Broken families, they’re called. Like they’re somehow deficient – a shattered part of a socially-approved whole. Single mums, because we think women shouldn’t have the right to have families without a man. It wasn’t too long ago that unmarried mother was in vogue and in America unwed teenage mother is still an acceptable term. We don’t use words like partnered mums or married fathers.
In the Nineties the Tories were all for slut shaming single mothers (especially unmarried mothers) until a couple of top Conservative politicians were found to have created single parent families and one of them had been a single mother while she was a teenage student. Single mothers and their families were a social threat. Michael Howard suggested unmarried (but not married) mothers should have their children adopted. The Back to Basics campaign might have flopped, but the media (fuelled by the Institute of Economic Affair’s series of biased publications) had picked up the scent of easy meat. They stuck their teeth in and they haven’t let go since. This attitude survives today with an emphasis on teen mothers.
The scandal of Tories themselves being single parents or having children with single parents caused a stir at the time but really it was inevitable because breakups and divorce are common. But what’s really interesting is the fate that awaited the family of Margaret Thatcher, who advocated returning to Victorian values. At this time she’d recently been ousted. Her son Mark gave her her favourite granddaughter, Amanda Thatcher, around this time. Margaret Thatcher must have looked on with approval at the Major Government’s continuation of her agenda.
But fast forward to 17th April 2013 and her daughter Carol Thatcher turns up to her funeral – on national television – with a partner. She’s in a relationship with a man she isn’t married to. Yes, so are the rest of us, but it’s an interesting twist in the story of the Conservative Party’s idol. Margaret Thatcher and the Major government had stigmatised lone mothers and “illegitimate” children, yet here was her own daughter flaunting her unmarried status on the BBC. If Carol Thatcher gets pregnant, she’ll be an unmarried mother.
Margaret Thatcher’s grandkids Michael and Amanda Thatcher were (according to news reports) brought up in America after their mother emigrated following the breakup of her marriage to Mark Thatcher. So Margaret Thatcher’s grandchildren were raised by a single mother who was also an immigrant, while their father was far away in another country and would have had minimal contact with his children (especially considering that Facebook, Skype and MSN were not around when the kids were growing up).
Margaret Thatcher’s story doesn’t just prove that people who use “family values” to stigmatise or even eradicate family forms they don’t like (instead of valuing all families) are hypocrites – we knew that. It proves that discriminating others just hurts ourselves in the end. You never know if the groups you hate will be the groups that your children or grandchildren fall into. The Thatcher family story could also be a lesson for those who are against equal marriage and are sure their descendants won’t be gay.
It speaks to the way injustice and prejudice work that Margaret Thatcher’s family isn’t considered broken, dysfunctional or a social threat. Amanda and Michael aren’t considered to be the “underclass” (see Murray 1989; 1993) and Carol isn’t seen as promiscuous or irresponsible.
It’s a good thing- if perhaps slightly ironic- that the Thatcher funeral brought all this into the public eye for the first time. It forces right-wingers to come to terms with the reality that there are no perfect families and single parents exist in all families. Nobody’s immune, not even the Iron Lady and not even the most respectable or most bigoted. The sight of Amanda Thatcher, child of an immigrant single mum, making that speech about Margaret is a beautiful image. Even if it might be a troubling image for some. And Carol Thatcher flaunting her partner in front of the world’s cameras – would she have been able to do that in the early Nineties? To do it without shame. Without inviting comments from the media.
Maybe, despite Thatcher’s best efforts, we have progressed after all – and her family has benefited from that progression. As they paid their respects to her, their lifestyles silently mock the sexual morality and family values of a leader who was Conservative in more ways than one.