Baking – with added vitriol

Last night was not a great night for our student group to be doing the second week of an all-church Bible study that has to be done at the same time as everyone else. Several guys arrived at my flat wanting to know if we could have the Arsenal match on ‘in the background’ (everyone knows there is no such thing as ‘in the background’ when it comes to football); I, on the other hand, was in a state of frenzy at the fact that while I was leading a meditation on Genesis 37, anyone not watching football was watching three women bake cakes and pies.

This year’s GBBO final is the most watched of all the series – 8.4 million people watched last night (that’s more than X Factor apparently). It’s also been fiercely debated in the media and on social media. I had at least two fierce debates with people on Facebook yesterday about who should win – nothing terribly unusual about that, in competitive arenas people are always going to have their favourites. Just as the guys were desperate to see an Arsenal victory last night, I had strong views about who should win a national amateur cake baking competition.

I’d had strong views last year too – I’d loved the work of John & James and therefore I wanted ‘anyone but Brendan’ to win. I wasn’t out to destroy Brendan, I just liked the other two more. That’s how life works. [I’ve been re-watching that series recently and it is a classic. James and Sue need their own baking show!]

GBBOFinalists2013Ruby, Kimberley & Frances.

This year, I wasn’t overly keen on either Kimberley or Ruby – if pushed, I’d take Kimberley on her consistent technical skills – but I loved Frances’ creativity. One friend argued that she wanted Ruby to win ‘because she was so vulnerable and pocket-sized’, but last time I checked, vulnerability wasn’t a way of avoiding a soggy bottom. I wanted her to gain some confidence in her skills – to apologise a couple of times for what you think are terrible bakes (but it emerges aren’t) is fine; to do it consistently is not. Friends debated whether Kimberley appeared smug thanks to editing – but is simply saying that “I’ve baked this before” during a technical challenge really a sign of smugness? Surely it’s just stating fact?

Opinions are fine – but not when they cross the line. What got interesting about this year’s competition is that so much of the criticism was in relation to the finalists’ gender and size. Last year, I don’t recall sexuality being used in such a way, even though 2 of the 3 finalists were openly gay. Why should female bakers still attract such ridiculous interest?

Ruby puts it brilliantly in a column for the Guardian:

Raymond Blanc waded in on the commentary to so helpfully deride the “female tears” on the show. (What are “female tears”, anyway? Are they more fragile and delicate than male tears? Do they wear pink?) Kimberley’s self-assurance – a character trait so lauded in men– has been rebranded as smugness, cockiness and even malice.

It’s a culture of frilly baking versus macho Michelin stars, of real chefs versus domestic goddesses. Food has become divided and gendered, torn between the serious sport of haute cuisine and the supposedly antithetical world of women pottering around in home kitchens.

I saw one male friend complain that the presence of 7 women to 1 man in the semi-final (that’s 1 male judge, 1 female judge, 2 presenters & 4 female contestants) was indicative of the assumption that baking was a female activity. Has he not seen the prevalence of male finalists in previous years? That the series is gender balanced to begin with and baking is judged on talent alone? That seeing women outnumber men on a prime time TV show is still a flipping rarity in Britain??

Another friend posted a link to Ruby’s column this morning, with the comment “now to face up to this in the church too”. I couldn’t agree more. If the world of food has become gendered, how much more is the church? Are “female tears” derided? Is self-assurance seen as smugness or malice? Is there still the assumption that if there’s food to be cooked, women will do it? I’m sure you can come up with your own answers…

Great-British-Bake-Off-2165415Farewell, class of 2013! (Incidentally, did anyone else notice Deborah’s brilliant new hairstyle in the final?) 

Back to the Bake Off. I have a suggestion for the BBC (well two, see above idea of the James & Sue Baking Show). The Bake Off moves to BBC1 next year, now that it’s considered to be mainstream enough. So, how about we make a bit more of the final? This year, there was a rumour that the winner had been leaked – so avoiding a repeat of this would be ideal. A good way to do this would be to make the final a live one.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but actually perfectly doable. Have the same tents in Somerset, broadcast the day’s baking (perhaps just the showstopper) via the BBC’s red button so you can dip in and out whenever you want to. A friend even suggested multiple ‘oven cams’ so you could choose which cake you wanted to watch rising. Then at the end of the day, BBC1 could broadcast the judge’s decision live. Fabulous. What do you think, BBC?

Oh, and for those who don’t know, my favourite won. Frances made a gorgeous wedding cake and looked stunned when she received her celebratory cake stand. There were audible whoops of joy from my living room. Until next year, Paul & Mary…

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