Was Margaret Thatcher a ‘rebel girl’?

Meagan Tyler wanted to like “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women,” but was shocked to find Margaret Thatcher represented in the book.

Image: rebelgirls.co

A follow up to the hugely successful Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women is due out soon, which has me wondering if another apartheid apologist will be included this time round.

Like many other people, I was drawn to the concept of the Rebel Girls book — with more than 10,000 backers, the original Kickstarter project raised almost $700,000. Perhaps somewhat overenthusiastically, I pledged enough to get six copies. Some of the hype about the book was eye-roll inducing (clearly, buying a book does not equate to “joining a revolution”), but it still sounded like a worthy idea.

Yes, it was probably going be a highly-individualized, liberal feminist take on things. But, I reasoned, the well-established sexism and lack of female characters in children’s literature meant 100 stories about women would surely be a good antidote (if only a small one) to distribute to a growing collection of nieces, nephews, and children of friends. (With the added bonus that this would sort out birthday gifts for the best part of a year.)

When the long-awaited box of books finally arrived, I tore it open to flick through a copy. After seeing the sample images, I had been hopeful. The examples of Frida Kahlo and Serena Williams looked promising. And, idly thumbing the pages, it was great to see a range of different women included for a range of different contributions and achievements. From Ameila Earhart and Amna Al Haddad, to Yaa Asantewaa and Yoko Ono.

But I stopped on the Serena Williams page. It didn’t look like the mock up. It was now the Serena and Venus Williams page, which was fine — potentially even better. But the original quote had been replaced. The sample had read: “I don’t look like every other girl, it takes a while to be okay with that. To be different. But different is good.” Now Serena’s quote read: “I’m really exciting. I smile a lot. I win a lot. And I’m really sexy.”

I’d been had.

A quick Google revealed other people’s concerns about some elements of Rebels Girls. As a sizeable chunk of the one-star reviews on Amazon still show, there is a strong sense that the story of transgender child Coy Mathis, for example,  simply reinforces the notion that to be a girl is to like “sparkly pink” things, and that gender non-conforming children need to be “fixed.” The story begins:

“Once upon a time, a boy named Coy was born. Coy loved dresses, the colour pink, and shiny shoes… One night, Coy asked his mom: ‘When are we going to get me fixed into a girl-girl.’”

These representations prompted me to read through the book a bit more thoroughly.

As I scanned down the list of entries, I was further horrified to find the words, “Margaret Thatcher” staring back at me. So horrified, in fact, that (after ranting on Twitter) I called an emergency lunchtime meeting of sympathetic colleagues to figure out what to do. One suggested cutting the pages out before gifting the book to any impressionable children. Nope, that was going to ruin Margaret Hamilton and Margherita Hack. Another suggested gluing the pages together, but although this had the benefit of immediate effect, it didn’t feel great. As an interim measure, we agreed to add post-it notes.

Not everyone understood this reaction. A male colleague inquired, for example, as to why Margaret Thatcher couldn’t be “right wing and a feminist.” Not having a copy of Dworkin’s Right Wing Women handy to pass along at that moment, I offered a brief lecture on the history of the second wave feminist movement’s links to — and emergence from — progressive politics and the necessity for feminist politics to be progressive if we are ever to overthrow white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (or even just challenge the status quo).

That Thatcher was not a feminist is hardly the only issue with propping her up as a role model for girls. Rebel Girls provides a nauseating white-washing of her politics and use of power, claiming people “admired her strength and determination.” But which people, exactly? This probably isn’t a great book to give the children of any Argentinian friends, for example. Or any leftist or working class British friends. Or any friends with a conscience, really…

There’s no mention of the Poll Tax or the ensuing riots. No mention of the fact that the proportion of pensioners living in poverty increased from 13 to 43 per cent under the Conservative rule shaped by Thatcher’s policies. Or that child poverty more than doubled (though the authors deign to mention that people “disliked” Thatcher when she ended free milk in schools). There isn’t a mention of the fact she opposed sanctions against the South African apartheid regime and famously referred to the African National Congress as a “typical terrorist organisation.” Nor is there any suggestion of her cordial relationship with various dictators, including her “true friend” Augusto Pinochet.

I started thinking these books were going to have to sit under my desk, unread by any kid, for eternity. Which was a shame, because there are some stories of brilliant women and girls included too. I also had to face the reality that I’m probably not going to find the time and energy to write my own 100 Stories of Radical Women and Their Great Contributions to Feminist Theory book for seven-year-olds in the near future.

So, I’ve compromised — I’ve rewritten some of the stories and pasted them over the originals. The Thatcher one appears below. If you’ve got old copies of Rebel Girls sitting around, or are now dreading what might be included in any pre-ordered, next volume, my advice is: get writing and get a glue stick.

With thanks to Dan Walder for his edits and many informative, Thatcher-related rants.

