Margaret Thatcher was a mighty woman. The daughter of a grocer, she entered politics at the age of 25, drawing a surge of media attention as the youngest and only female candidate in the general election. She lost three times and birthed twins before finally winning the Conservative seat in Finchley in 1958 (with two toddlers in tow). While I hesitate to employ the jargon of a certain Ms. Sandberg, it cannot go without saying that Baroness Thatcher is a paradigm for the kind of character Lean In asks of the yet-to-be-wrought women of today.
Thatcher ascended the wooden ranks of a historically androcentric and vastly disillusioned institution by defying her own doubts ("I don't think there will be a female prime minister in my lifetime," as she once said) and pulverized her opponents through the strength of her own preponderant will ("To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning"). And yet, iron-fisted as she was, she managed to maintain that special brand of feminine sass all the way through. As Christopher Hitchens quickly learned upon meeting the lady leader, if you stepped on her toes, with a bend of the hip and a flick of the wrist, she just might have spanked you. Here's an excerpt from his memoir, Hitch-22:
"Care to meet the new leader?" Who could refuse? Within moments, Margaret Thatcher and I were face to face.
Within moments, too, I had turned away and was showing her my buttocks. I suppose that I must give some sort of explanation for this. Almost as soon as we shook hands on immediate introduction, I felt that she knew my name and had perhaps connected it to the socialist weekly that had recently called her rather sexy. While she struggled adorably with this moment of pretty confusion, I felt obliged to seek controversy and picked a fight with her on a detail of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe policy. She took me up on it. I was (as it chances) right on the small point of fact, and she was wrong. But she maintained her wrongness with such adamantine strength that I eventually conceded the point and bowed slightly to emphasize my acknowledgement. "No," she said. "Bow lower!" Smiling agreeably, I bent forward a bit farther. "No, no," she trilled. "Much lower!" By this time a little group of interested bystanders was gathering. I again bent forward, this time much more self-consciously. Stepping around behind me, she unmasked her batteries and smote me on the rear with the parliamentary order-paper that she had been rolling into a cylinder behind her back. I regained the vertical with some awkwardness. As she walked away, she looked back over her shoulder and gave an almost imperceptibly slight roll of the hip while mouthing the words: "Naughty boy!" ....
I had and have eyewitness to this. At the time, though, I hardly believed it myself. It is only from a later perspective, looking back on the manner in which she slaughtered and cowed all the former male leadership of her party and replaced them with pliant tools, that I appreciate the premonitory glimpse—of what someone in another context once called "the smack of firm government"—that I had once been afforded. Even at the time, as I left that party, I knew I had met someone rather impressive. And the worst of "Thatcherism," as I was beginning by degrees to discover, was the rodent slowly stirring in my viscera: the uneasy but unbanishable feeling that on some essential matters she might be right."