thatcher should be credited for her willpower and stubbornness but that was pretty much all she had.
Is The Iron Lady a feminist movie? No. But it does make a strong case for being one—and in that it resembles its inspirational source: what matters is not what one believes but how strongly one believes in it.
The film portrays Margaret Thatcher as a grocer’s daughter who wanted to make a difference in the world and who was lucky enough to fall in love and marry an aspiring young Tory businessman. With his emotional support and the credentials of his name, she moved up the career ladder within her party and was finally elected Prime Minister. In that position, she advanced her project of Britain’s modernization. This included putting small business first and pulling the state back, but also destroying trade-unions and humiliating the poor and the unemployed. The small Falkland war helped consolidate her image as a warrior—the one who never gives up or in.
She was a woman of thoughts and actions, having little understanding for feeling or weakness. There are many ‘lovely’ quotations of her to that effect and the movie makes ample and earnest use of them. Many of these sound pathetic today and did elicit laughter by the audience. Indeed, she might have sounded a bit ridiculous, and her policies might have been disputed, but her resolve, must be admired. This is pretty much the film’s morale, smartly backed up with a remarkable portrayal by Meryl Streep of an aging Mrs. Thatcher fighting against Alzheimer’s.
Cut!—another movie director might have said at this point.
Imagine the same film being made about a man—someone of the likes of George Bush or Vladimir Putin. Would you buy the story then?
The movie business can be very manipulative, and The Iron Lady is a good example. It encourages the audience to both forget and forgive Mrs. Thatcher for her numerous lapses and failings—because she is a woman who had to fight all her life and against so many men.
Today, the Justice Commissioner of the European Union, Viviane Redding, called for Europe-wide quotas to help increase the number of women in leading positions. She does not like quota, she told ‘Die Welt,’ but she likes their results. It seems they might be necessary for a transitional period to bring about change. I agree. Had there been quota back in the 1970s and 1980s, Margaret Thatcher would have had more competition—and then no one in their right mind would have come up with the idea of portraying her in feminist colors.