Social & Historical Context for Top Girls

British Society in the Early Eighties

 

 How did society change for men and women from the 60s – 70s?

What were the social changes that affected women’s lives ?

Many women entered the work force because they had to, financially and the 60s saw a surge in the employment of women. Many women chose to work, arguably because they felt less pressure to stay at home as the traditional role of wives, across races, began to change. People stopped endorsing the belief that women’s working was detrimental to their children and marriages and the father’s role in a child’s upbringing also began to gain importance.

 As the rate of unemployment went up, so did the rate of divorce.

The incidences of divorce in the United States more than doubled between 1970 and 1980, reaching more than one million divorces a year on some occasions. The rate of divorce also changed because the laws were changed, meaning a divorce didn’t have to be someone’s “fault”.

 “The sense of community began to flail behind that of individualism”

In the United States Mother only families made up 9% of all

families in 1960.

Where as in 1987 it was 20%

50% of all mother-only families in 1987 lived in poverty

These changes in the 60s affected the future parents of the 80s, with children raised in mother-only families more likely to drop out of secondary school, form single-parent families themselves, and live in poverty as adults, and so the cycle continues!

 After divorce in the 60s-80s, and often is still the case, women experience a marked drop in income, because they become /became their children’s primary carer, whereas males do not and often, even experience a pay increase.

  Life for men/fathers changed too. In 1988 50% of divorcee fathers had no contact with their children.

  From the 60s – 80s the childcare industry more than doubled.

  Abortion was legalised in 1967 in the UK. The limit was 28 weeks.

Today the limit on abortion is 24 weeks and an abortion can be given on the NHS, but waiting lists are long.

  Margaret Amy Pyke was a founding member of the British National Birth Control Committee (NBCC), later known as the Family Planning Association (FPA) and in 1963 she claimed there were 300 abortions a day, therefore 109,500 in the year (this was when it was illegal).

  In 2003 there were 181,600 abortions according to the Department of Health

  There is generally very little stigma assosciated with abortion these days, unlike in the 60s and 70s.

  Today abortion is often linked with  teenage pregnancy by the press, but around two thirds of abortions are those of women in their 30s, a lot of whom already have children but cannot afford/ do not want another child. – Rather than it being women who have children out of wedlock like in the 60s or women who chose their career over children like in the 80s – and Top Girls.

 How had the class structure changed by the early 80’s?

The early 80’s saw huge changes in class structure, as for several reasons the poor, lower classes became poorer, and the wealthier upper classes became even wealthier.

 One reason for which the lower classes became poorer was the mine strikes. The NCB or national coal board had plans to shut down many of the coal mines  in this country, they had in the 12 months before the 1984 strikes already closed 23 pits resulting in the loss of 21,000 miners jobs, and they planned to close even more in the five years after which would mean that 100,000 out of 184,000 miners jobs would be lost. The actions of the NCB resulted in a miners strike between 1984 and 1985 as families that already were struggling to stay afloat would be even further into poverty due to the loss of jobs.One in ten miners that had protested were arrested.

 The unemployment in Britain doubled to over three million between 1979 and 1983 which hit the working class hard.

 The characters in Top girls mostly fall into the working class, however characters such as Isabella Bird would be in the upper class.

60s

The Swinging Sixties saw the re-kindling of female radicalism. In the United States , Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and founded the National Organisation of Women. In Britain , a burgeoning women’s liberation movement met for the first time. This was the decade that saw the first sales of the contraceptive pill and a law that legalised abortion.
In 1965 Jean Shrimpton appeared in a mini skirt at the Melbourne Races and Twiggy set a new style for body and hair. Valentina Tereschkova became the first woman in space and in Ceylon Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman Prime Minister, with Indira Ghandi and Golda Meir following soon after.
Jocelyn Bell discovered pulsars, Dorothy Hodgkin won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry and The Women’s Football Association was founded, with 44 clubs.
In 1965, Barbara Castle was appointed Minister of Transport, becoming the first female Minister of State. In this capacity, she oversaw the introduction of seat belts and the ‘breathalyser’. Then, as Secretary of State for Employment, she paved the way for equal pay after being inspired by the women machinists at Fords of Dagenham who went out on strike for an equal wage in 1968.

