The Iron Lady: A Triumph of Feminism?

Posted: January 12, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Drama, True Story
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In case you are either too young to remember or not much of a political junkie, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990. She earned her nickname, “The Iron Lady,” mainly for her tough stands against England’s labor unions and for her opposition to the Soviet Union. Her conservative policies made her a close ally of American President Ronald Reagan, helped to get England out of its financial mire, and of course, set her up as an easy target for liberal politicians. The Iron Lady is set in the present day, as an aging Thatcher looks back on her political career. It’s pretty much universally agreed that Meryl Streep was the obvious actress to play the role of Margaret Thatcher.

Now, just think about what an oxymoron Thatcher’s nickname is–the “Iron Lady.” Traditionally, we don’t typically equate lady-likeness with the toughness of iron. How can one be made of metal and be a lady at the same time? In the movie, this tension is clearly demonstrated. The men who mentor Thatcher in the game of politics want her to have a more aggressive voice, rather than a sweet one. They want her to ditch the pearls and dress more masculine. They believe she won’t be taken seriously by the male establishment if she is lady-like. Now, according to the story, Thatcher does become tougher-sounding and more aggressive in her demeanor. Yet, she draws the line at losing the pearls! She wanted to still be a lady even when she had to be hard as iron.

We’ll get back to definitions of femininity in a moment. What I want to primarily focus on in this post is the question of whether or not we should think of Margaret Thatcher as a triumph of feminism. To be sure, Thatcher had to overcome numerous barriers in her rise through the ranks of leadership in Great Britain–from lawyer to member of Parliament to Prime Minister. Politics in the West in her era were clearly male-dominated. She broke into areas of leadership never contemplated by women, becoming to this day the only female Prime Minister of the UK. I’m sure there were many men not happy about this!

But was this a victory for feminism? On the one hand, we have quotes like this from Thatcher: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” Sounds like a good feminist, doesn’t it? But then we have this one: “I owe nothing to Women’s Lib.” Thatcher knew that the ideology of feminism is not just about equal pay for equal work, or women getting jobs that they were traditionally denied. Instead, feminism is connected to the core beliefs that there are absolutely no differences between men and women AND that women have the right to be FREE from the oppression of man and God. Thatcher was not a man-hating believer in the power of woman. Her conservative ideology kept her from embracing the liberal view of women’s liberation from the oppression of men.

Unfortunately, there are Christian women (and men) who have fallen for the lies of feminism, thereby ignoring the truths of Scripture. God’s Word clearly teaches that men and women are different, even though both are made in the image of God. Men and women have been designed by God for distinct and unique roles and responsibilities. Husbands are called to be leaders in their homes with wives glorifying God by their submission to their husbands. Women are designed to be complements to men, not their competitors. Christian feminism is the true oxymoron, as feminism denies God’s created order.

Now back to Thatcher’s oxymoronic nickname. What are we to do with these words in I Peter 3:7 (ESV), Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”? Women can and should be strong in character and determination, as Thatcher was. Christian women must be strong spiritually, called to be godly in all that they do. Yet, this should not lead us to some extreme of feministic toughness. Instead, women are to be ladies, not simply female men!

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