Bake Off: Why Women Aren’t Good Enough (Spoilers)

There’s always a lesson to learn during the final episode of the Great British Bake Off and this one came right at the end. The camera is focussed on a tearful, victorious Candice who just won herself gold with some tasty little pig sausage roles, moist chocolate cake and custard tarts. She’s got a bouquet of flowers in one hand and the random, glass medal thing in the other (oh, it’s a cake plate) and this is what she says: “I did it, I am good, I’m good enough.” And it’s funny because when I watched Candice ace it through each round of the final I never doubted whether or not she was good enough, for me, she was always more than good enough. But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a woman doubt her self belief and I wonder if something’s going on?

The two female finalists got a lot of flack over the past few weeks. Candice was disliked for her varying shades of lipstick and her pout. She was disliked for her accent and her choice of clothes. Meanwhile, Jane was disliked for being old (she’s only 61!), for her hair and for her supposed headmistress sternness. All of these things are, of course, bullshit and we should have been cheering both them on for being such star bakers. Yet patriarchy is as patriarchy does and in a world where women are constantly made to feel inferior to men they have far more work to do to get to the top. But get to the top they did without a soggy bottom in sight.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of too many generalisations but it saddens me when people don’t think they’re good enough because often that attitude is the product of a misdirected over-ambition and an inability to see the good in oneself. Can’t we all just give ourselves a break and allow ourselves to be good enough? However, as our history is one of so much misogyny it’s often women who have even less self-belief. Anecdotally, I have never heard a successful man say he suffers from the imposter syndrome (i.e. the belief that you shouldn’t be where you are professionally and you’re just a sham waiting to be uncovered) but I have heard many successful women say it. Goddammit. Success is for all of us and we should be free to enjoy it without guilt (providing it’s the right sort of success, i.e. baking great cakes, not earning loads whilst crashing national economies).

So I hope winning the Bake Off helps Candice realise just what a blooming brilliant baker and person she is but I hope she knows she’s these things anyway, even if she hadn’t won. For me, the final showed that woman absolutely rock as lovely, earnest Andrew was forced to cash in on his male privilege and step aside. And what’s even better is that Candice and Jane, who shared a great rivalry throughout the show (for which they got much online flack), are now off on a baking road trip together. There are a lot of stereotypes out there that suggest women can’t be friends because they’re always bitching about each other and competing for men (or star baker) but, once again, the women of Bake Off showed us what a load of unbaked, bullshit that is. And here’s a funny penis cake.

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Bake Off: Climate Change Week

Week 7 of the Great British Bake Off and things got environmental. As comedian Mel Giedroyc explained at the start of the show it was a Bake Off first, Botanical Week: “We wanted to highlight the plight of nature as bee populations collapse, sea levels rise and numerous species become extinct due to human’s inability to live peaceably on the planet. We felt it was important to stand up for Gaia.” So those bakers got baking with flowers, herbs, leaves and other things that grow out the ground (y’know, like most things)

Round 1 was a classic: lemon meringue pie. Except they wanted a further citrus twist. “This might appear a controversial decision,” explained celebrity chef and national treasure Mary Berry, “But the reason we wanted them to use a wider panoply of citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges and clementines was to raise awareness of global warming. Just this summer Gravesend recorded a temperature of 34.4C, that’s the hottest day of the year since 1911, incidentally the year I was born. Ironically this will make Britain’s climate more amendable to the growing of citrus fruits and whilst I love a good lemon meringue pie I don’t want it to come at the price of numerous small island states going underwater, the Arctic melting and more hurricanes. I get that this is too little too late but if Bake Off can’t be used to make important political statements then what’s the fucking point.”

Round 2 was fougasse, a type of bread typically associated with Provence in France. Judge Paul Hollywood chose this one: “I don’t actually believe in climate change and care little for the environment but a fougasse should be made in the shape of a leaf. So it was my token nod towards nature but who really gives a shit about nature. I mean, I’m off to Channel 4, I don’t have values, I just want cash. Sure if we each did our bit and consumed less, recycled more, became more politically active and challenged power then things might change. But that sounds like too much effort.” Swiftly onto Round 3 where the bakers had to make 3+ tiered cakes covered in floral patterns. It was contestant Candice who did a 4 tiered cake with each one representing a different season. She purposefully misaligned them as she piled them one on top of the other to ensure they looked, in her words, “higgledy-piggledy, like the seasons.” She went on to explain: “Because climate change has ransacked seasons around the world. They used to be predictable and delineated but now summers are cold, winters are even colder and there are heat waves in October. Basically the seasons are screwed and I wanted to convey that with my cake.”

And so the episode drew to a close and whilst it was lovely guy Rav who got booted off the last word went to Andrew. The adorable Welsh perfectionist, sitting on a rustic stone step surrounded by trees and flowers, was reduced to tears: “These tears are partly for me and my insatiable hunger for affirmation from octogenarian Aga users but they’re also for nature. I mean, why do we treat her so badly, polluting the seas, trashing mountains and killing baby seals. If only Mary Berry ran the UN.” Next week Bake Off will be focussing on plight of the worker under capitalism because, as Berry says, “If we can give a toss about 12 randomers in a tent then of course we can care about the exploitation of labourers around the world.”

