Will Hillary have the Maggie effect on women?

The Daily Telegraph View image

For the first time in history there is a serious female contender for the White House, but if she wins will she have the same influence on women as Maggie did on this side of the pond?

Hillary Clinton has made history and she could go on to become the first female President of the USA

It’s 37 years since Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the UK, I was on my way to being 10 at the time and she stepped down when I was 21.  Our country was led by two women (Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher) for 11 opinion defining years of my life.

Ask Google what Margaret Thatcher did for women and it booms back a resounding and confident – NOTHING. 

That’s just not true.  Margaret Thatcher made me feel it was normal for a woman to hold the highest office.  As I went through my secondary education at an all-girls comprehensive, she also made other people up their game and lift their expectations of what we could achieve – “The Prime Minister is a woman, you live in an era where you can achieve what you want” – said our teachers, and none of us disputed that.

I was born on the same day as Margaret Thatcher (13th October) and it always made me wonder if we were similar, in a horoscope planets aligning kind of way.  It made me more interested in her and I would follow her decisions and how she chose to respond to things as if we were connected.

Most of the time I was pretty disappointed.  We didn’t seem to have much in common, her approach to foreign affairs didn’t match mine; supporting the Khmer Rouge, dismissing the ANC and giving the go ahead on The Falklands War.  She seemed to begrudgingly get involved with the end of The Cold War and reunification of Germany and was opposed to further collaboration and integration with the rest of Europe.

 

Ask Google what Margaret Thatcher did for women and it booms back a resounding and confident – NOTHING.

She also seemed cold.  When she was asked about women’s rights or female issues of any kind, she was obviously uncomfortable, I heard her say “But no, a woman must rise through merit, there must be no discrimination” and I remember thinking that was discrimination.  For years incompetent men had risen way past their potential because of who they knew and women needed an opportunity to catch up.

I rationalised that her life surrounded by those grey, boring men must have driven her to act and behave in a way that she felt kept her in control - what was the point of being the first woman to lead the country if you couldn’t be yourself!

That’s when the penny dropped, she was being herself.  She wasn’t a feminist with an agenda she was going to push, she was nobody’s consort and the power resided in her.

Hillary, on the other hand has been Bill’s consort.  When Hillary and Bill faced the media about his first alleged affair when he was campaigning to be the Democratic candidate in 1992, he told the world that The White House would get 2 for 1 if he became President.  Hillary knows what it’s like to be good enough to rise through merit but have to play the system.  She understands that life is complicated and being the “Iron Lady” has its time and place.

Ask Google what Hillary Clinton has done for women and the famous “women’s rights are human rights” comment Hillary made at the UN Conference for Women in 1995 plus many other positive affirmations are there to welcome you.  Hillary is more of a game player than Maggie and time will tell if these words turn into actions.

I’m still sad that 37 years later, women leaders are still thin on the ground and it’s still a huge talking point but things are changing, especially with the understanding that the power resides in us.  Margaret Thatcher (amongst others) taught me that, hopefully it will be Hillary and not Trump inspiring a new generation of 10-year-old girls.

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