Pray tell: does Mrs. May (really) wear this cap finer?

Friday, July 15, 2016

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The world seems excited about the concept of a female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It is almost like this has never happened before.

(Tsk tsk)

Maybe it’s the Brexit. Maybe the uncertainty of the future of Great Britain without an European Union, vis-à-vis this female “Moses” rising up to hold the hands of the people and weather through those uncertainties with them, is the endearing factor.

Expectedly, comparisons have arisen between Theresa May, the new Prime Minister of England, and her predecessor in gender: Margaret- Thatcher (a.k.a. “the Iron Lady”).

I watched an analyst two nights ago declare that Theresa May appeared to be more acceptable to the British people, than Mrs. Thatcher. According to him, (of course, it had to be a ‘him’), “Mrs. Thatcher was more ‘ideological’, while Mrs. May is more ‘pragmatic’.

The inference here would be that Mrs. May’s acceptability has more to do with her realistic expectations, as against Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘lofty’ ideas, which she is said to have stubbornly held on to. Hence, this would seemingly justify why Mrs. Thatcher was not so easily accepted, and sarcastically dubbed “the Iron Lady”.

I understood the general suspicion towards Mrs. Thatcher from a young age. As a child, I remember introducing myself on various occasions. The reaction was almost always predictable. The smile would turn into a smirk…followed by a snide “Ah! Thatcher”. And a further suffix “the Iron Lady”.

I would almost immediately be ‘playfully’ reprimanded not to turn out stubborn, like ‘her’.

I did not know who Thatcher was. But I became (annoyedly) curious, and could not wait to understand why my sharing the same name with her was almost always met with this same reaction, and what she had done to warrant strangers from all over the world adjudging me stubborn. Even before they knew me. Just by my name.

For a brief period, I was almost ashamed of the name. But when I got to the (rebellious) adolescent stage, I owned the name, and  consciously assumed the famed stubbornness, which the name was touted to bless one with.

With the benefit of becoming an adult, and coming into one’s own, I learnt who Margaret Thatcher was, and understood that the term ‘stubborn’ is an irresponsible attempt to undermine all she stood for, and/or all that she achieved.

It was also never justifiable to me, the reason she was dubbed “the Iron Lady”. 

In comparison, I doubt that the United States had any President in recent times more obstinate than Mr. George Bush (Jnr.). Yet, he was never dubbed “the Iron Man”. (No pun intended). Which leads to the wider argument that generally, certain not-too-flattering descriptions are (unkindly) applied to women who display similar leadership traits as their male counterparts, without same counterparts being referenced by the same descriptions.

But this discussion is not solely about Mrs. Thatcher per se, or the need to fundamentally change certain chauvinist misconceptions about women. 

I digress.

This is concerned with what makes Mrs. May more easily acceptable and readily (almost vengefully) likable than Mrs. Thatcher.

I would not go with the Brexit theory. Or Mrs. May’s touted ‘realism’. Yes, she has been in government. But she has never been the Prime Minister. It is too soon to say how real her policies are, as the leader of the ‘old world order’.

Mrs. May has become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom this year: 2016. Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minster for the first time in 1979. There is a gap of thirty-seven years between both periods. Enough gap for the world to become used to the concept of women holding tangible leadership positions globally.

That is my theory: that Mrs. May is not more easily accepted than Mrs. Thatcher purely because of the former’s antecedents. Rather, Mrs. May is more easily accepted, because the world has evolved, and it is now easier (albeit not completely the case yet) for humans to look beyond a leader’s gender, and on to what they offer.

One could also argue that unlike Mrs. May, Mrs. Thatcher inherited an economy in recession, and was easily the scape-goat for the people to vent their frustrations.

However, I would rather tend more to the view that it is more ‘normal’ in 2016, for a woman to assume the position of Prime Minister in England than it was in 1979.

(But then, what do I know?)

For me, this goes beyond the arguments of gender-based politics, and the acceptability of women into leadership positions. This is a pointer that in years to come, the boundaries on the human mind as to what is acceptable will be pushed, and pushed.

And pushed.

Such concepts as are presently unacceptable (or grudgingly accepted) would in the future be considered common-place.

This is a good thing. 

Sometimes… it is a scary thought.



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  1. Amazing piece. I can't really say who the cap rightly fits but like pointed out they both got appointed at different scenarios. I'm just glad a woman folk is leading the Uk and when Hilary Clinton yes Hilary Clinton wins the U.S Presidency soon, how great it'd be.