Mary Berry, Joanna Lumley...When female role models go bad

There is nothing more outrageous than a female role model giving an opinion we disagree with

Victoria Wright
Friday 01 February 2013 09:00

They say you should never meet your idols because they’ll only disappoint you.

I would also add that you should never read a newspaper interview with a female role model in case they say something unfeminist. Because there’s nothing more outrageous than a female role model gone bad.

Take Mary Berry, for example, so kindly and elegant on the Great British Bake-Off, who has been slated in the media for sharing her outdated views on maternity rights to the Sunday Times.

"You have a year off, and you don't have to tell them whether you're coming back or not. It makes it terribly difficult for the small employer to employ young women, young married women or [women] with children. You've got three in the department and they all go to have children and you've got to leave the job open."

Oh Mary! Why did you have to suddenly voice an opinion I disagree with?

I know she’s an expert on cakes and not the Minister for Women and Equalities, she’s nearly eighty and can’t be expected to know about the challenges facing new mums these days, nor does she have any actual power and influence on this matter, but I haven’t been this disgusted by a member of my sex since that woman put a cat in a bin.

Apparently, Mary Berry also said that feminism is a ‘dirty word’ and she doesn’t want to be a feminist because she likes it when men offer her a seat on the bus. You’ve just set feminism back 500 years Mary, nice work. Caitlin Moran will have to write another book now to repair the damage you’ve caused.

I read Mary Berry’s thoughts on feminism with one part ‘WTF?!’, 150g of ‘I beg to differ Mary, this is not 1976, times have changed’, and a tablespoon of ‘I loved you on Great British Bake-Off but now you’re number two on my Disappointing Women list, just below Thatcher’. I then stirred in some outrage and baked this column.

And don’t even get me started on actress Joanna Lumley, sensationally unmasked by the media to be a victim blaming rape apologist, who, in an interview with the Telegraph, advised young women:

“Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t be sick down your front, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight....don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.”

Oh please Joanna, such rubbish! We can wear whatever we want, including vomit, and I can walk home alone at night if I wish. London is particularly delightful at one in the morning. Stuff your clumsily worded but well intentioned concern for the wellbeing of young women today. Never mind your campaigning work for the Ghurkhas and your promotion of shwopping clothes at M & S to raise money for Oxfam. You’ve let us women down. I’m taking my old clothes to the Cats Protection League.

Some columnists have called Mary Berry’s views ‘poisonous’ and suggested that Joanna Lumley’s status of ‘national treasure’ should now be questioned given that Jimmy Savile used to be one. I completely agree. We should keep our eyes peeled on all the national treasures from now on in case they turn out to be paedophiles or female role models with old fashioned, outdated values.

Talking of national treasures, I wonder what David Attenborough thinks about paternity leave, patriarchy, the behaviour of young men these days and what can be done to educate men on the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex? Has anyone ever asked him? And what about Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry’s co-judge on GBBO? I’d love to know his thoughts on patriarchy and paternity leave.

Truth be told, I’m not much interested in what Mary Berry thinks about maternity rights and I will continue to enjoy watching her on GBBO. And though I may disagree with some of Joanna Lumley’s comments about women’s personal safety, it won’t stop me from admiring her acting or charity work.

What I do find interesting is how women in the public eye are often asked their thoughts about women’s rights, even when debating women’s rights isn’t what they’re known for, and then vilified if they say the wrong thing. Yet their male counterparts never seem to be asked for their thoughts on men’s issues. Wouldn’t that make a refreshing change?

When female role models go bad, it’s all too easy for us to get outraged. So if classicist Mary Beard ever gives in to those trolls and gets her hair cut and coloured, and I start writing a column on how she’s let the sisterhood down – someone please stop me.

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