|Margaret Thatcher and Gro Harlem Brundland: Two women Prime Ministers in the West from the spectre of a collective biography|
|Until recently, very few women played a part in parliamentary and governmental politics in Western democracies. Indeed, there was a widely held belief that women did not make competent politicians. The handful of female parliamentarians who did emerge after World War II were expected to restrict themselves to policy areas traditionally regarded as suitable for women, such as health, social work and education, and to leave more weighty and prestigious fields such as economics, foreign affairs and defence to their male colleagues. The few women who dared to storm these male bastions tended to be stereotyped as ‘unfeminine’. Such assumptions led to women being excluded from political power for the greatest part of the 20th century.
The development of the welfare society, better educational opportunities and new social movements such as second-wave feminism prompted a rise in the number of female politicians and led to the idea of female incompetence being challenged. A number of prominent female political leaders came to the fore, among them two women prime ministers: Margaret Thatcher (UK, 1979-1990) and Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway, 1981, 1986-1989, 1990-1996).
Did these two women, as well as other female political leaders, have certain things in common, how different they also could be? A collective biography, dealing with social and political sciences on the one hand and an individual biographical approach on the other, seems the appropriate method to answer this question. A good biography will avoid ‘general laws’, but the collective biography gives insight into the common problems in the lives and careers of important female politicians and into the relation between women and political power in general. A paper on Thatcher and Brundtland is a start in this field.