A woman I know called on Monday, quite furious. It seems that she'd watched the weekend talk shows and had the misfortune of hearing three male commentators describe Margaret Thatcher as "lucky" in winning her third election. They said she'd had weak opposition. Which, of course, is about as insightful as saying that President Reagan was lucky in winning reelection because he had weak opposition.
Margaret Thatcher is, quite simply, the most successful woman in the world today. She is the first prime minister in modern British history to win three consecutive terms, and she did so in a landslide. She will soon pass Winston Churchill and H.H. Asquith as this century's longest-serving prime minister. She is the senior leader of the western alliance. Thatcher proves that women can govern nations as effectively as anybody. She has been criticized for having an autocratic management style and for dominating her cabinet, but it is a leadership style that, for her, seems to work -- her government is not crippled by Iran-contra scandals. Her integrity is beyond question: no dear friends of the opposite sex have been caught spending the night at No. 10 Downing Street.
Last November, while visiting Reagan, Thatcher was inducted into the hall of fame of the International Women's Forum, which was founded in 1982 to create opportunities among women of achievement. At a ceremony at the British Embassy she revealed a side of her that is seldom seen -- the part that is female, pioneering and desirous of helping other women.
In her acceptance speech, she said she is often asked: "How did you do it?"
"It wasn't suddenly done," she said. "It was done by quite a lot of work and by steadily taking advantage of each opportunity as it came." She recited a quatrain that she said applies to women, too: " 'Heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.' "
"One only gets to the top rung on the ladder by steadily climbing up one at a time and suddenly all sorts of things which you thought at first -- all sorts of powers, all sorts of abilities which you thought never belonged to you -- suddenly come within your own possibility and you think, well, I'll have a go, too.
"For me," she said, "I wish we had more women using the enormous potential that they have. You know we've had years and years and years of able, talented women, very few of them coming into public life and I think most of our women politicians would agree with me today when I say it would be a lot easier for us if there were more of us so that each one of us is less conspicuous and each one is no longer viewed as something of a peculiarity.
"It seems to me very strange when one's male colleagues say, 'My goodness, you're the best man we've got.' And you don't always take that as a compliment, you know. If there were more of us coming into public life it would help."
She spoke of the traditional relationship between the United States and Great Britain and our common heritage of freedom under the rule of law. "I've been so proud to be able to talk to President Reagan today to see how we can be certain, how we can always maintain that freedom for ourselves, for future generations, for the United States and for Europe and that in securing it and in maintaining it we give a little sign of hope to others who do not yet have it.
"Women have a tremendous part to play in the life of the country, in the life of the community, and in almost every particular business and profession. May I say that I did meet Sally Ride . . . . She had been so thrilled to be the first woman astronaut, and I was so thrilled to meet her. I don't know whether she thought the same when she met me as I thought when I met her. Well, you really are what I would call an ordinary woman of extraordinary qualities. And that, I think so often when I meet so many women who made it to the top. They seem so ordinary when you meet them, and yet everything they've done has been of such extraordinary quality.
"I hope that what you are doing will bring inspiration, ambition, to many young women so that they are not satisfied with anything less than giving of their best and achieving their highest ambition and of going to the very top which I'm sure so many of them will."
Thatcher closed with the promise to do "my level best" to maintain the "special link" between the United States and Britain and said she would "do everything I can do to help other women get to the top as I was helped in the past."
She never said a word about being lucky.