A huge thank you to Rachel Cotterill, who answered my call to write a guest post about the women who inspire. Rachel chose to write about living in England under Margaret Thatcher as PM and I seriously love this post. Imagine inspiring a nation of girls that they CAN do anything? I can't thank you enough, Rachel, for this lovely guest post!
I can recall very clearly the first glimpse I had, as a child, into the workings of politics. I was seven years old and we were doing art at school. I don't remember what I painted, but I do remember reading the pages of newspaper that were spread out to protect the tables. Margaret Thatcher had stepped down, and the race was on to find a replacement. Profiles of the would-be leaders filled the columns.
I was fairly oblivious to parties and policies, but this was news worth noting: all the candidates were male. For the first time in my young life, it was about to happen that a man was running the country.
Almost everyone in the UK has strong opinions (whether good or bad) about Thatcher and the changes she brought about. For me, having a woman in Number 10 was the key point; her politics were secondary. I grew up believing that anything was possible. For all the stories I'd heard of sexism and discrimination, I knew that I could run the country if I wanted to: look, there was another woman doing it right now. I really believed the glass ceiling had been smashed.
And it wasn't just that she was the Prime Minister. Along the way, she'd taken on a number of traditionally male careers, graduating in chemistry and then training as a barrister. As I dreamed of being a theoretical physicist or a high court judge (okay, maybe I was a strange child!), that knowledge always hovered in the back of my mind. There aren't that many strong female role models in the sciences, and certainly very few who are visible in the media where scientifically-inclined girls can stumble upon them.
In the end I took a different path (via classics and linguistics into computer science), and I don't think I'll ever be Prime Minister, but it's nice to know that I could. I can't help wondering about the role models we're giving today's young girls, when even broadsheet papers insist on commenting on the Home Secretary's choice of shoes. Because whatever you thought of Thatcher, at least she's remembered for her policies, not her fashion sense.