Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher & Sexism


(iron [Lady] showing pol[itical pol]arisation)

Margaret Thatcher’s death shows something that should have been obvious, but is often overlooked; mainly, I guess, because the national press has a strong London bias. That is, that the UK has such deep divisions within it that the experience of being British is so ferociously different for different groups of British people.

Furthermore, it reveals how polarised the right and left are – something that isn’t obvious in the actual policy of the mainstream parties. In this sense, it’s a similar effect to that of Obama’s recent re-election in America. In policy as in practise, the democrats aren’t the left; often, they’re barely even liberal; their economic, social & political priorities are a lot closer to those of their republican opponents than people like to remember. But the two-party system provides a central space in which a deeply-felt division within the people can be neutralised (& thus, in a practical sense, ignored).

I don’t want to compare & contrast a list of positives/negatives of Thatcher’s legacy. I don’t think that’s necessary & I don’t think it’s intellectually useful. At the beginning of Paul Preston’s brilliant The Spanish Civil War he says that he can see no positive element of Franco’s victory that does anything toward outweighing the negative, & admits that such facts make him ‘biased’ in a sense - & I occupy similar (though less extreme, as she’s not actually a fascist) ground when it comes to Thatcher, her politics & her symbolism. But I think, for me, it would be better to say that she, as a figure, is more than one figure, she played more than one part, & the memory of her, or the understanding of her legacy, is more than a single memory, more than a single legacy. & I think a key component of this is Thatcher as a woman.

I don’t want to know this, but I know it: the left is uncomfortable with the first female prime minister being the model for neoliberalism, conservativism, free-market economics, aggressive foreign policy – because the left see themselves as the ones who look out for women, basically. To those on the left, & I include myself in this very much, the struggle for gender equality & representation is suppose to go with the need for economic equality, for fair trade, for public education & healthcare, the struggle for international peace – they are all supposed to be one struggle.

I don’t want to know this, but I know it: lefties hate Margaret Thatcher more because she’s a woman; because she doesn’t conform to the struggle’s idea of what a female icon should be.

Her gender causes equal, or worse, trouble on the right; though strangely enough, it seems harder to spot. The old school & the new school right unite to praise her – but they are the same people who stand for tradition, for family values (i.e., traditional gender roles, i.e., disempowered women), for a business & financial sector dominated by men & by masculinity; they are, after all, the Camerons and the Boris Johnsons, the posh boys club. So they use her gender as a weapon to show the left that policies that – by definition – benefit the minority & not the majority can contain within themselves so much mobility, so much potential for members of the majority to, if they work hard enough, join the minority, that even their most obvious victims are willing to support, advocate, lead, author such policies. In this sense, her gender is being tokenised by the right, even exoticised. ‘She’s an inspiration,’ conservatives are saying, ‘because she succeeded against all the odds, as a woman’ – that is to say, she is a beautiful, exotic anomaly within the system of oppression that they created & continue to support.

So now people are singing Ding Dong the Witch is Dead; calling her a bitch, a cunt – so now people are praising the success of the Green-Grocer’s Daughter, the woman who ‘didn’t feel theneed to make a fuss about the very real obstacles she faced and overcame - and without any help from the 'sisterhood'

… We have to face the obvious here; such terms don’t have equal meaning for men & women - there are not, nor will there be, equivalents. Their use stems from a position of privilege & prejudice. Thatcher’s legacy is horror enough, in terms of the inequality she represented & promoted; we have a huge responsibility, moral, social & intellectual, to condemn the sexist element in both sides here, & to build a better frame for our understanding.

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