Controversy of Feminism with Female Icons - Girls Week


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Loz Flowers

Margaret Thatcher’s Quotes and Titles

Upon the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Prime Minister of Britain from 1979-1990, one popular press subject is that she was a strong female leader that had a controversial, and often negative, relationship with feminism.

“I owe nothing to women’s lib,” Thatcher, Britain’s first, and so far only, woman PM, stated in an interview in 1982. She also said, “The battle for women’s rights has largely been won.”

Rather than fighting for causes for her gender, she campaigned for a free-market economy against communism, social programs and unions, apparently having no reservations on being against feminism or feminists: “The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”

In spite of all these quotes, Thatcher was nevertheless known as a very strong woman, earning her nickname, the “Iron Lady.” As cartoons circulated of her beating up male politicians, she only appointed one other woman to any of her cabinets, and froze child benefits without sympathy for working mothers.

Even before she was elected PM, she implemented the infamous policy of banning free milk for children over seven, resulting in a nickname that remained throughout her political career: “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.

Pop Star Quotes and Titles

In 1997, seven years after she had left office, Geri Haliwell, a.k.a. Ginger Spice, defined Margaret Thatcher as the “original Spice Girl,” a pioneer of “Girl Power.”

Politicians and “girl power” aside, most pop music fans have focused less on Haliwell or the Spice Girls and more on recent icons. However, many of these recently-arisen female pop stars have chosen to distance themselves from identifying as feminists.

When asked if she was a feminist, Lady Gaga replied, “I’m not a feminist. I hail men. I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and muscle cars…”

Taylor Swift’s response to whether she identified as a feminist was: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Without even being asked, some of Katy Perry’s first words after receiving the 2012 Billboard’s Woman of the Year were: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”

Consultation with Experts on Women’s Studies

The concept of feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” as well as “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Simply put, these seem like positive ideals to try and attain. Why has feminism been so controversial, and even unattractive, with prominent women?

To get a better understanding feminism and female figures, BTR consulted faculty members from George Washington University’s Women’s Studies Program.

Ami Lynch, Adjunct Professor of Women’s Studies at GWU, brings up a commonly-associated falsehood about feminism, that it is anti-male. Rather, feminism is anti-patriarchy, and against oppression in general. Lynch links this into Lady Gaga’s statement on not being a feminist: “Lady Gaga in that statement seems to be doing a great job of keeping the patriarchy in business,which is unfortunate because there are lots of things she does that seem to disrupt the patriarchy.”

In terms of Margaret Thatcher, Lynch disagrees with the former Prime Minister’s quote about women’s liberation being over.

“Anyone that doesn’t think they have somehow been lifted up by the efforts of women before them is probably ignoring the fact that she is standing on these women’s backs thanklessly,” says Lynch.

Furthermore, Lynch does not believe that people solely identifying themselves as feminists is the most important means of working against oppression and toward goals like equality, freedom.

Dan Moshenberg, Director of the Women’s Studies Program at GWU, examines Margaret Thatcher’s quote about being at odds with feminists.

“I don’t know what Margaret Thatcher meant by a ‘feminist,’” says Moshenberg. “There are so many different kinds of feminists in the world, including organized feminist communities, in England alone, and throughout the world, that to make a broad statement like that is self-serving, on her part.”

To understand modern feminism, Moshenberg describes, “It’s a rich and diverse and constantly changing and expanding field.”

He argues that it is a larger issue that Thatcher believed that women’s liberation was over, taking all of her own credit for considering herself being beyond class, gender and disability. Given her history before her election as PM, Moshenberg states, it was no surprise that Thatcher’s policies were detrimental to her domestic policies towards all types of women, whether young, poor or of color, not to mention negative to women internationally.

Strong Legacy, Consistent Popularity and Broader Notions of Feminism

Though she died of a stroke last month, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is strong, which is evident rhetorically. “Thatcherism” is a term still in use, and this woman, and her policies, are still often considered in British politics.

Margaret Thatchers casket.
Photo courtesy of Minoritenplatz8

For whatever reason they do not identify themselves as feminists, whether they hold false connotations of the concept or truly stand against it, female pop stars will continue recording their highly-produced, catchy hits. For whatever greater struggle is occurring for the majority of women, whether it’s their role in at home, school or work, these entertainment icons are free to flourish in media attention and simultaneously maintain their own brands of perfume and snack foods.

Feminism is an important topic, socially, economically, politically and culturally. It says a lot that a woman can be a strong, successful figure and not be a feminist, but that should not undermine the principles and significance of feminism in itself. Even if females can be elected memorable leaders of powerful countries and women can build empires on their names based on their music stardom, gender inequalities still exist worldwide, from gaps in pay and societal expectations in countries like America to restrictions of driving and voting in places like Saudi Arabia.