liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
I was bullied quite a lot at primary school. Not the kind of horrific abuse that's been in the news recently, but a few years of unpleasantness. Partly because I was intellectually precocious but emotionally immature, and partly because of class issues and a tinge of antisemitism, and partly because I had a form teacher when I was 8 who hated me. I mean viscerally hated and actively waged a campaign against me that only just stopped short of direct violence, not just someone who picked favourites and I wasn't one of them. One of the most common taunts during that time was that people called me "Maggie" or "MT"; said teacher discovered that this was an effective way to get a reaction out of me, because I'd already been primed by a few years of being tormented about my resemblance to a hated PM.

At the infant school I attended until the age of 8, I was just a tiny fraction of a degree higher on the social scale than most of my classmates. They called me "Maggie" because they thought I was posh, pretentious, stuck-up etc. Then I moved to a selective, fee-paying girls' school that was almost but not quite a Public school, and I was a tiny fraction of a degree lower on the social scale than the average pupil. There, partly under the influence of my form teacher, I was called "Maggie" because I was considered a social climber, someone who was making an effort to speak and act like the right sort of person, but of course anyone could see through it, it was patently obvious that I was nobody socially and was just putting on airs.

By the time I was ten I was starting to be politically aware at a level beyond "there's a red team and a blue team, and my parents support the blue team so I do too". I took an interest in this Mrs Thatcher, this figure I was compared to when people wanted to make me feel bad (this was happening much less often by this time, I had pretty much learned to fit in and had a teacher I got on well with and who set an example to the class of treating me with respect). I decided that I liked some of her politics and disagreed with others; I was somewhat influenced by accidentally reading Raymond Briggs' satires, because they came in the form of cartoons and I, along with librarians, assumed they must be meant for kids. But overall I felt I preferred Thatcher's Conservatism to the other options available at the time.

We went on a class trip to the Houses of Parliament, and I shook hands with Thatcher and exchanged some minimal pleasantries with her. This led to a slight resurgence in the teasing, but inwardly I was a little proud to have met a politician I admired, though not unreservedly.

So now, when the internet is full of people gloating about Thatcher being old and sick, and looking forward to dancing on her grave when she dies, I can't help feeling a lot like that bullied child again. I know that a lot of people are angry with Thatcher because her politics directly made their lives worse, and a lot more people are angry with her because it's a form of tribal identification, it's the done thing among generally intellectual, liberal circles to take a negative view of Thatcher. This expression of it makes me feel that the tribe in question excludes me, though. Like Thatcher, I'm a strident, socially inept female scientist who doesn't properly understand or fit into the class system or the gender system.

I'm not saying that, just because I was bullied as a child for my supposed resemblance to Thatcher, nobody should ever criticize her politics (or mine, for that matter). Criticize her politics all you like, goodness knows there's plenty to criticize. But this gloating about her suffering, this treating her as a target for regular two-minute hate sessions designed to provide a pleasant bonding experience, this is making me very uncomfortable. I think the sheer level of vitriol directed at Thatcher has a lot to do with prejudice against her for being uppity, for stepping outside her expected social role. Thatcher is female, and she doesn't come from the usual political class, so it's shocking and disgusting that she was politically ambitious, that she expressed unpopular opinions without being conciliating and feminine, in fact that she acquired and wielded power at all.

Personally, I feel much more angry with Blair, who lied to parliament and to the whole country in order to start an illegal war in Iraq which has plunged the UK into astronomical levels of debt and killed more than half a million civilians (among other things). Perhaps I care about Blairism more because it happened more recently and because I was older and more politically aware at the time, I don't know. But it seems to be possible to criticize Blair without portraying him as the ultimate Evil. His politics can be derided without mocking his appearance, his dress sense, his accent or his gender presentation, or claiming membership in the club of nice people by wishing for him to suffer and die in misery.

I'm posting this now because I think that when Thatcher eventually does die, I'm going to have to avoid the internet for a few weeks. I fully expect to catch plenty of criticism (and maybe even some unfriendings) for defending Thatcher at all, although I'm not really defending her so much as claiming that however many wrong political decisions she made (and I'm no way going to try to argue that every single one of her policies was unmitigatedly good!), she's not actually evil incarnate. When I was eight I was outside the pale of social acceptance because I didn't hate Thatcher enough, and somehow I'm hoping this is no longer true now I'm 32 and still don't hate her.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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