 

 

1961    The contraceptive pill goes on sale for the first time in the UK.

 

1965    Barbara Castle  (1910-2002) is appointed Minister of Transport, becoming the first female Secretary of State.

 

1967    Under the new Abortion Law, abortion in Britain under medical supervision is made legal within certain criteria.

 

1968    850 women machinists at Fords of Dagenham go on strike for equal pay. This paves the way for the Equal Pay act two years later.

   

1969    Six days before her 22nd birthday, Bernadette Devlin becomes the youngest ever member of the British parliament.

 

1969    The Representation of the People Act extends the vote to all men and women over the age of 18 years.

 

 

70s

 

This was the decade of feminism. Landmark books like Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics sold in their millions. Magazines like Ms and Spare Rib increasingly found their way into women’s homes and the feminist publishers Virago was launched. Nawal El Saadawi published her controversial Women and Sex, the first book to challenge the position of women in Arab society.
In 1975 several key pieces of legislation were passed. The Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment and advertising. The Employment Protection Act introduced statutory maternity provision and made it illegal to sack a woman because she was pregnant. The Equal Pay Act finally took effect, though it failed to encompass equal pay for work of equal value.
Self-help became a by-word as the decade progressed with women increasingly taking control of their lives with women’s refuges and rape crisis centres providing a sanctuary for women who faced violence.
On a lighter note, Annie Nightingale became Britain ‘s first woman DJ, breaking the all-male code at Radio 1; Jackie Smith flew with the Red Devils and Mary Peters triumphed in the Pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games. In 1978, Louise Brown made international headlines, as the first test-tube baby in the world. The decade closed with Margaret Thatcher being swept to power as Britain ‘s first woman Prime Minister.

 

1970

The Equal Pay Act enshrines in law the principal of equal pay for women.

 

1971

On 6 March over 4000 women take part in the first women’s liberation march in London.

 

1972

Five formerly all-male colleges at Oxford University open their doors to women.

 

1972

Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe launch Spare Rib, Britain’s first feminist magazine.

 

1974

Contraception becomes free to women in the UK more on birth control.

 

1974

The Women’s Aid Federation is set up to bring together refuges for battered women that have been springing up throughout Britain. more on domestic violence

 

1975

Several key pieces of legislation are passed:  The Sex Discrimination Act, which came into force on 29 December 1975. This makes it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment and advertising; the Employment Protection Act introduces statutory maternity provision and makes it illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant; the Equal Pay Act takes effect.

 

1975

Margaret Thatcher  (born 1925) is elected leader of the Conservative Party.

 

1976

The Equal Opportunities Commission comes into effect to oversee the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts.

 

1976

The Domestic Violence Act enables women to obtain a court order against their violent husband or partner.

 

1977

The first Rape Crisis Centre opens in London.

  

1979

On 4 May Margaret Thatcher is elected Britain’s first woman Prime Minister.

 

80s

The early 1980s saw a proliferation of women-only organisations. This was the decade of power woman with her shoulder pads and high ambitions.

Amendments to the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act established the principal of equal pay for work of equal value and allowed women to retire at the same age as men. Yet at the same time, many women began to question whether there was a “glass ceiling” as they failed to reach the top jobs in their companies and organisations.

Margaret Thatcher, quickly gained the nickname “The Iron Lady” and in 1982 showed her resolve by taking Britain into the Falklands War. Election wins in 1983 and 1987 made her one of the few prime ministers to win three successive terms. 1987 was also the year that Diane Abbot became Britain ‘s first black woman MP.

In November 1982 more than 20,000 women surrounded the Greenham Common American airbase in a protest known as “embrace the base”. They were protesting against the installation of US cruise missiles. The designer Katherine Hamnett made her own personal protest by wearing an anti-cruise missile T shirt to a meeting with Mrs T.

Jane Glover conducted at Covent Garden, Helen Chadwick was short-listed for the Turner and Kim Cotton became the country’s first surrogate mum.

 

1980

The 300 Group is founded by Lesley Abdela to push for equal representation of women in the House of Commons.

