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Kathy Gyngell: Woman’s Hour ties itself in knots to acknowledge the great Mrs T


Another year  – there have been 70 of them now heaven help us – and another Woman’s Hour Power List.

I should just let it drop I know. The very idea is so irritatingly schoolgirlish. Only women who have never grown up would want to spend time rating other women.

Only women obsessed with importance, status and recognition themselves would busy themselves with it. Only, in fact, women who need to be noticed. It’s a great feminist cover for unremarkability.

Just as is the  feminist argument that the lack of women engineers proves  women are discriminated against – even though those complaining have never shown the slightest inclination to be one. Playing the victimhood/power axis has become a feminist career in itself. When pontificating is so much easier than engineering, why not?

You wouldn’t catch men bothering with this all this power talk tosh, or taking themselves so seriously, except, I concede, honorary fems like Nick Clegg.

But don’t let me minimise the weightiness of the Woman’s Power List panel’s task. Mr Clegg would have been in his element. Their job was to ‘recognise women’s achievements across the history of the programme’, and, for the first time, to include women no longer living. Wow.

Emma Barnett, the chair of the panel, was not able contain her excitement: “…For the first time we can honour great women who are no longer with us…By opening up the annals of history – we can also pay tribute to the great women to whom we owe so much and have a duty to remember.”

Too late the piety of her statement dawned! What then, under this rubric, of the woman who could not be excluded. Ding-dong the witch is dead. What a conundrum!

But where there’s a will there’s a way on Woman’s Hour. Problem solved. The judges’ task must be to consider “… a woman’s body of work or her role as a catalyst for change”.

The panel duly set to on a ‘challenge as daunting as it is exciting’, in panellist Julia Hobsbawm’s words (Founder, Editorial Intelligence and daughter of communist historian Eric Hobsbawm)Not so daunting, however,  knowing they  could qualify their positioning of the candidates on the basis of their ‘influence’ – good or bad.

They could consider Mrs T after all – not because she was a warrior who saved the country, not even because she ‘broke the ultimate glass ceiling’ as Britain’s first woman PM but, wait for it, because of her negative (and therefore on feminism, positive) impact.

Emma Barnett helpfully explained: impact does not always have a positive meaning, so, “even for those who viscerally dislike the late Conservative politician, she politically galvanised a new generation of women in opposition to her”.

Even that was barely enough for the left-leaning panel of sillies (who included feminist screen writer Abi Morgan and Ayesha Hazarika, a former adviser to the Labour MP Harriet Harman). They were still very conflicted, they told The Guardian.

Hazarika was “uncomfortable” with the choice of Thatcher – she only forgave it because the list was about celebrating impact “both positive and negative”, something  Jenni Murray had not left off pointing out.

And just in case anyone might have got the impression  that Woman’s Hour really was celebrating Margaret Thatcher (heaven forfend), the BBC’s News department was on hand to quash it. Better to bury Thatcher’s victory in the fourth paragraph of their news report, as Guido spotted here than risk such an appalling misunderstanding. The bulletin item on the power list led not with the winner Margaret Thatcher, but with the sixth of the seven finalists selected – the phantom but far more politically acceptable character of Bridget Jones.

Despite all this, I am prepared to forgive Woman’s Hour’s biased inanities this week. To make her point about Mrs Thatcher’s anti feminist credentials, Jenni Murray dug up an old interview with Mrs “I owe nothing to Women’s Lib” Thatcher, on the topic of women.

It was worth the tosh that went before.  Her words shone reason through unreason:

“When it was suggested they were going to have a Minister for Women, I said ‘Oh really’, are they going to have a minister for men? ….. If you are sure of your talents and abilities you don’t expect to be treated differently at work because you are a woman. Most able women I know – women who climb to the top, whether it be in broadcasting, whether it be in business, whether it be as a woman editor – got there through merit and that is their strength, their ability. Don’t try to give the impression we need special treatment. We don’t.”

Amen to that from The Conservative Woman.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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