Margaret Thatcher has topped the BBC Woman’s Hour list of most influential woman of the last 70 years, but the judges stressed that the list honours those who made a “negative impact”, as well as a positive.
Otherwise peopled by progressive icons, the judges admit that her selection was a point of “enormous contention”.
Next on the list is Helen Brooks, who in the 1960s first made contraception available for unmarried women, although the judges have said the six figures to follow Lady Thatcher come in no particular order. The fictional character Bridget Jones, who spearheaded the celebration of female angst, also makes an appearance.
For the last two years, Woman’s Hour has compiled an end-of-year list marking the global impact of women on other women. But this year, to mark 70 years since the programme’s launch, it has expanded the remit, choosing seven women from the last seven decades who epitomised female power.
The panel of seven female judges was chaired by journalist Emma Barnett, who said that Lady Thatcher had been awarded the top spot as “she redefined power”. Stressing that impact did not always have to be positive, Barnett added that Lady Thatcher had galvanised a generation of women in opposition to her.
“Thatcher was one of the most iconic leaders of the 20th century, regardless of gender,” she said.
“These are all things you can’t deny. She shaped how women viewed what it was to be a woman in power, from the way people articulated themselves to the way people dressed.
“She shattered the glass ceiling into tiny splinters and just by having a woman in power, little girls knew they could do it – even if it’s not the power you would have wanted.”
Fellow panellist Ayesha Hazarika, a former adviser to the Labour MP Harriet Harman, made it clear that she was “uncomfortable” with the Baroness’s appointment.
But she conceded: “Whether you loved her or loathed her, hers was a very significant achievement. [Mrs.] Thatcher shaped a generation and shaped a period in British history.
“I think she had a massively negative impact on society and on women but she was important because she showed that just because you [have] a woman in Downing Street does not mean you have a feminist prime minister or a feminist government.”
Beyond the judging room, however, Bridget Jones has proved to be the more controversial pick.
Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey tweeted: “I did not have a vote, nor did [co-presenter Jenni Murray]. Our panel of judges decided. Would I have picked Bridget Jones? No.” While comedian David Baddiel said: “The fact that one of the women on the Women’s Hour Power List is *not real* suggests perhaps that that old glass ceiling remains reinforced.”
But Barnett defended the pick on the grounds that the list was chosen on the basis of those who “actually had impact in real women’s lives”. She added that “impact doesn’t have to be good, bad, serious or funny”.
The character “gave permission for our own imperfections… we still have huge image issues in this country”, Barnett explained.
Bridget Jones’s creator Helen Fielding quipped: “I hope it doesn’t mean everyone’s going to binge drink and eat Milk Tray late at night.”
Also on the list are Barbara Castle, who introduced the Equal Pay Act 1970; feminist Germaine Greer; Jayaben Desai, who led the strikers in the 1976 Grunwick dispute in London; and the singer Beyoncé.