Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

From hero to villain... the women who let us down

Mary Berry

They say you should never meet your idols, because they'll only disappoint you. I would add that you should never read an interview with a female role model in case they say something un-feminist. Because there's nothing more outrageous than a female role model gone bad.

Take Mary Berry. So kindly and elegant on the Great British Bake-Off, who has been slated in the media for sharing her outdated views on maternity rights with a Sunday newspaper.

"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."

I know she's an expert on cakes and not the minister for women and equalities, she's nearly 80 and can't be expected to know about the challenges facing new mums, but I haven't been this disgusted by a member of my sex since that woman put a cat in a bin.

I read Mary Berry's thoughts with one part "What?!", 150g of "I beg to differ" 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 Joanna Lumley – sensationally unmasked by the media to be a victim-blaming rape apologist, who, in an interview with the Daily 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."

Oh please, Joanna. Such rubbish. We can wear whatever we want – including vomit – and I can walk home alone at night if I wish. City-centres are 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.

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 Great British Bake-Off.

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 her 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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