 

1982

Caryl Churchill’s feminist play Top Girls is first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

 

1983

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge admits women for the first time in its 630 year history.

 

1983

Dr Sally Ride becomes the first American woman astronaut in space on board the space shuttle Challenger.

 

1983

Lady Mary Donaldson becomes the first woman Lord Mayor of London.

 

1984

Liechtenstein give votes to women, the last country in Europe to do so.

 

1984

The Equal Pay Act (Equal Value Amendment) introduces equal pay for work of equal value.

 

1985

Kim Cotton became Britain ‘s first surrogate mother.

 

1986

The Sex Discrimination Act (Amendment) enables women to retire at the same age as men. It also lifts the legal restrictions which prevent women from working night shifts in factories.

 

1987

Diane Abbot is Britain’s first black woman MP.

 

00s

As the new century got underway women continued to make their mark. Olympic runner Kelly Holmes won two gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games and Ellen MacArthur became the fastest person to sail round the world solo.  Caroline Hamilton and Ann Daniels reached the North Pole making them the first all-female team to trek to both poles.
Clara Furse  became the first female chief executive of the two-hundred-year-old London Stock  Exchange, and in politics Margaret  Beckett was the first woman to be appointed as Foreign Secretary. 
Adoption laws were updated to allow unmarried and same-sex couples to adopt children together for the first time. The Pensions White Paper looked at better and fairer financial provision for women in later life, and the first gay couple got ‘married’ as the Civil Partnership Act gave same sex couples similar legal rights to married couples.

 

2002

Sheila Macdonald is the first woman to become an executor of a UK high street bank, the Co-operative.

 

2003

The Sexual Offences Act (2003) provides new legislation against abuse by people who work with children, and updates the laws of sexual abuse within families.

 

2003

JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter books, became the world’s best paid author.

 

2004

Kelly Holmes becomes the first British 800 metre runner to win an Olympic title since 1980 and the first woman since 1964. She is also the first British runner to win two gold medals since the 1920 Olympics.

 

2005

Ellen MacArthur becomes the fastest person to sail single-handed around the world and at 28 years old, the youngest person to receive a damehood.

 

2005

Under the biggest overhaul of adoption laws in 30 years, unmarried and same-sex couples can now adopt children together for the first time more on adoption

 

2005

The Civil Partnership Act (2004) brings same sex-couples similar legal rights to married couples. Two women, Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close became the first British gay couple to exchange vows at Belfast City Hall, and England’s first gay couple tie the knot in Brighton

 

2006

Margaret Beckett is appointed Foreign Secretary, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

 

 

Capitalism

 

 

 

What is Capitalism?

 

Capitalism is a system of free enterprise. This means that the government doesn’t interfere in the economy and every earns their own money. This system was put into power by Margaret Thatcher in the early 80s.

 Margaret Thatcher privatised many big state-owned industries such as British Gas and BT. She also became less dependent on fuel from mining and so because of the capitalists aims of making money rather than investing in the people’s needs, the people working in the mines became redundant and as a consequence, thousands of people lost their jobs.

 Capitalism refers to the money you make. There are far more private companies and self-employed people rather than state-owned businesses in a capitalist society. If you work hard, you earn more money and therefore become richer.

 

What is Socialism?

 

This is more or less opposite of capitalism. It focuses on the care of the individuals in society as opposed to focussing attentions on the money and profits. Socialism is the idea that the government should be in charge of the economic planning and distribution of money throughout society. Money in a socialist society is shared equally among the people. Therefore there are no real social classes of wealthy and poor people. Many businesses and companies are state-owned and are run by the government.

 

Which system is better?

 

Socialism is probably the most moral system as everyone has an equal chance in life. Under socialism everyone can have some sort of job. Even if they do not want it at least it is there. Capitalism has many advantages too. The government has limited control over businesses which allows them to compete; people can pursue careers which have always dreamt of starting although this is automatically means that the poorer people can’t start their own business if they haven’t the money to begin with and it allows people to choose what they do with their money.

 

Links to characters in Top Girls.

