Women in Power (Women’s Voice, 1982)

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Hats off to Mrs T
TORY LADIES—all blue rinses and silly hats? The average woman attending the Tory women’s conference may fit the media image, but those that aspire to the top are much deadlier breed.

Baroness Young
‘At a time of change the family stands at the centre of our society for four great principles: for stability, for continuity, for individual responsibility and for self-help.’
She’s a great believer in self-help and the sort of people who have obviously helped themselves: Michael Edwardes (British Leyland), Lord Sieff (Marks and Spencer), Lord Weinstock (GEC). Teenagers should idolise industrial tycoons like them instead of all those pop stars, she says, and they’d get a much clearer idea about how to succeed in life!
It is possible to describe Baroness Young as the Tory Party women’s organiser—in a very loose way. She became vice-chairman of the Party in 1975, with special responsibility for women’s organisation. And promptly set about changing the image of Tory women. She came up with a slogan which sums up her political thinking: ‘Hats of for Mrs T.’

Mrs Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher herself is a firm believer in images: ‘If you look good’, she says, ‘people warm to you’. Hence the hair-dos , neat suits and earrings—which of course blinds us all to the monetarism, the unemployment statistics and the rate of inflation!
This doublethink goes on all the time. In 1972, when she was Education Minister in Ted Heath’s government, she made a great fuss about her plans to extend nursery education. Now, in the interests of good husbandry (a favourite word of hers—it means housekeeping/book-keeping, not exactly the best way to describe the running of the British economy) all the nurseries are to be closed down.
Which will help to confirm another belief of hers—that some women are just made to stay at home, it’s only natural. While others—herself included—are just made ‘to take on extra responsibility’.
‘Many women have a much more interesting life in running a home. It’s a managerial job. You’re making your own decisions all the time. You’re budgeting. You’re deciding what to do—and when and how to do it most efficiently. You therefore have an outlet for energies which many men don’t have in their daily work. It is really creative work, running a home, bringing up children.’

Sally Oppenheim
‘It is about time that we removed the scales from our eyes, abandoned the humbug and admitted that the pursuit of self-interest is not only what each of us practises, but is also beneficial to the rest of us.’
No humbug there—Sally Oppenheim is a very rich woman. She is a living example of how to apply the principles of self-interest: she sold a house in Hampstead, London, for £600,000 a few years back, and then paid close to a million pounds for a farm in Gloucestershire. She and her family recouped £454,000 of this when she sold off some of the farm land on the estate (a mere 900 acres) leaving herself with the house and its garden—all 265 acres of it.
Her job in the Tory Government is as Minister for Consumer Affairs, which is appropriate and at which she has been a resounding success. She began her term of office by scrapping the Price Commission—and the price of basic commodities like bread, gas, electricity and petrol all went up.
Her real understanding of the effect inflation is having on our lives is summed up in a blistering attack on the last Labour Government in 1978: the £10 pensioner’s bonus is pathetically little. It is but a ghost of Christmas past. It is worth less than £5 compared with the Christmas bonus handed out by Conservative Government in 1973. If the purchasing power of that Christmas bonus is to be maintained, this year’s bonus would have to be over £20.
By 1980 the £10 Conservative Government bonus was worth £3.61 at 1973 levels. This year it might be worth £3.32. If you think she might not have been able to work this out for herself why not drop her a line c/o the House of Commons.

Jill Knight
Jill Knight is a woman who does not mince her words or her opinions: she hates the Irish most of all, then she hates the blacks. After that she hates teenage sex, and then she hates abortion.
What does she love? Capital punishment—‘I’m not interested in vengeance. I just believe in protecting the lives of innocent people’—and getting her name in the newspapers, particularly on the Irish question.
Her campaign on the IRA has been vocal and costly: she told Edward Kennedy not to meddle when he called for the punishment of Ulster security officials responsible for brutality against Republican prisoners in 1979. And had the same to say to Hugh Carey, the Governor of New York State, when he called for economic sanctions against Britain to get the troops out of Northern Ireland.
She then slammed the Home Office for allowing an Irish prisoner’s wife and children visit him in Parkhurst jail—an outrageous misuse of public money.
This concern for taxpayers’ money doesn’t stop her spending it! In 1979 she and the Reverend Ian Paisley claimed that British taxpayers’ money was being used to support the IRA, via the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. An enquiry showed that £800,000 had been overspent, but that not a penny had gone to the IRA. The cost of the inquiry? £250,000. Well done, Mrs Knight.
Her campaigning spirit takes her all over the world particularly to South Africa, which she believes gets a prejudiced press over here. Prejudiced against the whites, that is, a subject about which she cares passionately. As the newspapers have carried more and more reports of racial attacks against blacks and Asians in recent month she’s demanding inquiries too—into racial attacks on white people. She is such a caring bastion of Tory Thinking. Margaret Renn

