An attempt by Somerville JCR to rechristen Thursdays at the college bar ‘Thatcher Thursdays’ has been defeated. The motion, proposed by JCR President Shyamli Badgaiyan, would have instituted two-for-one drinks on Thursdays at the college bar under the banner ‘Thatcher Thursdays,’ but the title was amended in the face of opposition from the student body.
The motion, noting the underuse of Somerville’s college bar, asserted that ‘We should do more to encourage people to come to the bar,’ and that ‘Cheaper and discounted drinks would increase business in the bar.’ Pointing to widespread ‘Happy Nights’ at other colleges, and the success of Somerville’s own Happy Hour in fresher’s week, the motion resolved to ‘mandate the President to talk to college about instituting “Thatcher Thursdays”, with cheaper or 2-for-1 drinks.’
Reaction from members of the Somerville community was not entirely positive. Recent Somerville graduate Olivia Arigho Stiles tweeted @SomervilleJCR: “WOT THE F*** WHAT IS THIS???? I implore everyone to think carefully about this please.”
When informed that the motion was simply about a drinks deal for the college bar, Stiles then responded: “ah ok that’s quite sweet. good idea! Ergo ‘Thatcher Thursday’ poor choice of name, utterly ill-suited.”
Samual Billington, Sommerville Secretary, told The OxStu: “Thatcher Thursdays’ actually passed as a motion, however the Thatcher bit was amended so that the name of the happy hour would be decided at a later date. This is the second time such a motion has been amended, and the reason given both times was the same – Thatcher is a divisive figure, and is possibly not the best choice of alumnae to name an event after, especially if you’re hoping to attract people from other colleges.”
Billington added: “ I don’t think the aim of the motion was to honour Thatcher – it was simply to come up with a catchy name for a happy hour (after the success of our first one in Freshers’ Week – which was unnamed.) Although she is definitely one of Somerville’s most famous alumnae, I agree with the JCR in the choice being misguided. Personally, I thought the suggestion of Margery Fry-days was a brilliant one. “
Margaret Thatcher’s death has triggered evaluations of every aspect of her life. But, whatever your opinion on the woman’s politics, we can all share an objective appreciation of the woman’s style. Or can we? The iconic pearls and pussy bows of our only female Prime Minister are as distinctive as her controversial political decisions. For some, it might be difficult to separate the politics from the image. Nevertheless, even through her fashion, Thatcher showed her unwavering dedication to her family, her party and her country.
For the first time, fashion and politics were closely linked when Thatcher rose to power. Thatcher knew that even if some men would call her shallow for admitting it, what she wore mattered. The daughter of a dressmaker, Thatcher celebrated good tailoring and had an eye for detail when it came to clothes. ‘Never flashy, just appropriate’, Thatcher once said on the subject of her style. She dressed in a way that was appropriate to represent her country: smart, neat but also elegant and attractive. Her clothes would become a legacy: 7 suits were auctioned at £73,000 in 2012 – more than 10 times the estimated selling price. Mrs Thatcher did not push fashion under the carpet, but rather used it to consolidate her attitude towards her job and her life.
When discussing Thatcher’s look, one has to start with the hair. That hair was not going anywhere. The fashion of the time could not be more distinct from that of today. Instead of fighting, as we do now, for that just-stumbled-out-of-bed chic, it was all about precision and tidiness. Thatcher’s hair was forever in place and full of volume. The lady was not for turning, and neither was her hair. The robust image that her distinctive hairstyle gave off would be reflected in every aspect of Thatcher’s government. To copy such a hairstyle would be to copy a strong, controlled attitude and lifestyle.
Margaret Thatcher’s pearls were a symbol of her unshakable dedication to her family and her beliefs. As a woman and as a Prime Minister of her particular time, image was important. Advisors told Thatcher to not wear so many hats, and even she had to agree with this decision after a questionable blue and white number gained some strange looks during her time as educational secretary. But, when she was told to lose the pearls, it was a firm no. Her pearl necklace was a gift from Denis at the birth of their twins. For the rest of her career, pearls were intrinsic to any Thatcher outfit. Anyway, are pearls not an eternal symbol of femininity, position and power? These were three things that Thatcher would always want to promote about herself and her government. Skirt suits and pussy bows were the two other major garments that allowed Thatcher to retain her femininity in a world run by masculinity. Those pearls were with her through thick and thin, and will remain a major component of the Thatcher image.