 

Marlene: Marlene was more of a capitalist than a socialist. She was encouraged by capitalism in Thatcher’s reign and worked hard for her own money and lifestyle. Capitalism suited Marlene as she made her money by hard work. She is richer than her sister due to the system. On the other hand it has had a negative effect on her as she had to give up her child to peruse her career.

 

Joyce: Joyce came under the socialism sector as capitalism was only interested in the profits and not the people, and so she had to have 4 jobs in order to look after Angie. Many feminists were socialists as, because of capitalism, companies would be more inclined to hire men rather than women in the work place as men would not have to take months off work in order to have a baby. The same goes for people of a young age looking to marry and settle down.

 

Angie: Angie would probably not have received a good education under the capitalist system as her family couldn’t pay for a private education. This would results in her not being able to get a really high flying job as she wouldn’t have had the qualifications needed. If socialism was in place then she may have had more of an equal opportunity to succeed in getting the job she wanted.

 

 

  

The Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain (1960s-1970s)

 

 

·         What goals had been achieved and what had not?

Women had gained the right to vote in the early 1900s, but there was still inequality in many areas.

·         What had women to be freed from?

Being stuck at home, not having many opportunities to go out and work. They either had to be career women or family women.

·         Towards what direction did the women’s liberation movement move at this point?

They were looking for equality at the workplace, and also campaigned for free contraception, abortion, and 24-hr nurseries

·         What was economic independence and why was it so important for women?

Economic independence is not having to depend on anyone else’s income. It was important for women because if they had it, they would have a lot more freedom to do what they want. Back then, if a couple separated, the woman would get nothing because she had come to depend on her husband’s income. Pensions were also biased towards men.

·         What would women do with their newly found freedom?

Women would be able to work on the same level as men and not have to be stuck at home being a housewife. They would have a lot more opportunities applying for jobs. Not only did the movement gain several vital legal concessions, they also managed to change basic attitudes in society.

·         What exactly did women need to be freed from in 1982?

Women needed to be freed from the patriarchal society, where men had all the top jobs.

 

The Women’s Liberation Movement was the force behind the feminist push for equality. Without it, women may not have been in the position we are in today.

 

The movement was successful in giving more privileged women a choice in life, but it is debatable as to whether women who aren’t as fortunate have that, even today.

 

Due to pressure from the Women’s Liberation Movement the government passed the following acts:

Equal Pay Act 1970 – equal wages for men and women

Women’s Aid Federation 1974 – provided support for women suffering from domestic violence

Sex Discrimination Act 1975 – outlawed discrimination in the workplace

Domestic Violence Act 1976 – helped women with violent partners

http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/counterculture/liberation/shrew/shrew.html – Women’s Liberation Movement overview

 

 

 

Feminism

 

The main goal of feminism is complete equality of men and women, including all social, economic and political aspects.

 

More specific goals include ;

·        The elimination of gender based stereotypes

·        The elimination of “lookism”

·        An end to workplace discrimination

·        Equality in hiring, promotion, treatment of employees and equal treatment in all aspects of the business world.

 

These all are included in some way or another in “Top Girls”.

 

·        “Gender based stereotypes” – In Act 1,Caryl Churchill fights gender based stereotypes by containing characters like Isabella (the unconventional woman who has no children, marries late and spends her life travelling) , Marlene (the career woman), and Joan (someone who fights against the female stereotype by learning). However, Caryl Churchill also presents us with characters that conform to stereotypes. Joan (it is stereotypically the man who is educated, and Joan, in effect, becomes a man rather than fighting the stereotype), Nijo (a woman who lives entirely by how a man defines her) and Griselda (a woman who centres her entire life on her marriage). By containing all these characters, Churchill is making the reader question these stereotypes, one of the goals of feminism.

 

·         “The Elimination of “lookism”” – The scenario Caryl Churchill presents us with regarding Louise is an example of “lookism”; she has been passed over several times for a job because others may dress more feminine, more professionally or more modern. Caryl Churchill here is raising the question “can you be feminine in the workplace” and is therefore questioning one of the goals of feminism. This goal also ties in with both Isabella and Joan in the first act. Isabella freely travels as a woman “and strongly disputed anything otherwise.” where as Joan feels the need to become a man. Again, Caryl Churchill raises questions to the reader about whether “lookism” can ever really be diminished completely.

