I was very much looking forward to being a member of the Question Time audience in Rochdale on the 11th April as I am a big fan of the show and was eager for the opportunity to put some domestic violence issues to the panel. In particular I was keen to ask what the view of the panel was in relation to whether or not they felt there should be a criminal offence of domestic abuse.
There I was, outfit sorted, front seat allocated, question submitted and then, Wham! Baroness Thatcher dies. “Hmm they are bound to devote the vast majority of the night to this so I might not get chance to ask a domestic violence question” I was thinking.
No matter, I will just have to go on the day with a question about Maggie – “Was Baroness Thatcher a feminist?” That’s bound to garner some interesting responses. Did she smash the glass ceiling for good or did she have no interest whatsoever in women’s issues or promoting female equality? Whatever you think of her policies the election of the first female prime minister will always be an important step along the road to equality. Even her most vociferous detractors would struggle to say that she was not up to the role of Prime Minister and her performances at Prime Minister’s Questions demonstrated that she was always at the top of her game. This is precisely what makes it so disappointing for some that she didn’t eventually use her strong position to promote women’s interests. This would not have been a minority issue – women make up half of the electorate and many outrages such as rape within marriage were still legal at this time. Many point to the fact that throughout her time in office Baroness Thatcher only promoted one woman to the cabinet even though there were other female politicians who were more than equal to many of the male members of her cabinet.
Baroness Thatcher certainly appeared to mimic many male traits in her leadership style and even worked on lowering her voice to sound less feminine.
We cannot however judge Baroness Thatcher by the standards of the time we live in now (and even today there has not been a female Prime Minister or even party leader of a major party since) but by the standards and atmosphere of the 1970’s and 1980’s which was a very different time for women (think Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars). Baroness Thatcher was, in the early days, constantly questioned about how she could hope to be the Prime Minister as a woman and mother so perhaps she was cautious about being seen to promote women and instead concentrated on proving that she was more than capable of doing the job in hand regardless of her gender?
Whatever her intentions Baroness Thatcher was certainly a trail-blazer demonstrating to young women and girls such as myself that it was possible for women to reach the top in any career and we were equally as capable as men. Sadly this has not translated into the reality one might have expected. Women are still outnumbered 4:1 in parliament and there are currently only 4 female cabinet ministers which ranks Britain 57th in the world in terms of representation of women in parliament. Only 17% of FTSE 100 directorships are held by women and only 13.6% of senior judiciary are women. So whilst Baroness Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister showed that it could be done we still have a long way to go. As for Question Time – I will get there one day!