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.