 

 

·        “Equality in hiring, promotion and treatment of employees” – This is another situation where Caryl Churchill presents circumstances which both support and contradict a feminist goal. By Churchill choosing to promote Marlene over Howard, she could be trying to support this goal, however the introduction of Mrs Kidd, Howard’s wife could be showing that not everyone agrees with feminism.

 

 

 

 

Feminist Role Models within “Top Girls”

 

In Act 3, the audience is presented with two different female role models; Marlene and Joyce. Marlene could be seen as a feminist role model – fighting against her female stereotype, and fighting for equality in the workplace where as Joyce is exactly the opposite, giving into her female stereotype of “mother”. During the scene, Marlene is often portrayed negatively – does this mean that Caryl Churchill disagrees with feminism?

 

Feminist Writers / Famous Feminists

·        Simone de Beauvoir

·        Betty Friedan – “The Feminist Mystique”

·        Germaine Greer

·        Virginia Woolf

 

History of Feminism

Split up into 2 (sometimes 3) “waves”

 

First-wave feminism refers to a period of feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States. It focused primarily on gaining the right of women’s suffrage. In Britain, the Suffragettes campaigned for the women’s vote, which was eventually granted − to some women in 1918 and to all in 1928 − as much because of the part played by British women during the First World War, as of the efforts of the Suffragettes.

 

Second-wave feminism dealt with inequalities of laws and cultural inequalities. There was a large following of feminism in the 60’s. The 1980’s was a “crisis point” for feminism – focus was shifted onto academic issues, such as studying and having a career, which meant a decline in political feminism, such as passing equality laws. In the 1980’s, a woman named Gloria Watkins began to criticize the lack of unity within the feminist movement, and throughout the early 80’s especially, feminism was attacked.

 

Second-wave feminism often runs into third-wave, which is simply trying to continue feminist theories, and trying to fix any problems that arose during the second-wave. Third-wave feminism also tries to challenge the criticisms that arose during the 80’s.

 

 

 

FEMINISM: Most feminist historians say that all movements that work to overturn gender inequality and obtain women’s rights should be considered feminist movements.

 

Feminism includes, in the broad sense of the word, men and women acting, speaking and writing on women’s actions and rights and identifying social injustice in the status quo.

 

First Wave Feminism (Before 1982):

Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.

Focused mainly on absolute rights, especially the gaining of women’s right to vote. The right to vote was eventually granted to some women in 1918 and to all in 1928.

Suffrage was one of the most fundamental struggles of women; not having the right to vote clearly marked them as second-class citizens.

In the Edwardian era, women’s rights were dominated by increasing clamour for political reform and votes for women. Emmeline Pankhurst said that women’s votes were seen no longer “a right, but a desperate necessity.”

The protests got gradually more vigorous, leading to arson in 1914.

A member of the suffragettes, Emily Davison, also sacrificed herself under the king’s horse on Derby day.

Earlier campaigns -> Married Women’s Property Act 1882

Campaign to repeal The Contagious Diseases Act of 1864, 1866 and 1869, which was labelled as a misuse of police power.

 

In 1800, women had little control over their lot in life. Higher education was off-limits.

 

The Second Great Awakening, which started in 1790, emphasized emotional experience over dogma, allowing women more leadership opportunities outside of the home

 

­After the passage of the 19th Amendment, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, spearheaded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was disbanded. The League of Women Voters and National Women’s Party took its place. But three years after women won the vote, suffragist and feminist factions split over Alice Paul’s introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to Congress. The proposed amendment, which read, “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex,” alienated some women who feared that its passage would undermine legal protection granted to women and children.

­From that point in the early 1920s until the 1960s, feminism seemed to stall. But that didn’t mean that subtle changes had stopped taking place. For instance, during World War II, more women than ever joined the workforce, assuming industrial and military jobs previously reserved for men. Higher education had become a more viable option as well, and the number of female college graduates was rising. Then, when the troops came home, American women’s culture experienced a return to domesticity. Many women continued to work outside the home, but career options were restrictive with gender-specific job postings. Women had won the vote but not cultural independence

 

 

 

http://people.howstuffworks.com/feminism2.htm

 

Late 1960s – new activism ushered in by student activity surrounding the war and civil rights movement and older women’s dissatisfaction with domestic restrictions and workplace discrimination.

