Chris and I watched The Iron Lady last night. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a pretty good biopic of Margaret Thatcher. Meryl Streep plays Thatcher and it’s a really surprising movie in many ways. It isn’t like most biopics, instead of just telling the story of the person’s life, The Iron Lady tells the story from the point of view of Margaret Thatcher as an elderly woman. The opening scene, in particular, is heartbreaking. Here is this woman, who was once one of the most powerful people in the world and a person of great influence, now just a doddering old woman making her way slowly to buy a pint of milk and then complaining about how much the price had gone up. I guess it just brought home to me the truth that we are all just dust.
But that wasn’t the most difficult part of the movie. For me, the most difficult part was watching the elderly Thatcher question her life choices. There were several scenes where she seems to be asking questions: did she spend enough time with her kids, was she a good enough wife, should she have spent so much time in her career, etc. And it makes me wonder, when is it ever enough?
Margaret Thatcher was married to the same man for 52 years, a marriage that only ended when her husband died. She raised two children fairly successfully. She had a long and distinctive career that included almost 12 years as her country’s Prime Minister, a position that she held during a difficult and tumultuous decade. She was the first female Prime Minister in Great Britain and, actually, the first female head of state of a western country. Certainly from the outside this looks like a very successful life.
Now, obviously, this movie was a work of fiction. Who knows if , in fact, Margaret Thatcher ever had these questions about her life. But it seems to me that these are questions that women torment themselves with regularly. I don’t know any man who spends his mental energy fretting over whether he spent enough time with his children or if taking that big promotion at work was really the right decision. But women worry about these things all the time.
I recently had a long conversation with a friend of mine about a topic similar to this. She earned a significant promotion at work but her new position requires her to work full time now, rather than the 3/4 time she had been working. She loves her job. She is very good at her job. She also loves her children and is a great mom. But she’s worried about this new position and the longer hours she is working. She says her husband is helping to pick up the slack right now but, “you know, he’s so busy at work.” Sure he’s busy, so is she. So why does the burden fall to her, even if the burden of childcare/housework/etc doesn’t fall to her, why does the burden of worry fall to her? Is this a problem of needless worry? Or is it a symptom of inequality and a sign that there are still things that need to change?
There are so many choices in life. And none of us will ever get them all right. It’s hard enough to make decisions the first time, how do we get out of the second-guessing trap that so many of us seem to fall in?