Not only did Thatcher’s style show dedication to her family, but also to her party through her love for the colour blue. When Thatcher stepped out at 10 Downing Street as the new Prime Minister in 1979, she wore a tailored, royal blue skirt suit – the conservatives had arrived. Blue remained the staple colour of her wardrobe, especially when it came to suits. She wore every blue from a deep royal to aquamarine. It became her signature colour. On her visits back to Downing Street over the years, Thatcher has worn blue to show that she is still the woman that she was when she was in power. Her suits were more than clothes, they were symbols.
Last, but not least, Thatcher’s decisions in the fashion world were committed to her British, capitalist ideology. Thatcher’s favourite designer was known to be the British-based Aquascutum. Their designer, Margaret King, went on to be Thatcher’s official stylist. King would design dresses specifically for the Prime Minister to wear to special occasions – always tailored precisely to the woman and her purpose, never flashy, just appropriate. King once said that Thatcher had the excitement of a little girl when she saw the new designs made directly for her. Marks and Spencer was another favourite of the Prime Minister, and they would send her samples of new collections to suit her style. Thatcher wanted to promote everything that was British, and she was not about to betray this ideology when it came to clothes.
Now, the moment you have all been waiting for: the handbag. Thatcher’s Asprey handbag is one of the most famous items in her entire career. Because of her, ‘to handbag’ was given its very own place in the Oxford English Dictionary. This might niggle at some of our feminist-thinkers, but the handbag was part of the woman. Thatcher once said that her handbag was the only safe place in Downing Street, and perhaps she was right. She carried it everywhere with her, but kept it in mint condition because she knew its value and wanted to preserve it. When it was auctioned off in 2011 for £25,000, it was as good as new. Thatcher kept herself neat and tidy, and the same can be said for her handbag, both inside and out. But, just like her, underneath its elegant and feminine appearance, it packed a punch.
The components that create the Thatcher image are as memorable, but perhaps less controversial, as her political legacy. Whether feminists would have agreed or disagreed with the importance that Thatcher gave to her image, it was part of her strategy to achieve her and her party’s aims. A style as formidable and inimitable as that of Margaret Thatcher’s demands dominance in any room it enters. Even if her policies stepped over or outside the line in some opinions, her style seemed to have to get it just right. Firm, controlled, dominant and female: Margaret Thatcher.
By the time you read this, Margaret Thatcher will have been laid to rest in London. Whether or not you consider yourself an Iron Lady loyalist, her funeral will mark the passing of an Oxford institution.
The Somerville alumna graduated in 1947 and, in assuming office, became the seventh post-war Prime Minister to hail from this university.
To quote an equivocal Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton: “As Britain’s first female prime minister, and one of its longest serving, Baroness Thatcher ranks among the most prominent of Oxford’s alumni. One of the foremost politicians of her age, historians will debate her legacy for decades to come; today we remember a graduate of the University who reached the highest public office and had a lasting impact on British politics and society.” Thatcher features prominently in these pages, with a range of opinions represented in this week’s Comment section.
And whether you agree or not, it is goodbye to the former Prime Minister. But we may also be bidding goodbye to Pieminister, another Oxford institution. Those who frequent the Covered Market will be familiar with its smiling service, its succulent pastry, its delicious, chewy, flavoursome meat – and it is to our unmitigated despair that we announce that the Market’s rents may be going up by 70 per cent.
If it is true that Oxford students are the leaders of tomorrow, altruistic and socially conscious as well as connected, then let it be known that we shall not stand for this cruellest of cuts.
Tell The Man that he can take our playing fields, take our higher education budgets, take our milk, if he really must – but he cannot take our pies.
It’s as if the outcry over the Pasty Tax never tore through the ivory towers of the City Council. We’ll wager that while the fat cats of our local government were deciding the extent of the hike, they were feasting on Moo-Moo Milkshakes, on Bolitas Cheeseballs, and, of course, those tasty, tasty pies.
But the real culprit, of course, is cutting on a national level, which has backed the City Council into a corner stickier than a Brown’s breakfast. State funding of local businesses was never high on the Thatcherite economist’s list of priorities, and it is at times like this that the Old Somervillian’s economic policy comes under closest scrutiny.
We cannot bring back Margaret Thatcher, but we can certainly fight for our purveyors of tasty savouries, so vital to our city’s economy and student lifestyle.
You can take our Iron Lady – but not our pie and gravy.