In contrast to first-wave feminism, the movement during the 1970s benefitted from the involvement of far more organizations, encompassing a broad spectrum of political beliefs and ideologies.

 

 

 

Defining texts of this generation of Feminism

 

The Female Eunuch

 

Written by Germaine Greer and first published in 1970, The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller and a prominent text in the Feminist movement, part of the second feminist wave. The book is a feminist analysis, written with a mixture of polemic and scholarly research.

            When it was first published, it created a “shock-wave” of recognition in women that could be felt around the world, emphasising that sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation. Greer looks at the inherent and unalterable biological differences between men and women as well as at the profound psychological differences that result from social conditioning.

 

(http://www.powells.com)(www.wikipedia.org)

 

The Second Sex

 

The Second Sex is one of the best-known works of the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. It is a work on the treatment of women throughout history and often regarded as a major work of feminist literature. She weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and a host of other disciplines to show women’s place in the world and to postulate on the power of sexuality.

 

“One day, I wanted to explain myself to myself… and it struck me with sort of surprise that the first thing I had to say was ‘I am a woman.’”- Simone de Beauvoir

 

(http://www.wikipedia.org)(www.amazon.com)

 

 

 

The first wave fought and gained the right for women to vote. The second wave struggled to obtain the right for women to have access and equal opportunity to the workforce, as well as ending of legal sex discrimination.

 

 

 

MARGARET THATCHER – THE ULTIMATE TOP GIRL

Why was Thatcher the archetypal Top Girl?

Thatcher’s father, a Methodist who was active in local politics, ran a grocery shop and she grew up in a flat. By earning scholarships, she got in to a Grammar School and then Oxford university. After university, she became the youngest ever female Conservative candidate in Dartford and climbed the political ranks until she became Prime Minister in 1979.

Thatcher didn’t have natural academic brilliance or a privileged background. Instead she was ambitious and worked very hard and was completely dedicated to the goals she set herself. Young and without experience and female, she started out as an underdog and throughout her political career worked doubly hard to prove that she was equal to her colleagues, until at last, being Prime Minister, she was better than them. She was, literally, the Top Girls

Thatcher especially seemed to feel pressured to compensate for her gender. She was unwavering in her views and notoriously ruthless to those she saw as opposing her, as famously illustrated in the miners’ strike. She was bossy and authoritarian in her leadership of the Cabinet, dominating the male MPs. Behaving with so little regard for others’ feelings or opinions is generally unusual for women. Similarly, her aggressive embracing of Capitalism and the interests of the individual were more akin to male independence then female social mindedness. Thatcher definitely denied her gender; further, she could be seen as pretending to be male.

 

How did her leadership affect the lives of British women?

Because the Labour Party’s support was based on the extremely men dominated unions, at the time, the Conservative Party were actually ahead with women’s issues.

Thatcher didn’t campaign for women’s issues in any way, but her acts against the unions helped to dismantle the model of men working full time and women not working at all. Also, her promotion of entrepreneurship over manual labour helped to get women into the workplace because the concerns of their generally lower physical strength and their entering into a macho culture were less pronounced in this sector.

 

What kind of role model did she provide for British women?

Thatcher provided a template of a woman who made it in a man’s world by being more ‘masculine’ than the men with whom she was in competition. She is often described as the pioneer of ‘power dressing’. She took great care in her appearance and used it to express her values. She almost always wore suits with shoulder pads, usually made from blue material that was made in Britain. The suit gave her a sharper, more masculine silhouette; blue was the colour of the Conservatives; and the origin symbolises her nationalistic tendencies. This, along with her behaviour, implied to women that appearing ‘strong’ ie masculine was one of the most central values and essential for anyone who wanted to get to the top.

