Iron Lady

November 28, 1990|By Joan Beck | Joan Beck,Chicago Tribune

SEX HAS LITTLE place in the political codas being composed about Margaret Thatcher.

She didn't campaign as a woman, rely on a gender gap to win elections, identify with women's issues or exercise power as prime minister of Great Britain any differently for being a woman. Her greatest triumphs had nothing to do with sex. Neither did her loss of power last week or her feisty remarks defending her policies before Parliament.

Mrs. Thatcher proved that a woman could win election to the highest office in her land without being the widow or daughter of a ruler or head of state. She wasn't a token woman put on a political ticket for sexual balance or an affirmative-action front for politics-as-usual men. She came from middle-class, non-political origins and learned and earned her way up to leadership in the Conservative Party and in the nation on her own, without a feminist claque and without making feminist arguments for justifying a chance at power.

Mrs. Thatcher showed little concern about how to convince a country's voters that a woman could be strong enough, tough enough, decisive enough, popular enough to lead a nation, a problem with which U.S. female politicians are still struggling.

She simply was strong enough, tough enough and decisive enough to wage and win the Falklands war, to face down the untouchable labor unions that had defied other politicians, to redirect Britain's $57 billion of nationalized properties into the private sector.

Mrs. Thatcher's place in history will be written primarily in terms of these policies. She doesn't need -- surely doesn't want -- the qualifier ''female'' before her long-held title of prime minister.

But it's sad that nowhere else on the world stage now is there another woman with the political power Margaret Thatcher held for 11 1/2 years. Certainly, no woman is likely to attain it soon in the United States. Mrs. Thatcher, at least, has shown women and the whole world that it can be done. So it should be marked down high on the record of her accomplishments and listed as part of her legacy that whether she likes it or not, she can't escape being a historic role model for women.

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