A feminist guide to celebrating Thatcher’s demise

Posted on 9 April 2013 by

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I’ll start from the premise that anybody who’s got as far as reading this had no particular love for Margaret Thatcher. If this doesn’t apply to you, this article will not help. You’re on the wrong blog. Go away now. Bye bye.

Yesterday, today and probably for the next week or so, people are sharing the glad tidings around TwitFace in succinct missives ranging from jubilant celebration to wary reminders that this doesn’t change the way things are and we must keep up the fight against Thatcher’s legacy. There’s nothing wrong with either of these sentiments. While we must not forget that the wheels she put in motion are still driving the cogs that grind us into submission on a daily basis, we’re also entitled to blow off a little steam, and even to celebrate the presence of one less architect of our oppression wasting our oxygen with their vile presence on this planet. However, unusually for a such a potent symbol of rampant destructive capital, and especially for one in a position to wield so much power against the working class, she was a woman. What does this mean for the conscientious Thatcher-basher? Let’s try out a few suppositions that are making their presence felt throughout that amorphous confusion of privilege, oppression, liberal denial, radical indignation and occasional hope that our newspapers refer to as “The Left”.

Does it mean you can’t say anything these days cos feminists and political correctness has gone mad innit?
No.

Does it mean that we have to acknowledge her as a feminist icon because being in power was harder for women and she raised women’s political status and all that?
No. That is, it probably was harder for her than it would have been for a man, because patriarchy etc., but it’s not as if she was pursuing a feminist goal or fighting oppression. Her ambitions were quintessentially individualist. She wasn’t raising the status of women, in fact she used every feminine stereotype she could to promote herself while reinforcing working class women’s oppression. You don’t get to claim any feminist kudos for breaking glass ceilings when you rain down shattered glass on the women below in the process. Feminism (which Thatcher loathed) wasn’t, and isn’t, about getting to the top and playing with the big boys, it’s about bringing the big boys down, along with all the structures maintained by patriarchy and capitalism. Let’s get one thing entirely clear: Thatcher was no feminist, and she did shit all for women.

Does it mean that we can’t vilify her because we wouldn’t be vilifying a man in the same way?
No, we can definitely vilify her. But we should be careful about how we vilify her, because patriarchy does make it so much easier to vilify women as women, in ways that are harmful to all women rather than just the villains. That said, give her credit: she was vilified for far more than just her gender, and there are many very good reasons why Thatcher holds such a special place in the nation’s gallbladders. She was the one who turned on the tap for all the neoliberal free market shit we’ve been wading through for the past three decades. Why vilify her for being a woman when there’s her role in privatising services, destroying industries, breaking unions, starting wars, atomising communities and, lest we forget, stealing milk from babies.
It’s true that any other Prime Minister at that time would have done similar things, and that every one since has continued the job, and it’s also true that a man might have got away with much of it with less flack from the press. Doesn’t make Thatcher any less of a villain. If we want to be fair and break down the gendered vilification, let’s get ready to blow the roof off when Blair carks it.

Does it mean I can’t call Thatcher a bitch, cunt, hag, harridan, cow or cast aspersions on her sexual integrity or attractiveness?
I don’t know where you think I acquired magic powers from, but I can’t actually stop you from saying anything.

But would it be wrong for somebody who thinks of themselves as a feminist or feminist ally to use those words against Thatcher?
Look, I’m not about making naughty lists, here. Words and their meanings are fluid, and often context-dependent. But as a general rule, insults that are only used for women are misogynist, k? A good litmus test is to ask yourself if you’d ever find occasion to use the same insult on a man, without the insult centring on implying he’s like a woman.  If you’re not sure, try it on Cameron and see how it fits. There are very few insults that aren’t suitable for him.
Also, be aware that people who hear you using those insults on Thatcher without first seeing you use them on Cameron will be perfectly justified in assuming misogyny, as that’s the usual meaning of those words. Don’t come back with “But I used the same insult on Cameron, so it’s OK!” One cross-gender insult does not wash away centuries of misogynistic cultural baggage. Best response to being called out on this is to apologise and use a more gender-neutral insult (on Thatcher, not the person who called you out. Unless they were defending Thatcher).

Does that mean I just can’t insult women?
Not at all. What’s wrong with calling Thatcher a venomous, putrid crust of syphilitic smegma on the chode of the universe? Or if you don’t like the vulgarity, go for the surreal: Thatcher was a wax-encrusted elbow-joint of the highest order. Be creative. Please feel free to use the comments on this post to practice your non-gendered insults, provided you aim them only at Thatcher.

Where do you stand on singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead?”
Tough one. The history of witch persecution is fraught with the very foundations of modern capitalist and patriarchal oppression, as anybody who’s read Silvia Federici knows. But there are so few songs you can sing joyfully about the death of somebody thoroughly deserving.
You want a proper argument in defence? Give me a minute.
OK, got one. The cultural connotations of “witch” in the modern day are so fragmented, having passed from fairy tale and myth through church/state persecution, a modern reinvention as “Wicca”, developing into a full-fledged sub-culture with often positive portrayals in TV drama and children’s literature, it could be argued that the word “witch” is now primarily a fairly neutral term for a female magic-user and serves only to denote the profession of the woman in question, not her moral status. After all, the song takes care to distinguish: “Which old witch? The wicked witch,” suggesting that wickedness is by no means assumed by the term’s use. If Glinda, the good witch, can allow the munchkins their song of triumph over the ruby-slippered menace that has oppressed them for so long, who am I to begrudge it?