Dr. Meagan Tyler is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and an internationally recognized scholar in the field of gender and sexuality studies. She is the author of “Selling Sex Short: The pornographic and sexological construction of women’s sexuality in the West” and an editor of “Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism.” Follow her @DrMeaganTyler.

Meagan Tyler
Meagan Tyler

Dr Meagan Tyler is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and is the public officer of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia. Meagan is the author of "Selling Sex Short: The sexological and pornographic construction of women’s sexuality in the West" and co-editor of "Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism."

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  • Cassandra

    I know! Maybe Margaret Thatcher was TRANS! That’s it! Margaret Thatcher was TRANS!*


  • DeColonise

    I guess she was a rebel woman if one thinks it was good and neat what she and Reagan did together in destroying class consciousness in the western world and replace it with the idea that human societies are made up only by individuals acting soullessly in their best self interests.

  • Wren

    Personally, I won’t buy it because of the trans child and the “sexy” Serena Williams quote. There are plenty of obvious reasons why this book may be mortally flawed other than the Thatcher bio.

  • Hekate Jayne

    So she was the female equivalent of Ronald Reagan, then.

    He was the beginning of the end for us. Nixon was kind of a head start, though, since he put for profit healthcare into place.

    • Tobysgirl

      Thatcher and Reagan liked each other very much. Easy to see why.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Thatcher is not the only issue with this book.

    All daughters should be so lucky to have a mother as fierce and feminist as fiercemild. She will hear a lot of women’s stories from her mother.

    It is a big assumption to make about a mother, don’t you think? That if fiercemild disregards this book, that It is some kind of MY GOD FAILURE MY GOD?

    I would not trust a book that focused on the sexiness of the Venus sisters and called it feminist. There is more than one reason to not trust this book as a source.

  • OldPolarBear

    Totally agree about the Serena Williams quote. However, I do like Dr. Tyler’s rewrite of the Thatcher section in her OP, and I wonder if that might be an interesting solution for this book? Also as Liz suggested in a comment above. Someone or multiple someones with the software and design skills — I haven’t them, but I would be willing to help if there was something I could do — could create substitute pages for the worst examples with the exact font, layout, page size, etc. and make them available to print out as a kit. People could even go to bookstores, guerrilla-style, and slip them into the unbought copies.

    • Wren

      I like the way you think!

  • OldPolarBear

    My city became flooded with heroin almost overnight and it was as if it was allowed to happen in many of the formerly industrial cities in the UK.

    It may not have been only allowed to happen, but facilitated, not with the direct knowledge or participation by Thatcher herself (probably not, anyway), but by “deep state” elements of the UK and US. If you have access to it, check out the film Kill the Messenger, about the investigative reporter Gary Webb. It happened, and is still happening, in the USA and the same is true of the UK.

    And yes, I know that Gary Webb’s story has supposedly been debunked, but the MSM sources that have supposedly done that are massive liars for the plutocrats and oligarchs who run us.

  • Hekate Jayne

    That is exactly what a male would envision women to say.

    “I am sexy!!!! And a winner!! A sexy, sexy winner!!!”

    Male ideation.

  • FierceMild

    So, you didn’t read the bit about the “I’m so sexy” quote from Serena Williams then? Or my suggestion of a different book full of awesome women that I’m already reading to my daughter? You act as if because I don’t have any intention of buying this specific book for my child I’m somehow depriving her of exposure to fantastic women of substance and achievement. I think it’s you getting yanked off course with this one.

    No, I have no intention of buying a book for my daughter in which Margaret Thatcher is lionized and Serena and Venus Williams’ achievements are diminished to being fuckable. Praising shitty white Women for acting just like shitty white men and reducing black women to objects is NOT my idea of feminist parenting. I will instead continue to buy and read to her books in which Margaret Thatcher does not feature and women of colour are praised for their accomplishments. If that upsets you or your god I must say I don’t understand why.

    I have devoted a truly staggering amount of time and money to curating and compiling my child’s media library. I could write an article about books for girls, books targeted to girls, and books featuring girls all with pros, cons, the best years for publications (late 70s/early 80s), and supplemental suggestions. That doesn’t even begin to approach movies, television series, or music.

    So I’m sorry you think my parenting choices give Richard Spencer orgasms, but I’m more inclined to think writing of accomplished black women in terms of sex instead of power gives him the orgasms and I’m not buying this book. I’ve got others.

    Also, I don’t give her books that deny biological reality and promote cosmetic surgery as bravery. She’ll get enough of that irl. If you would like a suggestion for a book for children that has excellent information on the body try It’s not the Stork By Robie H Harris.

