I spent some of the best minutes of my day yesterday reading Max Atkinson’s blog on Margaret Thatcher and her rhetorical style. He adds accurate political observations to his rhetorical analysis.
(I love this picture. yeah for hand gestures and emphasis! Photo from Businessreport.co.uk)
Again, Maggie’s politics notwithstanding, these are interesting insights.
Read it in full here
Speaking is something we all have to do, and this is an intelligent dissection on what it is like for a female orator and politician.
It was important for Martin Luther King’s success as a communicator that there already existed a distinctive black religious tradition that could be readily adapted for speaking on behalf of the civil rights movement, because American political oratory before the 1960s had been dominated by white males. But, when Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979 after winning the first of three UK general elections, there were no such obvious models for women. For thousands of years before that, politics and speech-making had been almost exclusively male preserves.
This is a dilemma familiar to most professional women, but female politicians face another disadvantage because public speaking is such an important part of the job – not just because the techniques of oratory and debate have been monopolized by men for so long, but also because of the difference in length of male and female vocal cords that affect the pitch of the human voice.
Meanwhile, the various nicknames devised by her colleagues, such as ‘Mother’, the ‘Leaderene’, the ‘Bossette’, ‘Attila the Hen’, ‘the Immaculate Misconception’, etc. can be seen as reflecting a sustained attempt on their part to come to terms with the fact that they were having to work under a woman leader.
Given that successful women face the dilemma of being ‘damned if they behave like men, and damned if they don’t’, one solution is to behave in as efficient, tough and decisive a manner as possible, while at the same time making no concessions whatsoever when it comes to maintaining the external trappings of femininity. So Mrs Thatcher was committed to the importance of being smart in a conventionally feminine way, and consistently sought to make the most of her natural physical attractiveness.
As can be seen from her speeches, there is no doubt of her ability to deploy the full range of rhetorical techniques, and to do so in such a way that her essential femininity was never seriously called into question.