“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”–Margaret Thatcher
Baroness Margaret Thatcher means little to most Americans unless 1. you’re a Ronald Reagan fanatic 2. you’re an Elton John fanatic 3. you once were British 4. you’re me.
You see, in college I was a member of The House of Margaret Thatcher. To be precise, I was it’s president, thus earning the honor of Lady. Lady Layne.
*Pause for smothered snickers*
To my defense, I did not choose this association. My college was kind of like Harry Potter except not as magical and more nerdy. Instead of boozing it up at Fish Camp, when you arrive for freshman year at The King’s College, you are, for lack of a better term, sorted into houses by no choice, input, or preference of your own. The following day you compete in the Great Race, the first in a series of year long competitions that culminate in the presentation of the coveted House Cup. So, like I said, kind of like Harry Potter, except nerdy not magical.
While other girls were sorted to the houses of Susan B. Anthony, Queen Elizabeth I, Sojourner Truth, and Clara Barton, I became a member of the House of Margaret Thatcher. To be honest, when I heard what house I was in, my initial reaction was, “Who the hell is Margaret Thatcher?” I felt like I’d just been put in Hufflepuff. Not like there’s anything bad about Hufflepuff, but really, who, if given the options, would choose Hufflepuff?
What an ignorant pleb I’d been!
Today, going on five years later, thanks to Meryl Streep, more every day Americans know who Margaret Thatcher is, but in case you’ve missed the last few years of cinema and the last thirty years of international politics, here are the highlights:
Baroness Margaret Thatcher was the first female prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She is accredited with resurrecting Great Britain’s international dominance in large part due to her victory in the Balkin’s War and her intimate alliance with Ronald Reagan against socialism. She was the longest reigning prime minister in nearly two centuries and was never once voted out of the office (though some might argue the conservatives were on the verge of ousting her when she resigned in 1990). All of this she accomplished after raising herself from the lowly place of a common grocer’s daughter, in a time when most women were barely welcome in the workplace much less in the prestigious ranks of world leaders, and while Great Britain still limped along from injuries sustained in the World Wars. She was, in short, a very impressive woman. Or rather, a very impressive Lady.
That being said, I cannot adequately express my admiration for her unless I also acknowledge the disdain she inspired in others.
The most cursory of Google searches will reveal the controversy surrounding the Baroness’ policies, politics, and general personality. For her destruction of the mighty unions and, in turn, the British coal industry, leaving countless jobless, Sir Elton John immortalized her in Billy Elliot in song: “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher. We all celebrate today because it’s one day closer to your death.” The morbidity of that song aside and, perhaps, the impropriety of referring to it now that she has passed, the song reflects the vigor with which people did, and do, despise Margaret Thatcher.
“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.” –Margaret Thatcher
For reducing funds for meals at schools, she was dubbed “Thatcher, the milk snatcher.” “Brow-beating” insufficiently captured Thatcher’s vigorous persuasion techniques, so they coined a term especially for her: “hand-bagging,” so named for the large hand bag she carried and used to gesture with. She waged a war in the Balkans many thought ill-advised (that was of course until she kicked ass.)
“Defeat? I do not recognize the meaning of the word.” –Margaret Thatcher
All of this combined with her forthright demeanor, sometimes snarky comebacks, and utter disregard of others’ opinions, you can get a pretty good idea of why people didn’t and don’t like the Iron Lady.
And yet, I do. More than that. I was heartbroken when I heard the news yesterday morning that Baroness Margaret Thatcher had died at the age of 87.
I doubt I can explain why this lady means so much to me. It doesn’t make sense really. She ruled in Britain. I am proudly American. She left her office in 1990, the year I was born. I didn’t even know she existed until 2008, and yet, she shaped me.
Perhaps she shaped me so because a part of me wants to be just as cantankerous as she could be.
Margaret Thatcher, whatever her faults, believed in something. She had principles by which she lived and by which she believed she could make her country better. And in many ways, she succeeded.
“Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.” –Margaret Thatcher
Yet, it is not her hay-day or even her policies for which I admire her. I admire her for her resolve and conviction in the face of antagonism. In the face of assassination attempts and often rapidly declining popularity, she stuck to her guns. She was not another politician riding the tides of popularity. She didn’t seek glory, she sought justice.
“I am not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.”–Margaret Thatcher
Bombarded by insult and slander, she did not waver. If anything, she simply turned the insults to her favor. In a speech to the Conservative Partyin 1980, she turned the media attacks against her into her own slogan:
“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”–Margaret Thatcher
The Iron Lady was a title given to her by soviet reporters to insinuate she was cold, stubborn, hard, and unfeeling as iron. Tickled by the title, she took ownership of it. She transformed an insult into an identity. She embraced her stubbornness, knowing that on its other side lie fortitude.
“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” –Margaret Thatcher
Where can I find that gumption? Who can teach me to laugh right alongside my harshest critics? To disregard the insecurities and doubts that would undermine me and what I want and what I know to be true?
Why do I admire Margaret Thatcher? Because, I’m a lady. Or at least I want to be.
Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister, Grocer’s Daughter, Iron Lady, a woman of many names and accomplishments. Rest, dear lady. You have most certainly earned it.