Twenty-three years since she left office, Margaret Thatcher is still overwhelmingly divisive. The country is split on the night of her death between the euphorically drunk and the mournfully sombre. My Facebook feed today was a cacophony of ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ and ‘so passes the greatest post-war prime minister, RIP Maggie’; you can tell whether somebody is Left- or Right-wing by their opinion on the ‘Iron Lady’. I find it amazing that we all still have these opinions; to what extent can our generation really claim to understand her policies? Unless you were born in the ‘70s or earlier, you haven’t experienced the power cuts, the rubbish piled up in the streets, or the things she ‘fixed’ in Britain. The images of miners coming into bloody conflict with policemen are not our reality; they belong to a turbulent past which we can’t comprehend because our childhoods were cushioned by fluffy middle-way politics. Imagine David Cameron saying something truly so ‘controversial’ that somebody would try to blow up a Conservative Party conference in retaliation. Everything I know about the Iron Lady is from my parents (and the film, of course): she belongs in our history books. So I’m not going to pretend to be deeply affected by her politics or her death, but I am going to comment on how I feel as a woman in her aftermath.
Today, Calvin McKenzie (ever-antagonistic) said that this should be a day when all feminists ‘weep’ over the loss of a great icon. This did not sit well with me. Initially, the irony of a bigoted man telling me who I should respect made me exclaim profanities at my television. Then I remembered Margaret Thatcher reportedly saying ‘I hate feminism. It is poison.’ My profanities dissipated into sheer disbelief. She’s supposed to be my icon? It’s no wonder we’re still struggling for equal pay and representation if even our female counterparts at the top are saying that “the battle for women’s rights has largely been won”. The fact that no woman has taken her place since suggests that she did not inspire us with confidence; you say ‘female prime minister’ and you can’t help but imagine a wide-toothed caricature ‘hand-bagging’ her opponents.
This seems to underline a problem that feminism has encountered recently; in our desperation to find idols, we let people like Jordan claim to be ‘feminists’, whilst powerful and intelligent women reject the label on the basis that they didn’t need any help to get to the top. In rejecting the women’s “libbers”, Maggie sent out the message that to make it in a man’s world, you had to do it on your own. The ‘80s was the age of the power-suit, when ambitious women shed all suggestions of their femininity and pursued ruthless individualism as their route to emancipation. Maggie had zero other women in her cabinet; perhaps this was simply because none were objectively good enough, but a part of me can’t help but wonder whether she shared her peers’ derision for the ‘weaker’ sex: did she see herself as the exception, not the rule?
One of her fellow female MPs recalls her saying “well, we can’t let them get the better of us.” Many women remember her for bossing around her male counterparts as if she were the one bred for the top job, not them. So how can I, as a feminist, undermine the most significant woman in British political history? Don’t worry; the hypocrisy is not lost on me. Plenty of women (my mum included) grew up watching Maggie on the news, thinking ‘if she can do that, I can do something too’. Maggie said herself that she didn’t think she’d see a female PM in her lifetime, then went on to make this a reality for eleven years; for almost the entirety of one generation, a woman at the top was all they knew. This did affect women’s self-belief, but only indirectly; it made people think twice before they deemed women lacking in strength or resolve but in general Maggie is seen as ‘special’. There aren’t many women of my generation who aspire to be her, nor do I have quotes of hers on my wall to inspire me to take on the patriarchy.
So the question is this: do I have to respect Thatcher just because she was a woman? Feminism is about judging people regardless of their gender so, as a feminist, I judge that she will never be my ‘icon’. To be honest, I don’t think she’d want to be. Respecting her simply because she managed to get to the top is patronising, and that’s never what Maggie wanted. So I suppose the Iron Lady as ‘a woman’ really is inextricable from her politics; judge her on what she did, not on her gender. Personally, I’ll be shutting the history book now, not kissing her poster every night before I go to bed.
I think feminists have a lot to make up for since Maggie’s indifference to the cause; it gave the men who respected her an excuse to dismiss serious continued discussion about women’s rights, with difficult consequences. The fight for better representation of women in Parliament continues to bubble quietly in the background, with the Thatcherite argument being that any woman can do it if they have the sheer determination. That’s all very well, but I don’t want to be like Thatcher; I shouldn’t have to be twice as strong as the men around me to survive in their institution – I want it to give me exactly the same chances and to listen to women’s concerns. So I’ll continue to fight for equal opportunities until I get them, thanks very much. Thatcher will always be historically important as a female PM. But right now, it’s probably time for a new one.
