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The Tory-Feminist Paradox

There are so many things wrong with the way our modern society views Feminism.  It bores me to even write down the silly, ignorant myths created around Feminism, by those who either have no idea what they’re talking about, or those who fear Feminism, seeking to confuse and mislead those who wish to find out what ‘it’ really is. Less a myth, more a contenscious dichotomy that popped into the zeitgeist recently was the phrase ‘Tory Feminist’. With the new Margaret Thatcher film attempting to strike a feminist tone and testemonies from ‘powerful’ women like Louise Mensch claiming that the ‘Tory Feminist’ sure does exists, meant the resurgence of this controversial topic.

January saw the release of the interestingly titled The Iron Lady, a film with an ‘intimate portrayal’ of Maggie Thatcher, sparking once again the contention surrounding the Tory leader. Magaret hit mainstream consciousness and with it came the revival of issues and questions surrounding her unique position in history – Was she a feminist? Was she a good leader? Do we care if she wears pearls or not? The title of the film for one is almost subtly, self-consciously mocking – as if it is the paradox of a ‘lady’ being strong and empowered was gimmiky enough to sell the film. However, beyond this somewhat smaller issue of bad advertising comes another: the innacurate appropriation of Feminism.

Obviously, the title makes an attempt to portray its self endorcing a seemingly feminist ideology, conforming the wide misconception that anything to do with women is feminism. This is a rather unsophisticated way to understand feminism, in the sense that it does not approach any of the more specific and nuanced requirements of the ‘feminist’ title. Indeed, it would be ignorant to assume that there is a single way of being a feminist, that in its self there isn’t confusion or confliction. If patriarchy has achieved anything, it’s the stigmatisation, alienation and misappropriation of the term ‘feminist’. This is exmplar in Mensch clamining the word for party leverage, as opposed to actually endorsing its beliefs. Simply the existence of a woman in power does not constitute a feminist, seen with Mensch and particularly in the case of Thatcher. Not only did Thatcher not utilise her power in politics to make any progress in the strive for gender equality, but ironically by achieving her position by conforming the partiarchal standards of power, perpetuated a male hegemony in politics, and ultimately throughout her society. By simply being in a powerful position, and a woman, does not automatically justify you as a feminist. On the day of Thatcher’s election in 1979, protesters in Finchely declared ‘we want women’s right’s – not a right-wing woman.’

Of course it’s easy to see why we can confuse Thatcher as a feminist, as she achieved what perhaps seemingly what women were attempting to achieve: power and success in a world of men. Though in her private life she committed herself to the classic Tory female beliefs –endorsing the importance of the woman’s role in family and as a wife, which is why beyond what she may represent to an exterior world, she in herself simply cannot be a feminist.

The Margaret Thatcher paradox highlights a wider and fascinating issue with the reconciliation of Tory politics and Feminist ideology.  It’s understandable to see why a party that strives to maintain and preserve society, as opposed to reasserting the changing attitudes within it, a party that maintains traditions and places emphasis in the institute of marriage and family, appears to be contradictory to the most fundamental of Feminist beliefs. Such beliefs like female independence, equality between men and women, having the freedom to choose and be ambitious without having to conform to any societal pressure or stereotype constructed by a patriarchy. ‘Conserving’ such classic traditions within a society means adhering to the patriarchy that we strive to dissolve. How is it possible to adapt the warped view of women from the male counter part, the wife, the mother, to the independent, free entity within an ideology that places emphasis on maintaining the tradition, and being adverse to change? Feminism is a modern movement, something that requires re-questioning, re-assessing and transcending the society in which we live. Endorsing a politics that refuses to change the status quo seems impossible to pair with Feminism.

Which is why the tory feminist can never be. Ultimately, feminism in its root is simply egalitarian; something being a conservative is most certainly not.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written March 2012 for the Leeds Student Newspaper

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