The Icon LadyMeanings of all kinds flow through the figures of women, and they often do not include who she herself is.- Marina Warner Monuments and Maidens
"Thatcher’s visual staying power in political and pop culture is as great as her impact on oppositional music. The face of Thatcher most often called to mind is that of what Angela Carter termed her ‘balefully iconic’ post-1983 premiership: encased in true-blue power suits, wielding a handbag, her hair lacquered into immobile submission, her earlier style solidified into a heavily stylized femininity bordering on drag. Paul Flynn, in a fairly tortured discussion of Thatcher’s status as a gay icon, put it down to her ‘ability to carry a strong, identifiable, signature look… an intrinsic and steely power to self-transform’, and a ‘camp, easily cartooned presence’. The startling evocative power of this look, its ability to summon up its host of contemporary social, cultural and political associations, is why I jump when Streep’s replication of it intrudes into my vision. It’s like being repeatedly sideswiped by the 1980s, which is something the last UK election had already made me thoroughly sick of.
The iconic capacity of Thatcher’s image has been compared in articles and actual mash-ups with that of Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara. The artist Alison Jackson observes that all three ‘had what it takes to become a modern icon: big hair, high foreheads and a face that would allow you to project your own fears and desires on to it.’ Conversely, subsequent political leaders – including both Blair and Cameron – have had their own faces conflated with Thatcher’s, usually as part of left-wing critiques meant to signify the closeness of their policies to hers. Thatcher’s image is here used as an instantly recognisable political signifier, communicating a set of ideological ideas in a single package, as well as a self-contained political warning sign.
Although the kind of passive objectification associated with Monroe might seem at odds with the idea of Thatcher as a great historical actor with narrative agency in her own right, the images of both women are used in a cultural tradition in which the female figure in particular becomes a canvas for the expression of abstract ideas (think justice, liberty, victory). The abstract embodiment of multiple meanings, and the strategic performance of traditional ideas of femininity, constitute sources of power which Thatcher and her political and media allies exploited to the hilt in their harnessing of support for the policies she promoted."