So Thatcher didn't exploit stereotypes?

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Margaret Thatcher was the kind of woman who made men's toes curl. Her savage intelligence, command of policy and what François Mitterrand called "the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula" both terrified and intrigued them. And she loved it. The woman who was prime minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990 declared she owed nothing to "women's lib" and surrounded herself with men—appointing only one woman to her cabinet.

Today she is remembered as a resolute, tough-minded leader who was fond of tanks and relished a fight. Hillary Clinton, commentators cry, asks to be treated more gently because she is a woman. Thatcher didn't have to.

What we forget is how happily Thatcher exploited stereotypes when it was convenient to do so. When she campaigned for the leadership of her party in 1976, she was so eager to counter her image as an upper-crust Tory in pearls that she portrayed herself as a regular, devoted housewife. She was photographed doing the washing up, tucking her twins into bed, dusting, cooking, peeling potatoes, baking cakes, putting empty milk bottles out on the front step and sweeping the footpath in a lacy cap. "I am a very ordinary person who leads a very ordinary life," she said.

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