Bake Off: Our Damnation And Salvation

Spoilers ahead if you didn’t catch this week’s episode of Great British Bake Off – think Game of Thrones meets the Home Counties by way of the Hummingbird Bakery. And this week was a corker – broken eggs, soggy bottoms, tarts galore and Mary Berry even cracked a joke. However, two things really struck me, one concerns filo pastry and the other concerns our dearly departed Val.

Kinda half way through the programme Mel or Sue (the comedy commentators who keep the whole thing together) go off on a tangent to reveal a bit of the history of baking. This week was Baklava. Back in the 13th century Ottoman Empire the Sultan was getting a bit peckish, so his royal chefs invented filo pastry. It’s a tricky process that involves finely rolling numerous sheets of pastry, so fine that you can read a book through them (or a bottle of alcohol as contestant Jane did, ahem). The process required such skill that, back in the day, the number of sheets within the filo pastry was used as a signifier of wealth. Rich households would demand a minimum of 100 layers. Wait a second. Number of sheets in filo pastry as a sign of wealth. What the actual f*ck?! I mean, come on people, let’s get a grip. But it was then, as I watched Mel bite into a tasty morsel of pistachio filled Baklava, that I realised we’re doomed. Humans are actually doomed. We prioritise the number of layers in filo pastry over things like lessening hunger in the world, tackling climate change and redistributing wealth. And things haven’t changed that much since then except it’s less about filo pastry and more about number of yachts, houses and watches. The irony is that once a year the Sultan would host a great Baklava ceremony and the servants of his Empire would be given some of the stuff as a token of gratitude in return for their unending service. After that it was back to a life of gruelling slavery. Humans. We’re the worst.

As you can imagine I was in despair and then Val was outed from the Bake Off tent. She’d had a bad week but when the camera turned to her these were her parting words: “When you bake you always bake for a reason, you’re giving it to people, so you make it the best you can and you make it with love. And whenever I make anything I stir love into it, I knead love into it, so when I present it, it’s special. I’m not unhappy, I’ve had a great time with some great people and, phwoar, I didn’t expect it, I didn’t expect to ever get here, never mind be honoured.” And those words speak for themselves. What a woman and what an inspiration to us all – so positive, so grateful and just so darn nice. All the other characters (I mean contestants) spoke so highly of her positive personality and even judge Paul Hollywood had a good word for her. And what a world we might live in if we didn’t prioritise the number of layers in our filo pastry but prioritised love instead. It sounds cheesy but it tastes great.

Baked Goods And Wisdom

It’s nearly the final episode of Bake Off. Soon Mary Berry will be leaving our screens to find good flavour and soggy bottoms elsewhere, whilst Paul Hollywood will attempt some stand up in a grotty pub in East London (a safe distance away from the local cereal cafe). Much has happened in the tent this time round – we’ve had burnt biscuits, saggy souffles, sunken tennis court cakes (yes, tennis court cakes are a thing) but above all we’ve had wisdom, so much wisdom. I’ll share some of the tastier morsels here.

Take Nadiya for example, everyone’s star baker and tipped to win. When she started she just did not believe in herself. She would tremble as Paul and Mary came to pass judgement and make an assortment of brilliantly disturbed faces. Then she got star baker and she was ecstatic: “My kids are going to be really proud and my husband is going to be so proud. And it’s weird because I’m never proud of myself. But I’m actually really proud of myself.” How sad that someone so brilliant and talented never believed in themselves. Until she got a “lingering handshake” from Paul Hollywood that is. It’s testimony to Britain’s hard work, minimal praise culture that so many people grow up feeling worthless and undervalued, struggling to believe even in themselves. I’m just glad a glazed, chocolate peacock made all the difference for Nadiya.

Then there’s Flora. Week in, week out she’d go all out to impress the judges. She’d add praline flourishes and macaroon embellishments but time and time again she’d let herself down on the actual baking (it’s Great British Bake Off, not Great British Show Off). Mary would politely tell her to just do some good baking and Paul would reiterate that less politely. In her last week of the competition Flora did say, “Well maybe it won’t be perfect this time.” This was big. For a perfectionist like Flora to settle for good enough must have been very difficult. It didn’t quite work though as she attempted to over-achieve on her final showstopper but as Mary said “it lacks flavour.”

Finally, we also learn…well, to be precise Quentin Letts learns, that people who are not white and whose families may have migrated to Britain a little after the rest of our Viking relatives, are actually humans. Letts wrote a long, ranty piece in some tired, right-wing newspaper about how overly ‘right on’ Bake Off was this year – it was too diverse, it wasn’t white enough, there weren’t enough middle-aged ‘mums next door types’ (because all mums next door are white and middle-aged of course). It was political correctness gone mad because the dreaded BBC with their ‘equality agenda’ had picked people based on their ethnicity, religion, sexuality or some other feature ripe for discrimination rather than their actual baking talent. Well, I think the quality of the baking speaks for itself as does the brilliant diversity of the three finalists. Chew on that cardamom and ‘other exotic, foreign spice’ infused iced bun Quentin Letts.

