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Would Thatcher's death be seen differently if she was a man?

Margaret Thatcher at the end of the Conservative Party conference in 1990. Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA Archive

Since her death, Margaret Thatcher's legacy and impact on Britain has been widely debated.

Singer and songwriter Tracey Thorn reflects on the difficult legacy she left for feminists, and wonders if her death would be greeted differently had she been a man.

Tracey Thorn writes on Margaret Thatcher's legacy. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive

I was a product of 1970’s feminism, an era of good old-fashioned collectivism, women’s groups and belief in The Sisterhood.

To me a feminist was someone who believed in attempting to remould society in terms that were more favourable to women in general.

What I didn’t realise was that during the 80’s the idea of what a feminist was would be redefined, and in the individualist mood of that decade would be relocated into the persona of any individually successful woman, whether it was Madonna or Margaret Thatcher.

Madonna performing on stage in 1984. Credit: Duncan Raban/EMPICS Entertainment

To those of my generation and ideals this was anathema.

We could see that it was good to have powerful role models, but if those role models were going to use their role to overtly dismiss and denigrate the very social movements that had helped them get there, I couldn’t see that they were anything other than The Enemy.

Thatcher’s obvious dislike and distrust of women led to her surrounding herself with mediocre men, never seeking to advance other women in her party, and certainly doing nothing in her policies to help women at home or in the workplace.

How could this be Feminism, I thought? It’s just Cult of the Individual politics, being played out in this instance by an exceptionally charismatic woman.

Margaret Thatcher receiving a standing ovation at the Conservative Party Conference in 1979. Credit: PA

And yet, it’s never been comfortable, being an anti-Thatcher feminist. To stand in total and unswerving opposition to the only female Prime Minister we have had.

Often her very existence has been gleefully waved in our face by men on the right - “look! we had a woman in charge before you did! hah!” - and she has often been used as a stick to beat us with - “how can you claim there is still a Patriarchy when a woman made it to the top? It just proves that it’s all about individual merit!”

Exasperating stuff, and they know it. Now she has died, and I feel no personal glee.

I never liked that Costello lyric about dancing on her grave, or Morrissey’s about seeing her on the guillotine.

A Morrissey song had lyrics about seeing Baroness Thatcher on the guillotine. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

I was on the same side as both of them politically, but couldn’t see the value in reducing the politics of a decade - and let’s face it, she didn’t come up with and then carry through these policies ON HER OWN - down to the personal dislike of an individual.

And I worried that some of the vitriol of that personal dislike had roots, however deeply buried and unacknowledged, in the fact of her being a woman, a particular type of woman even - bossy, prim, school-teachery.

Her male equivalent often seemed to me to be Norman Tebbit, and while he was widely loathed, I don’t remember songs about stamping on his grave or executing him.

Margaret Thatcher applauds Norman Tebbit at the Tory conference in 1985. Credit: PA

So there is a core of unease in my feelings about her, and my response to the anger she provokes. I share so much of it, and understand where it comes from.

But when I see a banner, as I did this morning, strung up proud and joyful, declaiming THE B**** IS DEAD I still feel that it’s a response that perhaps only a powerful woman could provoke, and that the implied violence and loathing embodied in the phrase is something that all of us women still have good reason to fear.

Tracey Thorn is a singer and songwriter. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

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