Margaret Thatcher was marred to businessman Denis Thatcher, and they had twins, a boy, Mark, and a girl, Carol. Interestingly, although Mark was less intelligent and renowned for his playboy lifestyle, Thatcher has always seemed to favour him over Carol. However, for Thatcher, her career always came before her family.

Thatcher had a sister, Muriel, 4 years older than her. Whereas Margaret was closer to her father, Muriel was closer to her mother, who ‘didn’t like the limelight’. Her husband was originally going out with Margaret. After she married, she gave up her job. You can see how this inspired the relationship between Marlene and Joyce.

 

Margaret Thatcher was presented by the media as a fascist tyrant, masculine and aggressive.

 

Thatcher’s father, a Methodist who was active in local politics, ran a grocery shop and she grew up in a flat. By earning scholarships, she got in to a Grammar School and then Oxford university. After university, she became the younger ever female Conservative candidate in Dartford, and climbed the political ranks until she became Prime Minister in 1979.

            In Top Girls, Marlene comes from a humble background – her father ‘worked in the fields like an animal’ (p84)

            Thatcher was clever but not naturally brilliant, or from a privileged background. Instead she was ambitious and worked very hard, and was completely dedicated to the goals she set herself. Young, modestly off, without experience and female, she started out as an underdog and throughout her political career worked doubly hard to prove that she was equal to her colleagues, until at last, being Prime Minister, she was, ostensibly, better than them. She was, literally, the Top Girl.

            Similarly, Marlene is clever and driven by her ambition to work hard and climb the career ladder, e.g., she’s ‘appointed managing director instead of Howard’ (p58)

            Thatcher especially seemed to feel pressured to compensate for her gender. She was unwavering in her views and notoriously ruthless to those she saw as opposing her, as famously illustrated in the miners’ strike. She was bossy and authoritarian in her leadership of the Cabinet, dominating the (male) MPs. Behaving with so little regard for others’ feelings or opinions is generally unusual for women. Similarly, her aggressive embracing of capitalism and the interests of the individual were more akin to male independence than female social-mindedness. Thatcher definitely denied her gender; further, she could be seen as pretending to be male.

            As well as the extreme example of Pope Joan, Win, Nell and Marlene display traits usually associated with men. Win and Nell take pride in lack of emotion, talking dispassionately about male collegues (‘[your heart’s] tender like old boots’ p47) and relationships/marriage (‘playing house’ p48).

            Marlene especially seems to distance herself from her femininity. She has ‘more balls than Howard’ (p46); she’s a ‘ballbreaker’ (p59). She abandons Angie and family life so she can pursue her career: she ‘doesn’t want to talk about gynacology’ (p81).

           

 

How did her leadership affect the lives of British women?

            Because the Labour Party’s support was based on the extremely men-dominated unions, at the time, the Conservative Party were actually ahead with women’s issues.

            Thatcher did not campaign for women’s issues in any way, but her acts against the unions helped to dismantle the model of men working full-time and women not working at all. Also, her promotion of entrepreneurship over manual labour helped to get women into the workplace because the concerns of their generally lower physical strength and their entering into a macho culture were less pronounced in this sector.

 

 

What kind of role model did she provide for British women?

 

            Thatcher provided a template of a woman who made it in a man’s world by being more ‘masculine’ than the men with whom she was in competition.

            She is often descried as the pioneer of ‘power dressing’. She took great care in her appearance and used it to express her values. She almost always wore suits with shoulder pads. The suit gave her a sharper, more masculine silhouette.  This, along with her behaviour, implied to women that appearing ‘strong’ (that is, masculine) was one of her most central values, and essential for anyone who wanted to get to the top.

            Marlene feels that Thatcher is a leading light who demonstrated what a woman can be. She admires her and feels a sense of camaraderie with her. (‘She’s a tough lady, Maggie. I’d give her a job’ p84)

            Thatcher dismissed things like poverty and claimed that they were the problems of individuals, not society. In this way she suggested that sensible women should, like men, take care of themselves first rather than the needs of those around them.

            If Marlene represents a woman who has tried to follow Thatcher’s example, Joyce represents one who is skeptical of the model of womanhood that Thatcher stands for.

