This is the age of female empowerment. From girl power to women’s rights to women’s rule, the world has woken up to this most fundamental shift. Little by little it is changing almost all societies on earth. Empower women and you empower a nation. Teach a girl and you educate a community.
It was the theme of a talk I attended at the LSE about Afghan women. the day before Equal Pay Day which, this year, was on 14 November. It is also the subject of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s new book: The Book of Gutsy Women: Favourite Stories of Courage and Resilience(Simon & Schuster). Championing inspiring women across all fields is the topic of both the book and the day. The Clinton women have tapped into the zeitgeist.
Hillary and Chelsea have chosen a list of women who have made an impact. Inevitably, it is inconclusive. One woman I would have selected is an Australian gynaecologist. Dr Catherine Hamlin and her husband Dr Reg Hamlin went to Ethiopia in 1959 to train midwives, but what they encountered was endemic obstetric fistula, something not seen in the developed countries for over a hundred years. It’s a result of long births that leave a woman either incontinent or doubly incontinent and turns her into an outcast in her community. The couple developed a quick surgical technique that transformed millions of women’s lives.
Perhaps the most notable absence in the book is Margaret Thatcher. Like Mrs Clinton, Mrs Thatcher is a divisive figure. Love her or loathe her, she was one of the most significant women and politicians of the last century. She was also one of the most fascinating. Despiteplaying a substantial role in world politics, the Iron Lady was less interested in women per se and didn’t even seem to like us very much. Still, she was undoubtedly a gutsy woman who earned her place in history. And Mrs T was oddly feminine. I was told a story once of how she dangled one of her shoes, using the tip of her toe, to mesmerise the men whom she was meeting.
Marigold Johnson, the mother of TheArticle’s editor Daniel Johnson, tells a story about her encounter with Mrs T at some grand occasion. Marigold, an Oxford graduate of the same generation, commented appreciatively on what a treat it was to be there. Mrs Thatcher retorted, “I don’t have time for treats. My life is about work.”
Margaret Thatcher couldn’t let go of power, and Hillary Clinton should learn that lesson. She has teased us about possibly running again for President, saying the pressure on her to do so is intense. “Never say never,” she said.
I can’t imagine a worse idea. Mrs Clinton, whom I would have much preferred to see in the Oval Office rather than the present incumbent, should read the runes and stay out of the political fray. Nothing much has changed since she lost to Donald Trump. The people who loathed her in 2016 still loathe her. But those who admire her still do, too, and she still has a great deal to offer, just not as President.
On tour in London, she warned that the number of female MPs stepping down due to unprecedented levels of abuse could indicate that Britain is on the road to fascism. Whether or not she’s right, we certainly need to be vigilant. At times it almost feels as if we are teetering on the edge of fascism. Yet, despite the manifestations of populism, racism and xenophobia, along with the uncertainty that we’ve lived with since the Brexit vote, we’re not there yet.
What is sure is that the zeitgeist is to call things out. Whether it’s the sexual abuse that women suffer around the world, the vitriolic anti-Semitism that seems to have sprouted out of nowhere, or the Islamophobia that we hear so much about, calling it out is the power we have. It’s what we need to do. For that, Mrs Clinton is eminently qualified.