Oh Mary, Mary Berry, why did she have to go all contrary suddenly? The 77-year-old is a legendary cook, still dresses to kill, and has impeccable TV manners which appeal to millions. Having coolly surfed the huge waves of success on The Great British Bake Off, she is now on the BBC recounting her life story. She’s been awarded a CBE, and will, I predict, soon be a Dame.
But now, suddenly, we discover that the fragrant lady of the cakes has a bitter centre, some pretty poisonous views, all seemingly arrived at without the burdensome reading of serious texts or heeding of authoritative voices.
Where to start?
In a newspaper interview, she declared feminism a “dirty word” and went on: “You’ve got to persuade them [men] gently to do things, and of course when they come back they say ‘oh wasn’t that fun?’” Do try it tonight ladies. Tell your honey-bear to wash the clothes, dry and fold them, cook the supper, clear up the kitchen, and feed the baby. Ask him sweetly, kiss him lots, promise him sex afterwards. And sit back, with your feet up, sipping a glass of wine, while he gets on with it and comes and tells you what fun it was. And do the same the next day and next. If he refuses, do not shout at him – Miss Berry hates shouty, un-ladylike females.
And, what’s more, she deplores “women’s rights” and despises those young women who work, go off and have babies and demand maternity leave! The hussies! As an employer, these decent policies make a dent in profits. In 2008, Rosie Boycott, once a pioneering feminist writer, also attacked flexitime and other entitlements which irk small businesses. Meanwhile, websites such as Netmums assert feminism is “aggressive” and that modern women don’t see men as the enemy. Where does one start with such startling ignorance, such backwards bilge?
My 93-year-old English mother-in-law knows just how much feminism has improved lives, and remembers the terrible old days. We should too. Until 1857, divorce laws were cruel and wholly pro-father and not even aristocratic women could challenge those. In Downton Abbey, in the early 20th century, Lord Grantham’s American wife is shown surrendering her fortune and having no say on how he squandered it. Women, until the 1960s, had no autonomy and their earned cash belonged to the husband. They could not escape abusive relationships or save their children from abuse. Babies born outside marriage were taken away and brought up in cold, soul-destroying institutions.
I am a feminist, as are all my close friends. We are married to good, loving, feminist men, have children (including sons), love clothes and make-up, are happy homemakers but are never complacent. We have a long way to go before women in our society feel safe, achieve gender parity, have their human rights protected. Power still rests predominantly with men and too many (with helpful damsels and dowagers) are aggressively pushing back advances, and reclaiming masculine primacy and supremacy.
Punished for audacity
Females are being punished for their audacious hopes. In spite of the Equal Pay Act, women are still paid nearly a third less than men doing the same or equivalent part-time work; full-time female workers get around 15 per cent less. Although self-employed women are doing well and young women are proving themselves in higher education, the UK, abysmally, still keeps its top echelons white and male in both the public and private sectors. And boorish bosses like Alan Sugar and some on Dragon’s Den have become modern icons by speaking out against fairer deals for women. One big reason why redneck Tories and Ukip want to get out of Europe is because gender rights are protected and promoted by the EU.
Between 1991 and 2008, the numbers of reported rapes rose by 247 per cent, and conviction rates have plummeted (Home Office figures reported in The Economist, October 2006). I do worry that our modern, pornified culture – which Diane Abbott brought up recently – is leading to some of this violence. Almost every week a woman is murdered by the man she married, lived with or loved. And their children are too.
The figures are appalling and haven’t, to my knowledge, enraged Mary Berry types, because, well, nice ladies don’t do rage. They just take it, get on with it, hide their scars. Even the star Carole King was repeatedly beaten up by her partner, Rick Evers, in the mid-Seventies when she was top of her game. I know a talented young mum who goes through the same today, because she doesn’t want to lose the father of her young son. It is heartbreaking to see her preparing herself for that moment when he walks in through the door. She dresses up, cooks, makes sure the baby is bathed and still, two or three times a month, he goes for her, leaving bruises on her alabaster skin.
Will these facts make Mary Berry think again? I don’t expect so. Her invective has desecrated the memories of all those women who have struggled so hard for the vote, for justice, for the right to be treated as equals to men and as part of the human race. And the best cake in the world cannot, now, redeem her.