Monday, 8 April 2013

A Woman's Job...

We all sat in the school library. I say library, but it was an empty room in the eaves of a Victorian school building, with a couple of bookshelves, white walls and beige carpets. It wasn't used so much as a library, as a music room, performance space and general shepherding area.

I can't quite remember why we were herded in there; perhaps it was an assembly, perhaps singing practice, perhaps it was recorder group. But I remember sitting with my friend Kate, who I had known since we were babies, and telling her the worst joke ever (What did the big chimney say to the little chimney? You're too young to smoke).

And then we heard the teachers talking. Margaret Thatcher was no longer Prime Minister, she had been succeeded by John Major. We had a new PM and the dark days were over.

As a six year old girl, I had no idea what they meant by dark days. I had seen pictures of war ships on the news and documentaries, and had heard things, but you really don't understand at age six. My concern was bigger than that.

"Are you sure?" I asked Miss H. Miss H was a lovely, kind teacher who we all thought looked like a magic fairy. "It doesn't sound right."

She assured me it was the case, and I remember being thoroughly confused.

"But John is a man's name, isn't it?" I had been certain, but if he was a man then something was wrong. "And that can't be right. Because the Prime Minister is a woman's job, just like the Queen. Only women can have the most important jobs."

That was the world I grew up in. The two most important offices in the country were held by women. I never for a moment doubted that women could achieve and reach the top of their careers. In fact, I was dubious that men could hold these jobs. I grew up in a world where we wanted to be politicians, dentists, geologists, doctors, mechanics and plumbers, and I grew up in a world where we were skeptical of the Disney princesses and the need for a Prince Charming - girls could save themselves!

Love or loathe the policies, this was the true legacy that Margaret Thatcher left behind for a generation of young girls. A legacy of power. It would be naive to say she removed the ceiling for women entirely, but she changed an impenetrable concrete one into a more fragile glass ceiling, one that we have a chance at shattering.

 Many around the country speak of celebration, that they will hold parties in honour of her death. It saddens me that anyone would do so, particularly women. No joy comes from a story such as this; the joy of death is indirect, it comes from change and not the death itself. If people are freed by a leader's death, that is the origin of the celebration. But no change, no joy comes from this. Only, perhaps, a sense of peace for those that were irrevocably hurt by her policies.

For me, though, she will always be the first Prime Minister that I knew; the lady that meant - from a young age - that I was aware of my potential as a human being, not just as a woman. And though I may disagree with her politically, I respect the legacy of power she's left behind for a generation, and for generations to come.

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