Margaret Thatcher and the plague of fake female empowerment

Two items have burst onto the media stage this week: A movie called The Iron Lady about one of the greatest women in history — former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — and a growing European recall of breast implants in danger of exploding. I wonder what the former would say about the latter. Did it ever cross Thatcher’s mind that women’s lives could be meaningfully enhanced by surgically strapping gel packs to their chests? How did women get from Thatcher to this?

Any such unfortunate developments are independent of feminist activism which is little more than female activist self-flagellation and therefore as useless as it is prevalent. Thatcher herself acknowledged that feminism did nothing for her. Feminists would argue that she was an ingrate unable to recognize that her success was due to the women who came before her. That may be, but those women weren’t feminists either, although feminists like to claim them as such. Feminists generally make a life out of feminist activism. Accomplished women are busy focusing on other things, during which feminists will come up and slap a label on them and unwittingly co-opt them to their cause. Thatcher made sure they couldn’t do that with her by disowning them.

Here’s the cold, harsh reality about exceptionally accomplished women: It’s a quiet, very lonely, very private and incredibly long struggle. It’s a chosen lifelong commitment. There is no feel-good, publicly extolled “progress” for the individual woman who seeks a life of meaning and contribution outside society’s accepted and tread-worn norms. It’s an endless, highly discreet struggle, as depicted in The Iron Lady. Yet this is the only thing that makes a significant difference in the lives of women who come after. Talking about women’s empowerment or asking for state funding to promote it isn’t going to do anything, and it never has. This isn’t a team sport.

Female empowerment is easy to fake superficially, like just about anything nowadays that once carried substantial meaning. Women augment their bodies with silicone, fillers and botox, parade around on reality television shows and collect big money for lending their names to parties in Las Vegas, all the while extolling the virtues of “independence.” Will these independent women be remembered in five years? Will they have contributed any ideas significant beyond themselves, or will they have wasted their life? I remembered asking myself the same question when I struggled with showing my legs and cleavage every day on a top-rated national cable news network while muzzled from contributing anything meaningful. It was an empty existence not worth the money it paid. To say that is near-blasphemous, and likely brands me an ingrate in an industry to millions of women who would have done anything to fill my stilettos. So be it.

On the same theme of faked female empowerment, it’s not uncommon, particularly in Europe, to discover that women in various positions of power in business or government are there not for their abilities but rather because they were the wife, mistress, daughter, or good friend of someone with power or influence. They’re often extolled as proof of feminist advancement, yet they sure didn’t get there via any kind of meritocracy. Do they really think people don’t know the difference?

So what’s the solution? That’s for every woman to determine for herself — to decide whether “one’s life must matter,” as Thatcher would say, in a sense larger than herself, and whether that’s something for which she wants to spend her entire existence striving. The Thatcher kind of success is so rare because, in part, the counter-pressures are enormous.

While sitting on a long-haul flight on New Year’s Eve, for example, a random gentleman beside me asked what I did for a living. As I explained my career and ambitions, he replied, “Don’t you have kids? Aren’t you married?” I said that neither marriage nor kids has ever been a priority and that I could take or leave both. He replied, “No kids? What will you do with your life, then?” Horrified by his implication that a woman’s life ought to be only devoted to motherhood, I replied that I plan to keep focusing on trying to make my life count for something more than myself, and that maybe someday when I’m well into my old age I’ll pay lip-service to societal pressures and adopt a child soldier, preferably one who grew up in the jungles of Columbia serving with the FARC, who I then wouldn’t have to train to choke fools who make such idiotic remarks.

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