Thatcher a feminist icon?
There is a difference between being a strong woman (which she certainly was) and a person who uses their strength to increase the strength of other women. I can only really recognise one argument that she did this, and that is through her “trail-blazing” as a female prime minister, and her confidence in that role. Effectively, ANY woman who took that on and actually had any belief that she was capable of doing so could fill this position in history. So without Thatcher, we might not have Louise Mensch, or Nadine Dorries, or Maria Miller, in their exact current form (and there wouldn’t be anything to be gained in having conservative males in their place in terms of opening up politics) – but pretty much any female conservative leader with self belief, the bare minimum we would want a woman to have in any traditionally male role – would have the same effect. This does not mean that we need a volley of misogyny to describe her, however, any more than I would welcome a string of racist insults to describe the death of a South American or African dictator.
On the other hand –
1) She surrounded herself with men, rather than opening the gate to others within her premiership. The only female cabinet member from the Thatcher era I can think of off the top of my head was some baroness who was strongly pro apartheid. She regularly commented on the skills and abilities of women in a negative way.
2) She aggressively pushed forward policies which attacked women at every level of society, from the iron women of the miner communities to the demonised single mother. And her legacy lives on in the spirit of trades unionism she destroyed and the attacks on the welfare state which penalise women (along with other minority groups) to push forward the macho hierarchical force of the free market well into the 21st century.
So on balance, she was not a feminist icon, she was a strong woman. With strength in terms of power and self belief rather than in terms of power exercised for good or belief in others.
As far as the inevitable arguing over the taste or decency in celebrating her death goes, I think I would just summarise the following points.
I think reducing her to her current image of a sick, dying old woman is not giving her the merit of her strength. If it is acceptable for opponents to cheer the corpse of a hanged dictator then it is acceptable for Thatcher’s opponents to celebrate her death – she was huge and terrible, whatever she became in old age, and yes she was human – just like a dying dictator. Psychologically we feel compassion for fragility, age and sickness but these are emotional responses, much like the emotional response of release and jubilation. Neither have much do to with a rational summing up of the life of the person, and if we are looking for compassion then maybe it needs to be exercised in an intellectual way in using empathy to understanding the emotional responses of the families she starved out, the workers she sent police out to batter, or the communities she condemned to rot – intentionally or otherwise.