Margaret Thatcher Out, Greta Thunberg In: Hillary Clinton’s ‘Book of Gutsy Women’

Patrick Goodenough | November 15, 2019 | 4:56am EST
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Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan in 1982. (Getty Images)
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan in 1982. (Getty Images)

( – During a visit to Britain this week, Hillary Clinton explained why she and daughter Chelsea chose not to include Margaret Thatcher in their new book featuring “gutsy women” – and why the teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg did make the cut.

In Clinton’s view Britain’s first prime minister did not do enough to knock down “barriers for others.” The former Democratic presidential nominee did give a nod to Thatcher’s willingness to change the way she dressed, spoke and wore her hair, alluding to one of the most dramatic makeovers in 20th century politics.

The subject came up in an interview Tuesday on BBC Radio 5 Live, when interviewer Emma Barnett expressed surprise that Thatcher was not among the more than 100 women – including writers, civil rights activists, athletes, politicians and environmentalists – featured in the “Book of Gutsy Women.”

“Did you think to include her?” Barnett asked. “Because surely she comes to mind with ‘gutsy women,’ even if you didn’t like her?”

“Well, she does,” Hillary Clinton conceded. “But she doesn’t fit the other part of the definition, in our opinion, which really is knocking down barriers for others, and trying to make a positive difference. I think the record is mixed with her.”

“I thought she was incredibly strong,” she continued, recalling taking her daughter to see Thatcher in the House of Commons during her premiership.

“So I had, you know, a lot of understanding of what it took,” Clinton said. “And I thought it was clever of her to, you know, really try to mold herself to be more acceptable, in terms of everything from hairstyle and speaking style, to clothing style.”

“But I think on the criterion that we were really looking at, okay, what were the positive differences, the changes that this person made, that really opened doors to more? That’s wasn’t that apparent.”

Barnett pointed out that Thatcher had a poor record of promoting women in her government.

“Right, there was very little interest, apparently, in doing that” Clinton agreed. “And also, you know, her view of politics, and her dismissal of the idea, even, of community – ‘there’s no such thing’ – really struck me as being, you know, out of step to where we need to go, what kind of country, what kind of future we want for our good friends here in the U.K.”

(Clinton was referring to Thatcher’s much-discussed 1987 magazine interview remark, in the context of people looking to the government to solve their problems: “ …they are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”)

Barnett pushed back gently at the Clintons’ decision to omit Thatcher, recalling growing up in Britain knowing that a woman had succeeded in rising to the top job in the land.

“It comes back to the whole thing, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’” Barnett said. “And I grew up knowing there had been a female prime minister.”


Two days before the BBC interview, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton took part in a discussion about their book at London’s Southbank Centre, where the topic of Greta Thunberg came up.

Clinton said they had decided to include Thunberg in their book “because we had read about her lonely, solitary climate strike in front of the Swedish parliament, and we were so moved by it.”

“She then sails across the ocean and speaks to the U.N.,” she said. “And it’s been fascinating to watch how scared a lot of grown-up, you know, male leaders are of this young 16-year-old girl, who speaks up about the threat of climate change.”

Known by admirers and critics alike as the “Iron Lady,” Thatcher became Conservative prime minister in 1979 and served for 11-and-a-half years, an outspoken and reliable Cold War ally of the U.S. who developed a particularly strong bond with President Reagan.

Upon her death aged 87 in 2013, President Obama said, “Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history – we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.”

See also:
Hillary Clinton on Running Again: No, But ‘I Never Say Never to Anything’ (Nov. 13, 2019)


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