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On The Move, Chapter: The Thatcher legacy: power feminism and the birth of girl power by Helen Wilkinson in On the March: feminism for a new generation, edited by Natasha Walter

Feminism is on the move. In this book more than a dozen young writers outline their vision of the feminist future. Oona King, Britain's second black woman MP, tells us why feminism matters in government; Helen Wilkinson writes on Thatcher's liberating relationship with power; Stephanie Theobald gives us a darkly humorous attack on lesbian chic; Julie Bindel uncovers the dangers women still face in their own homes; Katharine Viner reminds us why the personal is still the political; novelist Livi Micheal's vivid portrayal of working-class women's lives is backed by Aminatta Forna's piece on why middle-class women are wrong to abandon feminism; novelist and playwrigth Jenny McLeod offers a personal view of the journey of the black woman in her family; Helen Simpson's short story is a gently hilarious look at motherhood; and five young girls tell us frankly and fearlessly what feminism means to them. From Bridget Jones to Donatella Versace, from Blair's Babes to Sara Thornton, these writers take new and unexpected views on sexual politics today.

Review in The Guardian, Saturday February 20 1999

The most probing and daring essay in the book, however, is Helen Wilkinson's cool-headed tribute to Margaret Thatcher as the pioneer of a 'free-market feminism' that 'transformed the prevailing relation between women and power'. For most British feminist intellectuals, Thatcher is still, as Wilkinson notes, 'the feminist pariah'. Better run naked down the Strand in stilettos with a python wrapped round your neck than praise Thatcher in the public press or give her any credit for helping women. Yet as Wilkinson, project director at the think-tank DEMOS, persuasively argues, Thatcher's legacy has been crucial to the women who grew up, went to university, and entered the professions during her reign: 'In her we saw a woman who did not shy away from showing us how much she loved power, and in turn she made it legitimate for us to love it too.'

Wilkinson sees in Thatcher's Iron Lady persona a blending of gender traits very much in tune with the times, making her a 'macho female role model' like Nikita or Tank Girl. If today's young feminists seem more 'overtly masculinised' than their older sisters, 'seeking risk and excitement, taking greater pleasures in overt displays of sexuality, and increasingly attached to aggression and violence', they may be following in Thatcher's footsteps; but so are 'working-class women who have imbibed some of Thatcher's chutzpah and confidence, and have begun to challenge the macho culture within the trade union movement.' In short, Thatcher may have 'put the fire back' into the damp ashes of feminism.

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