Weighing in on The Great British Kick Off

Source: BBC Website

Great British Bake Off 2013 finalists
Left to right: Ruby Tandoh; Kimberley WIlson; Frances Quinn
Source: BBC Website

I’m going to throw in my tuppence worth on a subject of the week that I really wasn’t planning on covering this week: the Great British Bake Off. You were supposed to have a nice piece about watches, but that’ll be up tomorrow instead.

Last night I gained great respect for Ruby Tandoh that twelve weeks of the Bake Off didn’t quite garner. Her article in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free, published not even ten minutes after the final was aired yesterday evening, called out those who criticised not only her demeanour and appearance but also those who attacked her fellow finalists. It takes guts to write against those who have criticised you and others wrongly, and it’s a good, strong piece that’s asking all the right questions. I was also impressed with Ruby’s tweet to Raymond Blanc saying ‘I don’t care if you’re a patisserie king – don’t be an idiot’ in response to the following chauvinistic madness:

The Great British Bake Off. Not much skills, female tears and a winner so thin who makes me doubt of her love for great cooking, baking.

Annoyingly, the main response to this Tweet, which was merely Blanc’s prediction of the winner, not an actual spoiler, was predominantly met with expressions of annoyance that the chef had ruined the end of the show for viewers rather than rebuking his wildly sexist remarks. Even MORE annoyingly, when Blanc decided he would apologise he did not do so to Ruby directly, either for his comment on her size or for the ludicrous ‘female tears’ comment, but to Paul Hollywood. There was something uncomfortably ‘oh calm down, love, it’s just a joke’ about the whole thing.

Although Ruby wasn’t my favourite to win, I felt increasingly uneasy about this as the final loomed and vicious articles and Tweets were circulated about how much people hated her. Ruby not being my favourite had nothing to do with Internet trolls’ accusations, and certainly not because she is a talented, intelligent and attractive young woman. This article in the Daily Mail suggested that jealousy of her beauty and skills are the stimuli for the sphere of Ruby-hating, terming her ‘the woman female viewers love to hate’, as if that’s just the way things, or women, are. The same paper also seemed to propagate this culture of nastiness towards Ruby in this piece by mentioning a Tumblr blog that has started in appreciation of Ruby’s expressive face: The Many Faces of Ruby Tandoh. This is so clearly a light-hearted appreciation of Ruby that it barely needs saying.

However the focus of the Mail piece is not the blog itself, but a supposed Buzzfeed spin-off from it, which you can see here. The Mail makes out the two are independent creations, emphasising the latter has become a negative outlet for viewers threatening to boycott the Bake Off next year if the 21-year-old Philosophy student won the competition. On closer inspection, however, both blog and Buzzfeed are clearly by the same author, and with absolutely no malice intended. With this, then, it appears a culture of anti-Ruby hostility was actively being cultivated and encouraged.

Thankfully, this kind of stirring was met with an excellent response in The Guardian by Sarah Ditum entitled ‘Ruby doesn’t deserve this hostility’, and offered the following insight about why the hatred for Ruby was perpetuated so widely, which I think is spot-on:

Here’s why I think people are so free with their dislike of Tandoh: because they follow the same narrative the media does, and they know that when a woman does well, step number two is always to give her a pummelling.

As a staunch defender of women, I found myself torn between who I actually wanted to win, Kimberley, in case you’re wondering, and who I felt that on principle I should be rooting for. And I’d never really thought that the sisterhood was relevant to the Bake Off before. This admittedly ruined the show for me a bit, because as much as the Bake Off is gold because it’s pure escapism, the foul comments of twits on twitter and certain national newspapers started to show an altogether more serious side.

Unsettlingly, Twitter seemed to become the public stocks from which none of the female finalists could successfully emerge unscathed. Ruby was seen as everything from weak, to manipulative, to the down-right seductive, whilst the self-assured confidence of Kimberley was also a cause for hatred why, why can’t all women just learn to be the perfect level of demure. Such rivalry was a complete non-issue in the programme, so why did social media explode with outrage that there were different personalities on camera? So much of what was said on Twitter backs up that horrid stereotype that all women secretly and instinctively hate all other women. I’m so pleased, but unsurprised, to see the Bake Off finalists reacting to their being compared in this way with obvious love and respect to each other, both on screen and in their Twitter exchanges.

I don’t remember Internet discussions or newspaper and blog articles last year discussing whether James or John should win on account of sexiness, or questioning the motives of John’s shyness and decrying James’s quiet confidence. So why the chaos this year? Is it because this Bake Off hasn’t been quite as compelling, a distinct lack of catastrophe and personal injury this series, I feel, and viewers have become irate and taken to Twitter? Or is it simply because the finalists were all women?

