Flora MacDonald, a Progressive Conservative elected in 1972, tells a story that illustrates something of what women politicians faced:
"I worked twice as hard as anybody. You had to work hard. I had decided early in my career in the House that I would change the custom that only dresses were suitable, so one day I wore a pantsuit into the House of Commons. It was a beautiful pantsuit. I had bought it in France, and it was good quality. That became a front-page photograph right across Canada.
Not long afterward, Margaret Thatcher became the leader of the British Conservative Party. She went to New York to do interviews, and on the way back she stopped off in Ottawa to meet Robert Stanfield, the leader of Canada’s Conservatives. He had a small luncheon for her, and after the lunch Mrs. Stanfield and Mrs. Thatcher and I were standing together. Mrs. Stanfield, who was always direct in her questioning, said to Mrs. Thatcher, 'Do people single you out as a woman because you may do something differently?' Mrs. Thatcher said, 'I’m not quite sure what you mean.' Mrs. Stanfield said, 'Let me give you an example. Flora here wore a pantsuit into the House of Commons, and it became a front-page picture across the country. Would that sort of thing happen to you?'
Mrs. Thatcher replied, 'No, but then I would never wear a pantsuit into the House of Commons. You never can tell where the criticism will come from.'"
Margaret Thatcher died today and left a legacy that we are still trying to overcome.
Excerpt from Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Revolution, Penguin 2005.
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