Oh, Mary, Mary – cheer us up you really have said something quite contrary, you know? Contrary to reason, to common sense, contrary to anything that’s helpful, wanted or needed by women, right here, right now.
I’m talking, you may already have deduced, about Mary Berry and the startling pronouncements she has made on the subject of feminism. ‘I would always stand up for women,’ she told The Sunday Times. ‘But I don’t want women’s rights and all that sort of thing… I love to have men around and I suppose if you’re a true feminist you get on and do it yourself. I love it when someone says, I’ll get your coat or, I’ll look after you, or offers you a seat on the bus. I’m thrilled to bits. I’m not a feminist.’ She also deplored how women taking their full maternity leave entitlement made running a business so hard for small companies.
It is always disorienting when someone you admire and hitherto – at least as far as I am concerned with Mary Berry – is uncritically adored for his or her talent, style self-possession, joie de vivre and all-round splendidness lets you down. If an actor you like reveals that he or she is a Scientologist (yes, Elisabeth Moss, I’m looking straight at you, and Tom Cruise, you needn’t think I’ll ever forget where the rot started to set in either), you can shrug, grin and bear it. When it comes from women you look up to using their public profile to address issues that directly affect us all, it is more difficult to retain one’s equanimity – if retaining equanimity is even the desirable thing to do in such situations.
If you have a public profile, you have power. Power to influence people with your opinions, to persuade them to support your cause, or to revolutionise a nation’s baking skills and bring joy to the hearts of the citizenry with every blue and dancing twinkle of your eyes (oh Mary, I do adore you.)
But if you have power you have responsibilities, and one of them is not to speak out unless you are well-acquainted enough with an issue to know that your understanding of its details can bear the disproportionate weight your utterances carry. In Berry’s case, not supporting ‘women’s rights’ offers succour to all those who do not consider women, and who do not like women to consider themselves, equal to men. And it makes things just a little harder for all those actively fighting the fight for such equality and all those suffering at the darker end of the misogynist spectrum – from harassment, abuse, violence – to change things for others and for themselves.
If you have a public profile you have power to influence
No-one – ideally in private but especially in public – should declare themselves not a feminist. Particularly as, unless you are someone who is actively refusing or campaigning against women having the right to work, vote, not be beaten or forced into sex by your husband or anyone else, or to earn the same amount of money as a man, YOU ARE A FEMINIST. You like someone paying you small compliments and courtesies or looking after you? That’s not anti-feminist. That’s human. Men like it too. That’s why they spent so many happy centuries getting wives, servants and minions at work to do it for them.
But most of my pain upon hearing Mary Berry’s words – and at one point I did find myself with my head in my hands and groaning, ‘Why? Why?!’ like a broken-hearted lover is due to a circumstance beyond her control. It is due to the fact that I cannot afford to be let down by her because there are so few of her ilk out there.
By that I mean that there are far fewer older, confident, attractive, successful women in the public eye than there should be (effectively retired by the men who tend to have jobs and roles in their gift – another reason we still need feminism) to whom I can look for mental salvation on the increasingly frequent occasions that the idea of falling into a dusty heap of osteoporosis and regret in the years to come starts beating its fearsome wings too wildly in my head.
I’ve got her, Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, Madonna, Fern Britton and that’s it. And I haven’t got the bosom or the social activism to emulate most of them with any great success (though I’d have a gastric band and a crack at Strictly Come Dancing anytime).
I need Mary. I shouldn’t take this out on her, of course. Berry, after all, didn’t contract with us to do anything other than hone our lemon meringue-making skills – and if she’s more important (to me, to us) than she knows or suspects, that is not, after all, her problem. On the other hand, we may legitimately protest whenever anyone shores up an imperfect status quo, and especially when they do so publicly. United we stand, divided we fall – and hard.”
Do you agree with Lucy? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @StylistMagazine
Picture credit: Rex Features