by gabrielle cosgriff
What's women's lib ever done for
me?" asked Britain's Margaret
Thatcher, the first female prime
minister in European history. Long recognized for her strident manner, Thatcher
emphatically divorced herself from the
"I don't like strident females," she
claimed on a recent CBS Radio interview.
"I like people who have ability, who
don't run the feminist ticket too hard."
Claiming that her sex had never been
an impediment to her career, Thatcher insisted that the individual with merit will
Which brings to mind the time that
Thatcher appeared on Bill Buckley's
Firing Line a couple of years ago. Someone in the audience asked whether women were any more welcome or visible
in British politics than they are in this
country. Thatcher replied that there were
no problems of that nature—that women
had always been accepted in British pontics and she had had no difficulty in participating.
"You have just informed me," said
Buckley, "that there are very few able
women in Great Britain, since we see so
few of them active in politics."
Thatcher's eyes glazed over and she
was rendered incoherent for several
But she was in fine fettle when it came
time for the four-week campaign to unseat "Sunny Jim" Callaghan and his
Labour Party. Callaghan waged a typically British, low-key campaign, while
Thatcher ran an "American-style" media
blitz-not much contact with the voters
but high visibility.
It paid off with an absolute majority,
but Thatcher is already drawing fire for
her appointments. Her 22 cabinet members are all male and her foreign secretary,
Lord Carrington, is not even an elected
member of parliament. He is the Conservative leader in the House of Lords, a
largely ceremonious, powerless body. The
only woman so far named to the government is Sally Oppenheim, whose Ministry
for Consumer Affairs ranks below cabinet
Thatcher has pledged to step up defense spending, curb non-white immigration and cut back on*social services to the
poor and the elderly. (As Education Minister in the last Tory government, in 1970,
Thatcher abolished free milk for schoolchildren, unleashing a storm of protest at
"Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher.")
Time's Bonnie Angelo trailed Thatcher
during the campaign, and described her as
"not like any candidate I've ever seen.
She is. Barry Goldwater played by Pat
Nixon—a tough, uncompromising politician in a meticulously ladylike package."
Both Time and Newsweek had cover
MARGARET THATCHER, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN
stories on Thatcher, with almost identical
cover pictures. At Time, dressed in blue,
she was "Britain's Fighting Lady," and at
Newsweek, dressed in blue, she illustrated
"Britain Turns Right." Blue is the color
of the Conservative Party.
Both magazines devoted about eight
pages to the story. Both used "the Iron
Lady" in headlines. At Time, "The Tron
Lady' takes charge at No. 10," while at
Newsweek it was "Britain's Tron Lady.' "
Joseph C. Harsch, of the Christian Science Monitor, likened Thatcher to "one
of those great sea captains of Britain's
past—a Walter Raleigh, a Francis Drake, a
Capt. Cook-who hoist their sails and set
course out of some British harbor for uncharted seas and high adventure.
"She and her crew think they know
where they want to go. Their purpose is
to regain vitality in the British economic
system. But there are no charts telling
them how it can be done ... It will be a
fascinating voyage to chronicle and
A less romantic view was held by
James Wieghart (New York News Service.)
"Thatcher's election was more a victory
of party rather than of person " he said in
a recent commentary. He saw no real
gains for women in politics, either in Britain or in this country.
"The real test of the (American) public's willingness to accept a woman as
head of government," said Wieghart,
"would require the candidacy of a woman running as a woman, not as a Democrat or Republican who happened to be a
"On women's issues this would mean
that the elimination of discrimination
based on sex .... would be the first, not
last, plank in the party platform.
"Perhaps (she) would pledge to appoint two men to her cabinet—lesser
posts, of course, such as commerce and
housing—and promise to name at least
one or two male White House staffers to
advise her on problems facing men.
"As for domestic and foreign policy,
it's hard to believe that a woman president would step up defense spending and
cut back on spending for health care, jobs
Carolyn Randall, a Houston attorney,
has been nominated by President
Carter to fill a vacancy on the 5th
U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post gave extensive coverage to her
nomination, and both newspapers illustrated the ambivalence found all too often
in success stories about women—Randall
and the reporters took great pains to
qualify her professional achievements
with testimonials to her femininity and
The headlines in both papers accurately reflected the mood of the stories—negative. "City lawyer not totally prepared
for news of appointment," said the Post
(April 28), while the Chronicle (April 30)
protested her innocence with "Carolyn
Randall didn't aim for bench."
"Mrs. Randall readily says she was delighted," according to David Lee of the
Chronicle, "but refuses to admit she shed
any feminine tears of joy. Still, despite
her credentials in federal law, she remains
Lee assured us that "longtime Julia
Child fan" Randall manages time to be
"wild in the kitchen," and confides that
chicken, fish and veal dishes are her
Mark Carreau of the Post was no less
eager to demonstrate that Randall the
lawyer is more than balanced by Randall
the homemaker: "Dressed in running suit
and shoes, she had just taken her turn at
the wheel of the car pool (sic) that gets
her three children to school. The phone
was ringing as she walked in the door of
her two-story Georgian-style home in
River Oaks ..."
Later, Carreau related, "behind her
desk . . . Randall was understandably reluctant to recall her state of casual dress
at such an important moment."
Randall's nomination was made possible partly by the lobbying of feminists
for the Omnibus Judgeship Act of 1978,
which created 35 vacancies on U. S. appellate courts so that more women and
minorities could be considered.
Randall chooses not to associate herself with the women's movement. "One
of the things I want to see happen is for
women to get jobs," she told Carreau,
"but not a whole lot of attention paid to
the fact that they are women."
But she does choose to associate herself with minorities. "Needless to say,"
she told Carreau, "I'm very sympathetic
to the civil rights movement and securing
equal rights for minorities." Why "needless to say?" It would seem that a woman
nominated to a federal judgeship who dissociates herself from the women's movement would feel a definite "need to say"
that she supported minorities.
Not that she intended the nomination
to happen, you understand. "Mrs. Randall
had never pointed her career toward a
judgeship," said Lee, "certainly not a
$57,500-a-year appeals court post. But it
Lest we think it unfeminine that such
a high-salaried, prestigious position should
go to a woman, Lee hastened to reassure
us with his next sentence. "Bespectacled,
dressed and built like a conservative
model, she looks every inch the lady
The committee that nominated Randall
was headed by William C. Harvin, managing partner of Baker & Botts, where her
husband James works as an attorney.
"The thing I really feel good about," she
told Carreau, "is it's a sign the system is
working. When you think about it, you
really have to think well of a country
when a person like me can be appointed."
Randall's parents, brother, sister and
husband are attorneys, she attended Yale
Law School and last July became a partner in the law firm of Sullivan, Bailey,
King, Randall and Sabom.
"The president, I think, is deeply
committed to putting minority members
and women on the bench," she told Lee.
(This committment being directly proportional to the efforts of those same minority members and women.)
"When it comes to the bench, I don't
even think about the fact I'm a woman,"
Randall told Lee. "I've lived in a world
almost exclusively populated by men for
17 years. I got used to that a long time
And you thought "blind justice" was
just an expression.