Did Thatcher really ‘owe nothing to women’s lib’? Tracking down that elusive quote

After Margaret Thatcher’s death in April this year, one of the debates that emerged was over whether Thatcher was a feminist and her role as a female political leader (for example, see this blogpost from Moonbat). In these debates, one quote was repeatedly referred to: ‘I owe nothing to women’s lib’. However I have spent most of the day trying to track down the source of this quote and it seems to be an invented quote (or at least a misquotation).

thatcher kitchen

Help from twitter and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website has helped me find a quote from 1982 that is the most similar, but it is not as pithy as the invented one. In an interview on children’s TV show, CBTV, there was this following exchange:

Boy: Prime Minister, what do you think about Women’s Lib?

P.M: I’m not very keen on it.

Boy: You’re not?

P.M: No, because I think most of us got to our own position in life without Women’s Lib and we got here, not by saying ‘you’ve got to have more women doing so and so’ but saying ‘look, we’ve got the qualifications, why shouldn’t we have just as much a chance as a man?’ And you’ll find that so many male bastions were conquered that way, whereas Women’s Lib, I think, has been rather strident, concentrated on things which don’t really matter and, dare I say it, being rather unfeminine. Don’t you think that? What do the girls think, don’t you think Women’s Lib is sometimes like that?

Girls: Yes.

P.M: Do you like it?

Girl: Not really.

P.M: No, neither do I. Because, you see, you don’t need to cease to be feminine in order to do the job well, and anyway women have been in positions of authority in the past throughout history.

(What is particularly worrying about this exchange is that the girls respond, ‘not really’, when asked whether they like ‘Women’s Lib’)

In my research, I came across two other quotes by Thatcher relating to feminism and women’s liberation. One is the famous ‘I’m not a feminist’ from 1978. Thatcher definitely said this, but I think it is worth providing the wider context of the quote as well:

Barry St. John Nevill: You are a feminist——

Thatcher: No, I’m not a feminist.

Nevill: Well, you are a feminist, but not a militant feminist. By your election as Leader of the Conservative Party and ultimate Premiership——

Thatcher: Not too ultimate …   .

Nevill: How do you think you have helped women, and where do you think militant feminists have gone wrong?

Thatcher: I think they’ve become too strident. I think they have done great damage to the cause of women by making us out to be something we are not. Each person is different. Each has their own talents and abilities, and these are the things you want to draw and bring out. You don’t say: “I must get on because I’m a woman, or that I must get on because I’m a man”. You should say that you should get on because you have the combination of talents which are right for the job. The moment you exaggerate the question, you defeat your case.

One of the times when Thatcher was actually (somewhat) positive about women’s rights was in a 1982 speech for the Dame Margaret Corbett-Ashby Memorial Lecture. She praised women’s rights, but argued that Women’s Libbers were too ‘strident’ in their demands. The quote is:

The battle for women’s rights has been largely won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone for ever. And I hope they are. I hated those strident tones that you still hear from some Women’s Libbers’.

The Battle is largely won, but we must now see women’s rights in perspective and turn our attention to how we could use human rights to build the kind of world we wish our children to in.

From my quick scouring of the Thatcher Foundation website, these seem to be the most relevant quotes by Thatcher on feminism and women’s liberation, but I’d be keen to find some more. If anyone knows where the ‘I owe nothing to women’s lib’ is from, please let me know.

EDITED TO ADD: Stephen Murray directed me towards this snippet from The Observer on 1 December, 1974, although where The Observer sourced it from is still unknown:

Thatcher quote

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2 comments

  1. I’ve always been curious on Thatcher’s relationship to feminism. I’ve seen feminists refer to her as a role model of the movement, but I never really saw that myself. It seems like they view her as that just because she was a powerful woman. This clears a lot up for me, thank you!
    On my blog, I’m starting a new segment, “Two Way Hump Day,” where I ask my readers questions to start a discourse. Today I asked about the definition of feminism. I’d be curious to see your response, if you are interested. Here is the link http://oshitbritt.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/on-hump-day/

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