Perhaps this is a sign of the times for two of this country’s most recognized and influential women of today. Or perhaps it is an omen, a sign of things to come. At least one woman - presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton - is sure hoping it’s the former.
According to the Nielsen Media Research, the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” fell last week to its lowest ratings since 1987, covering the tenures of Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer and Couric. In the same week, French politician Marie-Segolene Royal lost her bid to become France’s first woman president, but she claims she will remain “very present” in the French political scene. Couric and Royal made big splashes in their respective worlds during the last few years, so for them to fall from grace like they did last week is a disappointment for them, their supporters, and women all around the world.
Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is the woman that Couric, Royal, Clinton and other women need to pattern themselves after if they wish to remain influential over a long period of time. Thatcher was the Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party for 15 years. Thatcher was the first woman to serve as British Prime Minister, the longest-serving Prime Minister since Lord Salisbury, and had the longest continuous period in office since Lord Liverpool in the early 19th century. Her legacy as a female leader is unmatched in recent world history.
Thatcher took over a country that was being referred to as the “sick man of Europe” because of industrial strife and poor economic performance compared to other European countries. Upon her departure eleven years later, the United Kingdom was arguably one of the healthiest economies in Europe. Her governing style was classic conservative. She pushed radical labour market reforms that deregulated the financial markets, weakened trade unions, and reduced the role of the government. She embraced Ronald Reagan (who was elected in the United States a year after Thatcher), and worked hard to make the UK a true American ally and influential international player.
Conservatives will appreciate one of her most famous statements about society: “I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I'll get a grant.’ ‘I'm homeless, the government must house me.’ They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”
Despite Thatcher’s conservative view, the traits that made her influential were non-partisan. She communicated in a very straight-forward, unflinching manner. She made decisions decisively and without fear. And because of these traits and a marvelous mind, she thrived. Of course she was not always well liked. Obviously her opponents disliked many of her policies, statements, and actions. But they respected her resolve and willingness to be bold and seek change. Her quick mind and faster mouth may have upset a few, but they earned her the respect of most. Time Magazine, upon naming her one of the 100 most influential people of the century said Thatcher “combined a flamboyant willpower with evident femininity.”
Women and men alike, around the world, feel for Katie Couric and Marie-Segolene Royal. Their potential to demonstrate their ability to compete with their male counterparts and add new flavor to their arenas has suffered a setback. In the case of Royal, rather than having well-backed ideas she, in large part, criticized her opponent, eventually showed her temper and with her socialist outlook simply brought too many issues to bear at once. Couric’s problem may have arisen through poor judgment. She was expected to thrive in an area that was new to her and women in general: anchoring the nightly news. She was accustomed to a different type of show, and didn’t readily provide the hard, cold facts viewers seem to like at night. People complained that she seemed too soft.
If Couric, Royal and Clinton want to succeed in their respective fields they should take note of Thatcher. She was conservative, modest, demonstrated perseverance and did not draw unneeded attention to her gender. Through Thatcher’s example, Couric, Royal and Clinton can learn that nothing is more effective than a few simple ideas, coupled with the will to accomplish them and that the ideas, not gender, should be their focus.