More than 25 years after she left Downing Street and three years after her death, Margaret Thatcher remains a hugely divisive figure. Some people love her for her fierce individualism and self-reliance, her “unswerving patriotism”, and for being our first female Prime Minister. Others remember her as a woman who decimated the trade unions, slashed public services and encouraged a culture of rampant consumerism.
Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the former British Prime Minister has topped a BBC list of the most influential women from the past 70 years.
Thatcher was given the top slot in the Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List 2016. She came just ahead of the late Helen Brook, who set up Brook Advisory Centres in 1964 to offer contraceptive advice to unmarried women, and ahead of Beyoncé and the fictional character Bridget Jones.
“Love or loathe her, it is hard to think of another woman who has had more of an impact on British women than Baroness Margaret Thatcher within the last seven decades,” said journalist Emma Barnett, who chaired the Power List panel.
“Anyone born in the ’80s, and thereafter, grew up thinking it was normal for a woman to run the country,” Barnett continued. “Anyone over the age of 18 while she was in charge was shaped by her leadership style and uncompromising policies.”
The Woman’s Hour Power List was launched two years ago to celebrate the global impact of women on other women. This year’s panel included businesswoman Karren Brady, Suffragette and The Iron Lady screenwriter Abi Morgan, and former Labour advisor and commentator Ayesha Hazarika.
Barnett observed that Thatcher was just as influential for the women who hated her as the women who were inspired by her, saying: “A whole generation of women’s feminism was formed in direct retaliation to her.”
Other female political heavyweights also made the top five, including Barbara Castle – the Labour MP who brought in the Equal Pay Act in 1970 – and Germaine Greer, the ground-breaking but still controversial Australian feminist and author of The Female Eunuch.
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In fifth place was Jayaben Desai, a prominent leader of the Grunwick strikes in London in the 1970s who campaigned against low pay and poor conditions for women workers.
“She highlighted the plight of low paid women, immigrant workers, racism, trade union recognition – but also dignity, humanity and basic human rights,” said Hazarika of Desai.
Perhaps the most surprising addition to the Power List was the inclusion of Helen Fielding’s creation Bridget Jones at number six. Barnett told the Guardian that even though Jones is fictional, she had a very real impact on the ways in which women think, behave and are perceived.
“She’s our flawed heroine, that character which enabled women who didn’t have children, didn’t have the perfect life, to laugh at themselves and feel unashamed of who they are,” she said.
In seventh place on the list was Beyoncé, recognised for her status as an empowering business and beauty icon for black and white women alike.
“She turned herself into a very successful commercial brand but with that she also put out quite a positive feminist message, right from the start – particularly now she’s moving into race relations talking about Black Lives Matter,” said Hazarika.
She added that Beyoncé also deserved credit for “being a black woman who is held up as a global beauty icon at a time when beauty and pop culture is still very white.”
The Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List 2016
- Margaret Thatcher
- Helen Brook
- Barbara Castle
- Germaine Greer
- Jayaben Desai
- Bridget Jones
Images: Rex Features