[caption id="attachment_38041" align="alignright" width="495"] By Marion S. Trikosko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]Former Prime Minister and alumna of Somerville College Baroness Thatcher died this morning of a stroke at the age of 87.
Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990 and will be buried with full military honours in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Somerville College have led the tributes to their former student by flying the college flag at half-mast and beginning plans to host a memorial service within the next six months.
The college has commented that: “On this sad day, we pay tribute to the truly pioneering spirit that propelled her to the pinnacle of British political, and public, life.”
To this Dr Alice Prochaska, the Principal of Somerville, has added her own personal note of tribute, saying: “Lady Thatcher was always very close to the college and she rather touchingly wrote to us when she was first Prime Minister to say how much she had loved her time here.”
“We are very proud of having educated the first, and so far only, female Prime Minister and she was proud of having been here, which I find very touching.”
Baroness Thatcher studied Chemistry between 1943 and 1947, during which time she received several prizes for her academic work and also became President of the Oxford University Conservative Organisation.
She retained close ties to Somerville, particularly through her tutor Dorothy Hodgkin, who was the first British female to win the Nobel Prize. Hodgkin visited Lady Thatcher numerous times at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat, to discuss nuclear disarmament.
OUCA have also paid tribute to their former president commenting that: “OUCA was greatly saddened to hear that our Patron and ex-President, Baroness Thatcher, has died.”
“We are all incredibly proud of her; as a former leader of our Association, our Party, and our Country. She was an inspiration to us all, a great woman of conviction, and someone who will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time.”
Lady Thatcher served as MP for Finchley, North London, from 1959 to 1992. During her time as Prime Minister she split political opinion due to her distinctively hard-line approach to many issues, which earned her the nickname of “the Iron Lady.”
Today however these political differences have been set aside as leaders of all political parties have paid their respects.
The same is true in Oxford as Brendan Brett, a second year Historian at Somerville, expressed: “Although the college community has always had a mixed attitude towards her policies and personality, we have always been proud that such a trail-blazing and definitive politician, should have been the product of our college. She remains an inspiration to us all.”
This was echoed by Sean Ford, a PPE student from Keble, who commented: “It is clear today, even amongst students at her former university, that her actions and legacy are divisive and the passion, whether it be positive or negative, from those who were not even alive during her time in number 10 demonstrate what a lasting impact she will have.”
It seems that there will also be Oxford representation at Lady Thatcher’s funeral, the date of which is to be announced in the next few days, as Brett is planning on leading a JCR contingent from Somerville College to commemorate their former member.
With J. Edgar soon to be released and The Iron Lady having opened in recent weeks, political biopics are the talk of tinseltown. But amongst these is a far more surprising production, namely The Lady. The tale of Aung San Suu Kyi has been well documented, and it’s no great shock to see a film made of her life. What is odd, however, is that it should be directed by Luc Besson. Besson is essentially an action filmmaker. If you know his work it’s likely through watching The Fifth Element or Leon, films about aliens and a hitman respectively. The Lady has been critically panned, branded worthy but dull, quite a contrast to Besson’s most successful films. The Fifth Element, for those who haven’t seen it, is utterly mental, totally ridiculous and never likely to be accused of excessive worthiness.
Understanding why The Lady was made is key to explaining the prevalence of political biopics. Besson has made a shedload of money, but has never attracted much critical acclaim. A film about a politician is automatically branded a ‘serious’ film. Thus, if a director, producer, writer or actor wants to gain critical recognition, a political biopic is a good bet. There’s a scene in the TV show Extras where Kate Winslet, playing herself, remarks that the reason she took on a role as a nun in the holocaust is that ‘if you do a film about the holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar’. Ironically, Winslet did finally won her Oscar for The Reader, playing a Nazi, and a similar, if less crude principle applies to political biopics.
It’s a fact that biopics win a disproportionate number of awards, and a good performance in the leading role is a near guarantee of success. Since 2002, all bar three of the best leading male Oscars have gone to actors playing real people, with portrayals of Harvey Milk and Idi Amin bringing nods for Sean Penn and Forest Whitaker respectively.
And, just as importantly, biopics make money. Films about controversial figures have a ready-made audience. It’s generally accepted that The Iron Lady failed to address some of the key disputes about Thatcher’s reign, the critical reception has been lukewarm and it only went on wide release on January 13th, yet it’s already made back its budget. The presence of a recognisable name on a poster attracts attention and draws viewers automatically. The biopic seems to be growing ever more prevalent, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.