The Thatcher Model of Female Leadership

Most women in Israel, who cannot or do not want to be Margaret Thatcher, are forced to choose weakness and in the end do not demand their legitimate rights.

Margaret Thatcher was not only the first female leader of a Western democracy, she was one of the toughest and most contentious of them. The ambitious girl from Lincolnshire, daughter of a shopkeeper and a seamstress, hewed her way to the top with hard work and phenomenal discipline, and managed to attain almost every goal she set for herself - personal, economic and political. She was able to stamp out rampant inflation and revitalize the British economy, although in so doing she crushed the working class and deepened the rifts in class-conscious British society. Despite the flood of macro-economic data that accompanied Thatcher's career, her significant legacy is one of values and symbolism. Thatcher bequeathed to Western culture the principles of the unbridled free market, while blaming weak people for their individual fates and situations and for the state of the national economy.

This week the appointment was announced of Yael Andorn as director-general of the Finance Ministry - once again a female pioneer in a male bastion. There is no room for comparison between Andorn and Thatcher, but people who negotiated across the table from her when she was a young representative of the Finance Ministry in the 2003 budget talks recall her as sharp, precise, hard and stubborn - not someone who gets upset over the fate of students unable to pay their tuition, certainly not if easing their fate means breaking budgetary discipline. Apparently, she is not the type who will hand out bottles of milk to poor children.

There are other women on Israel's political map who have been and will be required to use force to break the glass ceiling: MK Shelly Yacimovich, the chairwoman of the Knesset opposition whose economic doctrine is the opposite of Andorn's, made her way, like Thatcher, by means of endless confrontations. For Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a less controversial figure, expressing emotion is not her strong suit. The next woman in our current political hierarchy is MK Zahava Gal-On, who is much less tough and rigid and therefore her voice annoys people.

The current political picture, as in all realms that are rich in power, influence and resources, shows that the few women who manage to penetrate the higher levels must be as hard as nails, sometimes even outdoing their male colleagues when it comes to bellicosity. The bottom line is that a woman has to be more Golda-like than a man to make it into the centers of power.

Two complementary processes lead to this conclusion. One is that the government, which is controlled by men, advances "insensitive" women, and marks this personality type as "good" and "efficient." The other is that women learn that to move ahead they must suppress manifestations of emotion that are universal and cross gender lines, to the point that they negate for themselves the right to feel so as not to be seen as "hysterical" and lacking in managerial and leadership capabilities.

This is a societal distortion that creates a false pretense of nascent equality and presents to women a choice that is too binary, and that pushes them to one extreme or the other - bellicosity, insensitivity and ambitiousness, or weakness and victimhood. Most women, who cannot or do not want to be Margaret Thatcher, are forced to choose weakness and in the end do not demand their legitimate rights from their employer, such as equal pay.

When the message conveyed to women is that to succeed in the public sphere they must adopt characteristics perceived as male and marked by men as "good, while shedding characteristics identified as female and perceived as "not good" - they internalize the idea that their psychological structure is less suitable for leadership and management. Feelings of inferiority, even when they function as a motivator, are very heavy weights to bear when climbing upward.

As long as this is the situation, the distance to true equality between men and women is still very great, even as Margaret Thatcher, who loved her nickname "the iron lady," is about to be given a royal, heroic funeral.