            ‘[The working class] doesn’t exist any more’ (p85)

            ‘[Angie’s] stupid, lazy and frightened. What about her?’ (p86)

            Churchill is making the audience question Thatcher’s values and what they will mean for women and for society.

 

“What Britain needs is an Iron Lady””

How did her leadership affect the lives of ordinary British Women?

  1. A supporter of Gender equality. Although Thatcher didn’t campaign for women’s issues in any way, she felt very passionate about sexual discrimination and complained often.
  2. The Equal Pay Act as we know it may have been passed under her tenure (in 1984), but it was an amendment of the original 1970 act.
  3. Through her acts against the unions she helped to dismantle the model of men working full time and women not working at all.
  4. Her promotion of entrepreneurship over manual labour helped to get women into the workplace because the concerns of their generally lower physical strength and their entering into a macho culture were less pronounced in this sector. 
  5. She expanded other women’s horizons and did much to break down bigotry about women’s work she was able to generate a greater awareness than any previous Prime Minister for gender equality and social justice

How was her leadership characterised at the time?

  • The system of political thought or leadership in which she and her government possessed has been characterised as “Thatcherism”. It involves less state intervention and more marked economy, the privatisation of state owned industries, lower direct taxes with higher indirect taxes that put poorer families at a disadvantage.
  • Thatcherism is the “distinctive ideology, political style and programme of polices of the British Conservative Party after Margaret Thatcher was elected leader in 1975”.

 

Was Thatcher seen as the end result in the advance in feminism?

  • Thatcher was by no means the end result in the advance in feminism because she sparked a lot of other women to be independent and powerful.
  • Women after and during Thatcher’s stint of prime minister were seen taking risks such as wearing trousers and going for more typically male jobs, such as becoming business women etc.

What kind of a model did she provide for British women?

  • Margaret Thatcher was also known as ‘The iron lady’.
  • She was a strong, independent woman and therefore taught many other women to follow her lead.
  • She represented power, ambition and ruthlessness; many aspired to be just like her. 

 

 

Equal Opportunities Legislation

 

 

   The Equal Pay Act

   Equal treatment, in respect of pay, terms of contract and employment, must be given to men and women doing the same or broadly similar work.

 

A man and woman working for the same employer should receive the same pay and be subject to the same contractual terms if:

  • they are doing similar work; or
  • there has been a job evaluation scheme and the specified work has been rated as equivalent; or
  • they are doing work of equal value;

 

Unless the employer can prove that the variation in pay is genuinely due to a material factor which is not the difference in sex.

 

 

The Sex Discrimination Act

This Act requires that employers do not discriminate, either directly or indirectly, between men and women, or married and unmarried people, in recruitment or in any other way in their treatment of employees.

 

The Sex Discrimination Act (amendment) also:

 

  •    Granted individuals the right to employment tribunals, which, if successful could result in them receiving compensation.
  •  Established the Equal Opportunities Commission to help enforce the legislation, promote equal opportunities and provide information and advice.
  • Enabled women to retire at the same age as men.
  • Lifted the legal restrictions which prevented women from working night shifts in factories.

 

However…

  • Despite the legislation, throughout the 1980s and up until today, women are still paid significantly less than men for the same work.
  • Women still only earn 80% of average full-time male hourly earnings, while the adult male average income is almost twice that of women.

 

 

Women’s Careers in the 1980s

  • In the mid 1980s, the phrase “glass ceiling” was coined and has since become an established part of our vocabulary. The glass ceiling refers to an invisible but impermeable barrier that limits the career advancement of women.
  • Employers were, and still are, reluctant to employ women due to the assumption that single women are subject to harassment and security issues; married women have a husband and family to cope with and those with children present even further obstacles to successful mobility and career development.
  • Women’s jobs mainly included typists and secretaries.
  • During the last two decades, women have made progress: there are now more women in senior-level executive jobs, more female CEOs, and more women on corporate boards of directors.
  • However, real progress has been slow with only small increases.

 

Legislation alone, it seems, was unable to bridge the gap between men and women in the work place. Employers still saw women as inadequate and unreliable due to family responsibilities, which inhibited their career progress and for this reason, women were still not treated equally to their male colleagues.

 

 

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