The Lady’s Not For Turning

“The Lady’s Not For Turning”*

So many of us men think of women only as lovers, wives and mothers. Many of our young women today think of themselves with a much broader palette. The title of this piece hearkens back to a speech by the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, who rose from a middle class background in a grocery to lead Britain back to greatness from the period of torpor it found itself in after WWII, almost bankrupt, bereft of its world empire. It celebrates the steely will that enabled her to play with the “big boys” and win.

Margaret Thatcher’s role in the resurgence of Britain is one of the latest examples of how women have succeeded in occupying a central role in human history against the backdrop of the essentially patriarchal society we have experienced. We remark on it because we consider it a rarity. But the reality is that women have been able to profoundly impact events many times and in many places. They have performed this role often by being less obvious rather that by being in the forefront, and by being more insightful than some men occupying positions of power.

We all are aware of instances where the power behind the “throne” is in the hands of a woman. Men are so often ‘managed’ by the women with whom they are associated. Whatever the levers of their power, gender, talent, reason or ambition, intelligent woman can, and have, very often accomplished the achievement of their goals in ways that are less obvious, certainly less obvious to the men on whom they were exercising their wiles. (Remember Lady MacBeth!) While the feminist may rail against the need for women to accomplish their goals by subterfuge, this has been an important part of the human drama for ages. The men, weak or the blind, insist on their delusion. The intelligent welcome the intervention. It is only men who are confident in their own worth that can appreciate the gift that women bring to the equation.

By their very nature, women offer a different perspective on almost every issue. They often have a very different set of priorities. Very often these things are more closely in line with what we may think of as the “public good” than those more obvious to men, oriented more, in many cases, to issues surrounding the exercise of power, issues related to ego. In this way women may be more likely to be more closely in tune with an emphasis on public issues, perhaps, even, on a moral code.

There is enough that we know from our culture and history that allows us to celebrate the female role. If Eve prompted our removal from the Garden of Eden, she also bequeathed us the enquiring minds that we have. It was Sarah who counselled Abraham, and Mose’s mother who launched him adrift to be rescued by the Pharoah’s daughter and achieve his destiny. Deborah was a judge among the Hebrews for a generation. Esther risked her life to save her people from destruction in Persia. How did Cleopatra turn the Roman empire on its head? How did the French courtesans determine realities in the courts of the Louies?

More recently in the U.S., we know of Susan B. Anthony who fought for universal suffrage in the 1872 United States, Marie Curie who gained the first woman’s science degree in France in 1906 and went on to two Nobel prizes. Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, an immigrant from the Ukraine, grocery clerk and farm worker in her resume. Benazir Bhutto became president of Pakistan in 1988 at the age of 35. Indira Ghandi was Prime Minister of India for 25 years. Anng Sun Sui Kyi, imprisoned for decades in Myanmar in 1988, has only in recent years achieved freedom and leadership in her country, a courageous symbol of defiance in the face of tyranny. And there are so many others who showed that they could beat men at their own game. Does anybody know what impact Winston Churchill’s Jewish mother from America had on him?

These days women are insisting that they be recognized for their worth at face value, not from what they can accomplish by manipulating men. We can applaud that. We have a Hilary Rodham Clinton and a Marine LePen. We have a Merkel in Germany, and in America, Gloria Steinem, Nancy Pelosi, Dorothy Fainstein, and an Elizabeth Warren. And potentially, an Ivanka Trump. For my money, that can’t come soon enough. It is well past the time that talents on the distaff side are more generously available to us in the public sphere. I believe it can only improve our public discourse. It would be hard to do worse. Women are taking their place as equal partners with men in every aspect of western society and we are all the better for it.

Women fully expect to train themselves in their areas of interest outside the home. They fully expect to be self-supporting. They expect to have equal pay for equal work. They expect to have an equal chance to fill the big job. We have self-confidant and assertive females acting out behaviours with a freedom we support. Women have fought for and earned their place in the workplace and the wider world. Much remains to be achieved in that area. They will not be turned away.

Welcome to the brave new world!

*This was a phrase used by Prime Minister Lady Margaret Thatcher when she addressed the Conservative Party Conference, Oct. 10, 1980. The phrase paraphrases the title of a play by Christopher fry, “The Lady’s Not For Burning”, referring to the practice in some societies of burning at the stake women suspected of being witches.