Margaret Thatcher: “I should like to see more and more women at Westminster…”

Published 13th June 2016
I should like to see more and more women at Westminster, and in the highest places, too. It would certainly be a good thing for the women of Britain. And I’m sure it would be a good thing for the men, too!’.

As well as two term prime minister of the UK, in 1953 Margaret Thatcher practiced briefly as a barrister. She specialised in tax and patent law, having passed her bar finals just four months after giving birth to twins. Her political career overshadows her brief spell as a lawyer, but whilst managing her professional and family life at this early stage she became an early example of women who were showing that they could ‘have it all’. These women had a family and also a career, a combination that Thatcher claimed was essential for the satisfaction of women who wanted a professional life. Her passion for the subject is reflected in the articles she wrote exhorting women to pursue their career ambitions, and the optimism she clearly felt in the context of Elizabeth II’s succession to the throne.

In 1952, the Sunday Graphic, commissioned an article by Margaret Thatcher called. Margaret Thatcher expressed her hopes in this piece that more women would combine marriage and a career, although she wrote also of her awareness that women themselves were often prejudiced against the idea. She argued that the role of women in the ‘dawn of the new Elizabethan era’ was fundamentally different, and Margaret framed her vision for ‘career women’ in terms of the new female head of state. That a woman had risen to a position of incredibly symbolic power was clearly a source of inspiration for Thatcher. She made an example of the widely praised Rose Heilbron QC, who was ‘known throughout the land’ for her career, showing just how much a charming and capable woman could achieve.

In a second article, ‘Finding Time’, Margaret Thatcher dealt more directly with the practical considerations for managing motherhood and a career. Her advice is uncompromising and direct- she was ‘astonished by how little some people seem to do’ in the 24 hours of the day. She concedes that certain factors are essential if a dual role is to be successful, a woman with a family for example must have trusted and competent help with children. A supportive husband who approves of his wife pursuing another occupation was also important in her description of the pre-requisites for women managing a family and a career. Despite the blunt style, Margaret Thatcher has a simple remedy for women struggling with time management, arguing that ‘with a little forethought she will find that most things are possible’.

Her strong advocacy of women combining families with careers contradicts the stereotype that Margaret Thatcher typified the ‘Queen Bee’ phenomenon, where women in leadership roles disassociate from their own gender and discourage female competitors as an act of self-preservation. Despite her contentious policies as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was a definite champion of women having a career, and in the early years of the 1950s, with a new Queen on the throne, there were inspirational role models demonstrating that it could be done.

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