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Keli Goff

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Do We Have to Celebrate Margaret Thatcher? (And Other Women We Don't Agree With)

Posted: 04/08/2013 5:11 pm

Shortly after learning of the news of Margaret Thatcher's passing, I did what many people now do to signify the first official stage of mourning in modern-day America: I tweeted.

I didn't know Thatcher personally, and am not old enough to recall much of her tenure as a leader, but I did know this much: She was the first, and to date, only female Prime Minister England has elected. So with that comprising the bulk of my knowledge about her I tweeted the following: "RIP Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady was a trailblazer even for women who didn't always agree w/ her politics. She opened doors." Apparently not all women agree, with one questioning how I could consider someone like Thatcher a "role model." To be clear, I called her a "Trailblazer" not a role model. But the reaction did raise a fundamental question that friends and I have openly discussed in recent weeks, and grappled with as long as we've been women. The question is this: What is our responsibility as women when it comes to supporting, celebrating or critiquing trailblazing women whom we may not agree with, like or respect?

This topic has come up non-stop with my friends as of late. In part, because in the coming years a number of women are running or rumored to run, for high profile offices, most prominently Hillary Clinton for president and Christine Quinn for mayor of New York. Both women would make history should they win. But both women have been polarizing, notably to plenty of women.

Before becoming a beloved Secretary of State, Clinton became the de facto face of the so-called "Mommy Wars," after saying defensively during her husband's first campaign, "I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession." Quinn faced the prospect of losing the support of feminist icon Gloria Steinem due to her refusal to allow a vote on paid sick leave, an issue that obviously affects plenty of women. Quinn recently relented.

But Quinn, like Clinton before her, recently united some of the very women who had become her critics against the same foe: perceived sexism. A recent New York Times profile noted Quinn's use of colorful language to get her point across. Some saw her depiction as bully-like and sexist. After all would a man who is assertive and uses colorful language be depicted as a bad guy? Others saw the depiction merely as accurate.

After the piece on Quinn ran I heard from women who were outraged, but also torn. Some found the piece sexist, but also think for a number of reasons Quinn is not a great candidate.

I have had similar conversations about other female candidates in New York and beyond, as well as other women in power. I had a telling exchange with a highly successful female executive about the fact that a woman we both had the misfortune of crossing paths with when we were interns, received a high profile promotion. Though we both knew her reputation for being abusive to female subordinates, and had firsthand experience, neither of us has ever been publicly critical of her. The reason? Because there are so few women in the game, neither wants to take responsibility for being the one who gets a star player thrown out.

And therein lies the Thatcher dilemma for all women.

I have previously written about one of the most limiting aspects of being a minority, whether defined in sheer numbers, such as racial minorities, or in terms of power, such as women. This limitation is the inability to ever be seen fully as an individual. As I have previously noted, whether we like it or not Sarah Palin's flameout as a national candidate will make future male candidates think twice -- if not about drafting a female candidate, then about drafting a mother of extremely young children. This baggage would not haunt future male candidates the same way. (I don't recall a single article -- and certainly not several -- about how much time Rep. Paul Ryan spent with his small children as a member of Congress turned vice-presidential candidate.)

For this reason as women we often find ourselves torn when a Palin-like figure -- comes along. On the one hand there were women (and others) who found her lacking, not just intellectually, but worse, in intellectual curiosity. But plenty felt the same about former President Bush (the second, not the first) and he wasn't a candidate for vice president, but president. And he actually won.

The double standard at moments like this, then forces our other hand. Yet again a woman was being held to a different standard than a man, and as women we should all care because it affects all of us.

So what is our responsibility as women?

It seems that when it comes to self-criticism we are either too hard on each other. (I've never had a male TV viewer comment on my hair.) Or we are not hard enough. ("She's female so obviously we have to support her.")

Perhaps we need Goldilocks to sort it out for us.

But here's one solution. Let's celebrate all women who aspire to blaze trails for us -- whether we like them, agree with them or not. Then let's hold them accountable when it comes to their professional skills and accomplishments, not their clothes, hairstyles, husbands, parenting skills or anything else that doesn't have to do with the job.

And let's also be selective of when we criticize them.

African Americans eventually learned that it doesn't help President Obama if we offer no criticism at all. But many were right to feel as though much of their criticism would simply be used as ammo by avowed racists as well as the Limbaugh crew to attack him -- at least in his first term. Now he has a second term. So the gloves should be 100 percent off for everyone, including his supporters and he and his aides should not be trying to convince anyone anything different -- including his base.

All of that is to say I don't have to love Margaret Thatcher's policies to appreciate the fact that she is one of the women who made it possible for me and other little girls to grow up seeing leadership as a viable career path, and I salute her accordingly.

But we will know we have reached true equality when women like myself no longer feel as though we will be diminished when another woman we don't agree with or feel represents us, experiences a setback.

We're not there yet. But maybe after electing an American woman as a national leader, we will be.

I'll get back to you in late 2016.

Keli Goff is a Correspondent for www.TheRoot.com and the author of 'The GQ Candidate.'

 
 
 

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