A token of class
‘TAKE the toys from the boys,’ says the feminist CND poster. At first sight, perhaps, an attractive slogan for women, bringing together many oppressions in a single symbol of male aggression, the nuclear missile. In fact, a very dangerous slogan, as it places the blame for the nuclear threat on a sex instead of a class, the capitalist ruling class. But there is something very peculiar about the slogan itself. Has no one noticed (surely they must have!) that one of the fingers on our very own trigger is the elegantly manicured one of Margaret Thatcher?
And Thatcher is not the only powerful woman with dangerous toys. In our own lifetime, some of the rulers who have wielded the most violence have been women. Mrs Bandaranaike, the rich widow who took over her husband’s post in Sri Lanka, was responsible for the massacre of thousands of socialist youth who took to the hills in rebellion against her brutal regime. Indira Gandhi, the well-born Indian lady, turned the pretence of democracy into openly violent tyranny, with the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and the slaughter of thousands by trigger-happy police. Golda Meir, the chubby grandmother, headed an Israeli state armed to the teeth, defending territories stolen from surrounding Arabs. Insignificant facts, some feminists will answer. ‘The trouble with Thatcher,’ said a recent article in Guardian Women, ‘is that she is a token woman.’
But the Tory Party women’s conference is a forum for some of the most reactionary and violent views in that reactionary and violent party. The traditional ‘Hang ‘em and flog ‘em’ brigade has been joined in recent years by the Forcible Repatriation set. Under the flowery hats and blue rinses, the eyes glisten with hatred of workers, blacks and scroungers whatever their sex, and the lipstick is pressed into a thin red line of intolerance. Heaven help us if they carried enough weight in the Tory Party to pack the cabinet with Jill Knights and Sally Oppenheims!
Deluded women? I don’t think so. Such women are parasites who recognise where their interests lie—in maintaining the system that provides them with fur coats, large cars, executive-style houses and au pairs (or discreet daily servants) to look after them—and, yes, the occasional company directorship or cabinet post. They don’t care whether the wealth and power comes to them through their fathers or husbands or as individuals, so long as they get and keep the goodies that make them free of a significant amount of the oppression that other women suffer.
The birch-loving, black-hating Tory women are not alone in history, either. From the ancient Roman noblewomen who drooled over the blood of slaves and Christians in the arena, to the fashionable ladies of Paris who toured the prison camp at Pere Lachaise cemetery in 1871 to gloat over the women of the defeated Commune as they were lined up for execution, ruling class women have been hooked up on violence—the violence of their own class against its victims. Women in power truly do represent women of their class, whose material interests are identical to the maintenance of the society they live in.
Of course, some ruling class women have managed to recognise that they are oppressed in a society that keeps them economically dependent and legally handicapped. They may even fight it—in one of two ways.
The first way is for women to demand equal rights within the ruling class—higher education, professional jobs, and so on. A large dose of ruling class women’s emancipation was necessary to get Margaret Thatcher—university educated, a wealthy lawyer, and the legal wife of a divorced man—where she is now. A hundred and fifty years ago she would probably have been a posh kept woman running a political salon. That kind of emancipation is about sharing class power, not giving it up.
Any of the women who struggled for autonomy in the nineteenth century did not think of working class women’s needs as being in the same category as their own at all. Florence Nightingale once wrote that women’s minds were stunted because so much of their time was spent in the company of ‘servants and children’. Presumably parlour maids and skivvies just did not count as women!
The philanthropic women who broke away from the deadlines of drawing-room lives to do charitable work visiting the homes of the poor exercised their talents in persuading working class women by bribes (outdoor relief) and threats (the workhouse) to adopt the standards of homemaking which were taken care of by servants in their own homes. They trained ‘biblewomen’ who told the married market women of London’s Soho when they complained of their husbands that a wife who ‘sits about dirty and idle, and never has a clean hearth or a nice cup of tea for him when he comes in from his work, need not wonder if he goes to the public-house, and spends there in one night what would keep the family for a week.’
Of course, it is always possible for individual ruling class women to link their own oppression to the specific oppression of their classes of women, and see women’s interests in general as concerned with all of these. Josephine Butler’s work with prostitutes, and the founding of organisations for all working women, were also part of the movement in the nineteenth century. But even from there it is a very large step for a ruling class woman to realise that to get real liberation for all women it is necessary to overthrow the capitalist system and abolish the privileges of class altogether.
If Margaret Thatcher is a token or symbol of anything, it is of the emancipation of the ruling class woman, who has proved that she is equal to the task of threatening the whole world with destruction in the interests of maintaining the capitalist system.

Norah Carlin

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