So to sum up the wisdom of the Bake Off tent: please believe in yourself, good enough really is good enough, striving for perfection probably won’t make you happy in the long-term, don’t be a bigot and, please, dry your bottom. Now for that heart warming intro music…

Quentin Letts And The Right To Bigotry

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an English writer of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a nice summary of the principle of freedom of speech – i.e. we’re all free to say what we like and anything that curbs that freedom is a form of censorship and an abuse of our rights.

Well, I disapprove of what Quentin Letts had to say about the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, and whilst I’m probably not going to risk my life so he can repeat it I do wish to explain exactly why I disapprove in the hope that he’ll be less likely to say it again. To clarify, I am most certainly not advocating censorship, far from it, I think it better that the views of Letts are aired precisely so we can challenge them and in doing so maybe even inspire him to be a little less of a bigot.

He begins by describing the different contestants that have been chosen for the sixth series of Bake Off. He notes that one of them is Muslim and wears a headscarf, one is a house husband, another is a female vegan bodybuilder from Lithuania, one of the men has tattoos and wears a hat, one of them is Afro-Caribbean, there’s one on a gap year, at least one of the contestants lives in the north of England, there’s a British-Asian male and another man originally from the Philippines.

This might sound like an exciting and interesting group of people who we can look forward to getting to know as the series progresses but not for Letts. What he takes umbrage with is the very diversity that the contestants represent. He considers this part of a grand political conspiracy as perpetrated by the BBC, in his own (far too easily parodied) words: “a leaning to modernity, to fashion, to ‘the alternative’, the ‘different’, sometimes for reasons of group-think, sometimes out of a desire to jack up the ratings in the manner of a commercial TV station. It is in keeping with the creed of egalitarianism. It is deeply unconservative.” No doubt it’s political correctness gone mad, something he writes about in his book Bog Standard Britain as crushing “the individualism from our nation of once indignant eccentrics.”

Of course, Letts’ version of individualism (and conservatism) is of a particular hue: namely white. He makes it pretty clear that in his world it’s not Muslims or Lithuanians that bake but homosexual men or older, white, middle-aged women (“mum-next-doorish” types as he describes). As a white, middle class male Letts has the privilege of being one of the most represented groups in mainstream culture (and history in general), so it’s no surprise that he gets a bit uppity when suddenly there are fewer people like him appearing on his favourite television shows. He wants to see more “humdrum, plain-as-white-flour, Middle-English bumblers” (nice to see him appealing to the casual bigotry of equally insecure Middle-Englanders, that infamous squeezed middle beset upon by socialist loons, crafty immigrants and vicious feminists). His privilege is being undermined and whilst this is a good thing because it represents power being more equally distributed and an increase in equality all Letts wants to do is get angry. He expresses his anger (and deep set insecurity) by cracking racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic jokes in his article, no doubt scoffing into his favourite suitably middle class and white supremacist breakfast cereal as he does so. For all his life Letts will have found positive discrimination working in his favour but because it’s so ingrained and commonplace he never will have questioned it, let alone give it a second thought. But now’s it not working in his favour he’s going to kick up a fuss.

“I just wish I didn’t feel, as I looked at the contestants yesterday, that I was being preached at – that the BBC’s social engineers were up to their transparently political tricks again.” Some unintentional comedy gold from Letts here who has just spent a whole article preaching bigotry and narrow-mindedness at us. He accuses the Beeb of having a political agenda whilst clearly forgetting that white, heteronormative, androcentric patriarchy fired at us on a daily basis is itself just drenched in politics. But it doesn’t suit Letts to acknowledge this so instead he’ll deride the “sinister” politics of the BBC, one that favours equality, diversity and representation – you know, those really sinister values. He’s scared these values depart so far from the mainstream “that they often fail to represent adequately that very mainstream” – but Letts doesn’t really care about these people, his article has shown such a lack of compassion that it’s hard to think he cares about anyone, no, he cares about himself and wants more men just like him on TV (he wont’ be happy until Mary Berry’s been replaced by Jeremy Clarkson and Sue Perkins has been ousted for someone overtly heterosexual, such as Katie Hopkins).

So no I don’t approve of what Letts has to say and whilst I won’t risk my life in defence of him saying it I still won’t call for its censorship. His argument is as floppy as a failed souffle and has the soggiest of soggy bottoms. Whilst the BBC’s sinister world of equality and diversity is just brimming with creamy Victoria sponges and rolling Swiss Rolls. He’ll figure it out one day – that a more equal and fair society works out better for everyone, even people like him, but in the meantime we’ll just have to tolerate the bitter aftertaste of his bigotry.

Quentin Letts with spaghetti (interestingly not a baked good)
Quentin Letts with spaghetti (interestingly not a baked good)