Possibly, just possibly, this kind of trolling actually was rife last year, and in previous years, but people didn’t feel the need to take it as seriously, either because it was an all-male final and there is apparently far less pressure on being a hot male in the GBBO final than a hot female and in the latter, as far as I can tell, there were three, although I maintain this should be irrelevant in a baking competition.

In a positive frame of mind, I like to think that the prevalence of Internet hatred around this year’s Bake Off, and the strong feminist response to it, reflects the huge step in kicking back against chauvinism in recent times. When victims of such libel and abuse like Ruby Tandoh are unafraid of shouting back, and feminists like Caitlin Moran and Sarah Ditum are vigilant to openly defend and support her when she did so, it signals that something important is changing.

Women are supporting one another and clearly not hating on all other women in the world ever. Sexist comments like Raymond Blanc’s no longer go uncriticised. And even if the Bake Off is essentially just a bit of nostalgic TV and good old fun with cakes, the issues it raised, dough-like, around how women are continually viewed in society by some, both men and women, are real and serious. At first I was reluctant for the Bake Off to become a battle between my feminist beliefs and who I thought was the best contestant. But now I think it’s a delicious thing, this Great British Kick Off against prejudice.


Categories: Comment, Feminism, Sexism

Tags: , , ,

4 replies

  1. “So why the chaos this year? Is it because this Bake Off hasn’t been quite as compelling, a distinct lack of catastrophe and personal injury this series, I feel” Excuse me Julie, but have you completely forgotten about Custardgate. That was riviting television at its best!

    On anther note, I’d like to you know your opinion on Twitter. I have steered clear of Twitter. It just seems to me a place where people to can spout off (not that Facebook is much better, but privacy settings means your vents are limited to friends and family) or try and get closer to celebrities. The latter of which I find repulsive. Twitter has exploded onto our computer screens and it does seem that its largely an forum for celebrities and non-celebrities to have thier ego stroked. Undoubtedly, Twitter is (rather annoyingly) a huge part of our culture now and its impact on the world can’t be avoided. But does that mean we have to like it?

    • Custardgate was fantastic, I’ll give you that. I just remember far more entertaining droppages last year! When Katherine flung her dough across the room whilst bashing it…classic TV.

      The best way to describe Twitter is, I think, a mixed bag. In a similar way to Facebook you can choose who you see (I follow mostly bloggers, writers, news Twitter feeds and the odd randomer etc who I actually like, I’m quite picky who you follow. Yet despite that you will always see the odd thing you don’t want to see. In the case of this post, when I actually went LOOKING for Twitter craziness, which makes me despair for humankind, yes, it’s grim. But not really any worse than Facebook I would say. It is possible to be on Twitter and be selective.

      I was a Twitter resister for the long time, and then I tried and failed quite a few times too. Since I’ve become much pickier, and also started actually tweeting rather than just lurking as I tended to do, I find I get a lot more out of it. It’s where a lot of important stuff is happening, such as @everydaysexism, and it’s a great way to follow newspapers, magazines, shows, films and companies you’re interested in. There’s definitely a lot of bad things about it but as I’m increasingly beginning to see, there’s a hell of a lot of good there too, and as you say it’s undoubtedly a large part of our culture now. Go on, give it a go – you might even like it! 😛

  2. Having not watched GBBO before, I did find custardgate riveting and compelling! You mean it gets more tense than that?!

    In all seriousness, I actually didn’t read or see much of the comments on Twitter regarding Bake Off, but then again I don’t really go looking at what people are saying about things on twitter, I stick within my own little circle and they’re pretty nice and not sexist dickheads (after I unfollowed Stephen Moffat, that is). The first I truly heard of it was from a linked article (for the life of me I can’t remember where or what article) and it was horrible! Internet trolls really are a vile subset of humanity.

    I love Ruby’s response article, and her reply to Raymond Blanc’s tweet (wow, he’s so clever and witty, not) – composed, intelligent and proving herself better than those who have nothing better to do than sit around and write vile, hurtful comments on an anonymous platform.

    I hope that whatever way action is bolstered around changing these horrendous views of women in society, that it keeps on coming. Change is definitely needed.

    • Custardgate was hilarious. You should try to watch last year’s series if you can, I found the characters far more compelling (JAMES!) and there were far more cake-related disasters.

      I think your Twitter selectiveness is wise, it can be a bit depressing I think. Occasionally I’ll look on that public shaming blog and just despair for mankind. I guess it’s good that there are always people to call out those nutters on Twitter but it can be a grim place at times. I commend your Moffat-unfollowing.

      Totally agree about Ruby’s response. My lack of Ruby-love always came from the fact that watching her made me feel stressed, and the horrible things trolls were saying about her were just unwarranted. Don’t start me on Blanc, he died for me when he started making lasagne for Findus!


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