As Margaret Thatcher waved from the doorstep of 10 Downing Street after her 1979 victory, the turbulent world pressed upon her padded shoulders. The Cold War was in its midst. Mutually assured destruction bore a potential reality. For years, soft leadership had failed to acknowledge covert Soviet military expansion. Diminished American and British defenses transformed the West into a vulnerable target and strong voices of reason had all fallen silent. Some voice had to foster change in Western politics. So, The Iron Lady came along.
Regardless of personal politics, Thatcher’s achievements cannot be doubted. She had risen from her middle class upbringing as a grocer’s daughter to receive an education in chemistry from Oxford, become a member of parliament, assume shadow cabinet and ministerial office positions, and, eventually, win Conservative Party leadership. She stepped onto the world stage as the United Kingdom’s first female prime minister wearing a pair of heels, donning her signature Thatcherite blue, and never neglecting femininity or fashion.
To her, womanhood and strength were synonymous. Managing a country required a measure of strength and discipline similar to that of managing a home. But, how did society receive this gender factor in a leadership position? How could a woman measure in a society, a political system, dominated by men? How, especially, could a conservative woman reach so high that she now grappled the stars?
The goal was to appear equally, if not more capable, than her precedents. Her rise to power resulted from her ability to redefine British politics, call the West to action, and eloquently admonish Russian imperialism. To her, the status quo was unacceptable. Britain’s descent into socialistic policy and disregard for national defense had weakened the nation so significantly that the threat of Soviet domination now pressed on the Western world.
In the seventies and eighties, the world stood transfixed at the crux of past and future with the present determining how each would be received. Thatcher’s first battle cry in defense of a stronger, more nationalistic Britain came in 1976 with her “Britain Awake” speech. It was the speech that coined her “The Iron Lady” and propelled her to party leadership. Her fierce rhetoric, resolve, and audacity to stand at the forefront of conservative ideology conflicted with everything women, at the time, were expected to represent. Women were proven equally as capable, equally as logical, and equally as articulate as men. Young girls could identify with and admire a world leader, knowing someday they could be just like her.
Today, we stand transfixed at another crux between past and future.
We face another time in which ideologies, right and left, violently clash.
We witness the shaming of conservatives in general, but especially conservative women and minorities because we dare to exercise independent thought and break free from the confines of liberal ideology.
And we must ascribe to a standard, one which silences our conservative voices instead of embracing them.
Is this the future we want to embrace?
Should we stand by idly as our voices are silenced because we dare to venture from this standard?
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once wrote that “well-behaved women seldom make history.” Women who conform seldom make history. Because of her brazen condemnation of the Evil Empire and her refusal to conform to her own country’s passivity, Margaret Thatcher earned her lot in history. We, like her, should condemn inhibitions of freedom and refuse the passive roles we’re expected to assume.
Today, The Iron Lady sits molded in bronze on the quad of Hillsdale College. It is America’s only statue of her, the foreign leader who prized the values we in America, in the West, hold dear: values of liberty, individualism, and self-reliance. Even after her death, she serves as a beacon of hope to strong conservative women who struggle to make their voices heard in an age where progressivism and political correctness dominate. The Iron Lady once stood firmly against these forces, paving the way for lovers of liberty like us.
We press on in the shadow of her example, approaching the light of our future with her wisdom from the past.
We see, through her and those who have followed, that we bear the potential to change the world with conservative discourse.
And we can admonish wrongdoings, we can be stand against identity politics, and we can throw aside beliefs that we are somehow less effective at what we do because of who we are.
Margaret Thatcher carried another subconscious burden with her the day she waved victoriously at 10 Downing Street, but that burden is clearer today. She carried the burden of the conservative woman, a burden we too must bear until the day we are no longer silenced.
Taylor Penley is an undergraduate senior majoring in English and minoring in rhetoric & writing. Her lifelong passion for politics influenced her decision to get involved with campaign efforts and to become a local party delegate. She is currently a government relations intern and intends to pursue graduate studies in political science after graduation.
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