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Tribute to the original Iron Lady

By -OYUNGA PALA | April 15th 2013

By Oyuga Pala

When I heard that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had

died, the Falklands Islands jumped to mind.

My first impressions of Thatcher were defined by the disputes over these islands. In 1982, Argentine forces invaded this archipelago provoking the wrath of the Iron Lady. Thatcher decisively sent off the British military, 8,000 miles away to the south of the Atlantic to defend British territory in what was to be known as the Falklands War.

I was a kid then, but switched on enough to register the big news event. Margaret Thatcher is the only British PM I had heard of since Winston Churchill mostly because she was a popular reference in the 1980s.  I remember my dad using an atlas to explain to me how far the Falklands were in relation to the United Kingdom. That was his way of saying, “You don’t mess with this woman”.


My next Thatcher impression was formed by the humorous satirical articles of the late popular columnist Wahome Mutahi aka Whispers. The legendary satirist described his wife in his columns as Thatcher, an embodiment of the no-nonsense significant other.

Whisper’s Thatcher was a nut-crushing female character that came to prominence after the famous Beijing Women’s conference (Beijing Declaration) in 1995 to establish a new gender order. Standing timidly behind every woman nicknamed Thatcher was a hen pecked male who could only grumble in bars.  Dennis Thatcher was my original notion of a submissive husband, the hubby of the PM, who was rarely seen and never heard.


Before I understood the intricacies of British and gender politics, Thatcher was what I considered a feminist, which in my pre-teens meant a woman who hated men so much she ends up looking like one. Margaret Thatcher became my lazy reference for women who wore the pants in relationships.

Her name represented women who never backed down in arguments or made a U-turn, and their wrath was renowned.  Lady Thatcher was what happened to women who dared to break the glass ceiling. They ended up becoming fierce, hard, unattractive, unfeminine and mean.

Her image diminished further when I learnt that Thatcher abolished free milk for school children as an education secretary, and that she called Madiba a terrorist! Was this the abrasive path women had to take to survive the rough and tumble world of male dominated politics?

Of course, now I know different. Thatcher as one mate aptly put it, is an Agwambo figure. You either love or loathe her. She may have been the original superwoman, but she promptly slammed the door in the face of other women as soon she entered the male domain.

In my assessment Thatcher did little for the women’s cause other than perpetuating a stereotype that high achieving women had to embrace masculine attributes to thrive.

Women’s rights did not flourish during her three terms, and given the current status quo, we may never see another female British PM in our lifetime.

The tag ‘Iron Lady’ continues to be assigned to a particular brand of female politician with a lone ranger mentality — notably unattractive strong women caricatured as pit bulls mauling any male opposition in their path with unshakeable conviction.

I suppose it is the male defensive response to women who do not follow the script. They are derisively referred to as ‘men’ and that, in an odd way, earns them respect.



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