    • Wren

      “I could write an article about books for girls, books targeted to girls, and books featuring girls all with pros, cons, the best years for publications (late 70s/early 80s), and supplemental suggestions. ”

      Would you, please??? I would send it to all my parenting friends and use it as a guide for my purchases. Heck, I may just buy many of them for my own reading pleasure. Maybe Meghan would publish it here?

  • Hekate Jayne

    You know that I am not a Clinton fan.

    But she actually won our election, by over 3 million votes. But our patriarchal government used the patriarchal electoral college system to take it from her.

    That in itself is sexism and misogyny.

    I don’t understand why we discuss this as a radfem issue. A patriarchal politician is going to do the business of patriarchy. They are going to advance and protect males.

    Women that want a position in a patriarchal government have to function and act like males. That is the only way into a patriarchal government.

    But here we are, with women arguing over support of just another patriarchal politician. And blaming each other for not supporting her.

    And she won! She had 3 million more votes. She could have had 50 million more. Patriarchal government was not going to allow her to win. All of the women could have supported her, but it wouldn’t have mattered because male government didn’t want her.

    Yet, we still argue over women that didn’t vote for her. I don’t get it.

    • rosearan

      Yes, she won 2.9 million votes over Trump. But it was the swing states that decided the election result. This is not just a US phenomenon. All governments across the western world design their electoral votes to ensure that the less populous regions have as much representation as the populous regions. If you break down the Clinton vote, her advantage was in the populous, progressive states.

      Although the electoral system did not bring her the election victory of the popular vote, it was more a matter of electoral procedure than misogyny or sexism. The less populous states rejected Clinton’s status quo stance. They wanted change.

      ‘I don’t understand why we discuss this as a radfem issue. A patriarchal politician is going to do the business of patriarchy. They are going to advance and protect males.’

      Aren’t you answering your own question?

    • DeColonise

      I’m often amazed that so many here in the western world still believes in the voting system and has a belief in the systems of power and the people who likes to be in these positions of power within this patriarchal culture at all.
      I often argue we act as a mass of a domesticated species.

      I often wonder how these people in various seats of power, not only president elections but other seats of power too, would react if all of us “human resources” beneath them would simply not show up to vote at all.

      • Liz
      • Hekate Jayne

        That is why we have the saying, “if voting changed anything, it would be illegal”.

        At the beginning of the United States, rich, white, male land owners were the only ones allowed to vote. They were also the only ones to not lift a finger, living by stealing (by force) the labor of black and white women and black males.

        Rich white males controlled everything then, and they control everything now. The 1% is majority white and male. For centuries,, their interests and profits have been put in front of all women and MOC.

        They aren’t so rich because they are so much smarter or hard working. White males have always been master manipulators and thieves. And they manipulate and steal votes, just like they do everything else.

  • Tobysgirl

    For a fantastic take on Thatcher after her death, check out the video of Glenda Jackson speaking in Parliament about Thatcher’s “accomplishments.” What a powerful speaker!
    I just started a biography of Margaret Fuller after reading a dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. These were genuine rebel women, facing ostracism and cruelty at a time when women were not citizens and could not call their bodies or the fruits of their labor their own.
    The only downside to these books by academics is their perpetuation of the confusion over gender and sex; using gender when one means sex will surely date their work.

  • calabasa

    Of course it can be attributed to misogyny, and to so is not being “dismissive.” Donald Trump is both our first white president and our first male president (an obvious analysis which Coates has been criticized for leaving out): https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/

    Hillary Clinton is a corrupt and war-mongering neoliberal, to be sure, but she is no worse than Barack Obama or most any other Democratic male politician. People dislike her more than her rapist husband, for God’s sake. The fear- and hate-mongering against her over the years has been rabid, overzealous and clear, and I really can’t see much reason for that excess *except* her sex.

  • calabasa

    This affects my family as well. Most of my cousins in Wales are on the dole because Wales was left bereft and there is no work, especially in the valleys. People complain of high taxes going to social programs in Great Britain, but it’s all because so many people were left destitute after policies like those of Margaret Thatcher. Her terrible reign has affected generations.

  • rosearan

    Yeah. I’ve never gone along with the concept that feminism’s goal is to make the world a better place. This is just an extension of the patriarchal concept that women are ‘God’s police’. Like, you know … we are put on earth to tame men’s primitive destructiveness with our morals and decency.

  • Wren

    I think it’s a great idea! Although I probably couldn’t contribute since I’m not a writer, although I certainly have things to say, lol.

  • Liz

    hear, hear!

  • Cassandra

    It was misogyny. The end.

  • WolfSister84

    Any suggested re-writes for any of the other pages/profiles? Your writing for Thatcher is great; I would love to use any of your re-writes for other problematic parts of the books! I bought my daughter the first volume without reading it ahead of time. I will now go through it very, very carefully…

  • Killer Marmot

    So in response to the question “Can someone be both a feminist and a conservative?”, I guess Tyler’s answer is No.