Magaret Thatcher died yesterday, provoking a lot of tweets and status updates jubilantly proclaiming “Ding Dong the witch is dead!” (or less polite words to that effect). I’m not a fan of Maggie* but I find this reaction disturbing on two levels.
Firstly, the festivity is distasteful and somewhat disproportionate. Whatever you think of her policies or her political legacy, she was an old lady – a mother and a grandmother – who died of a stroke. I’ve seen several justifications comparing this reaction to the response in Libya when Gaddafi died (or similar situations). Maggie made some very unpopular decisions but she was an elected leader in a democratic country, and she lost that position over 20 years ago. Comparing her to an incumbent dictator is frankly ridiculous and seems like an attempt to obscure a less palatable motive for the venom.
Misogyny, sexism, patriarchy. Whatever label you choose, there’s an awful lot of it about at the moment. Strong women always provoke more vitriolic reactions than strong men, even (perhaps especially) from other women. The clue is in the language: witch, bitch, cow, hag and far worse. Margaret Thatcher was the first female British Prime Minister. To date, every other PM has been white, male, able-bodied and (as far as we know) straight. Had a black, disabled or gay male PM done what she did I doubt very much we’d be seeing tweets celebrating the death of the ‘capitalist cripple’ or ‘cruel-hearted queer’. People who consider themselves to be liberal and reasonable wouldn’t start throwing around the n-word (which I’m not going to use because I don’t want this post to become about whether it’s acceptable even in the context of a discussion about language), so why are words that are offensive to women suddenly acceptable?
Feel free to hate what she did; hate what she stood for; hate the current reforms and the fact that we’re paying for her funeral, but be wary of personalising it. Margaret Thatcher was not a nice person, but neither are the the misogynists dancing on her grave.
* For the record – not that my political views are relevant to this issue – I have voted Labour or Lib Dem at every election since I was 18. I would describe myself as a ‘liberal capitalist’ who believes that those who work hard should ‘do better’ (whatever that means) than those who don’t but there should be a system in place to help the vulnerable and/or unfortunate. I support gay marriage, am broadly pro-Europe and believe that the Welfare State does need reforming but some of the current cuts and changes are too extreme. I also think a 50% tax rate is counterproductive and that benefit claimants and bankers should be judged as individuals rather than being labelled as lazy or evil.