Following the tragic death of Sarah Everard, Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite speaks out on an issue that has affected women for generations and says little has changed in the 21st century, but celebrating Easter gives us hope of new beginnings. . .
As a young girl growing up in the seventies, there were things I was used to seeing. Things that made a woman’s naked body as commonplace as the Kellogg’s logo. . .
I grew up in my family’s respectable hotel and ate my breakfast in my junior school uniform amongst a sea of male guests reading their morning newspapers. And I thought nothing of the lady in The Sun winking back at me, bare chested, often licking a lollipop with hair in bunches identical to mine. Really? I hear you say. Really? You didn’t think that was at all strange?
I thought it no stranger when slightly older I used to help behind the bar. When a packet of nuts was requested, I plucked them from a card, where, if the right packet was selected it revealed yet another smiling lady in a similar bare pose.
Now you may think I grew up in a den of iniquity surrounded by porn on all sides, but I promise you this was just the seventies. Or do I say eighties, nineties and right up until January 2015 when ‘page three’ was finally disbanded after women campaigned. Hard to believe isn’t it? Six years ago.
I grew up with ads where girls applied body spray naked, where Miss World, dressed only in a bikini, advertised milk. Even British Rail had a naked woman boarding a train! It was clearly the era where you could have thought the phrase ‘sex sells’ was invented. But that little tagline came about in 1870, so this problem has been around for an exceptionally long time. . .
My daughters have grown up in a slightly less overt media, but their challenges have been equally hard. They have grown up with the lawless internet, where children as young as seven or eight will admit they’ve accidentally seen graphic porn. But whilst we compared stories of our experiences following the tragic death of Sarah Everard, we realised that not much has really changed at all. We had all, as young as 12, been sexually yelled at from cars or building sites whilst still in uniform and carrying school bags. We all personally knew a female who had been attacked, groped, stalked or raped. These statistics from a 49-year-old, a 22-year-old, and a 16-year-old made that extremely depressing and equally clear that not a great deal has changed.
The recent murder was discussed in ‘Personal Development’ at my daughter’s high school, and she was devastated with what some of her peers said. That you should be flattered if you’re yelled at and from a building site. Really? That women shouldn’t be “so dramatic”. Honestly? Even a teacher confessed “I know it’s really bad, but I don’t care when women share their (abuse) stories online”. I was equally horrified on her behalf, because if that’s the rot that’s already set in young people’s minds, how are we to ever dislodge it? How do we make it clear to them that a cat call from a balding builder, leaning from some scaffolding is not a compliment on how nice you are looking that day? And it’s not dramatic when a boyfriend forces you to do anything that you don’t consent to. You, as young women are worth more. Far, far more.
I’ve also heard mothers of sons saying that we shouldn’t speak so frankly about the abuse young women experience because it could demoralise young males, that it could endanger their mental health and their self-esteem. Surely by being open and speaking about what some men are capable of is exactly how to show young men right from wrong? To empower them to be the friend who calls out his mates when ‘harmless’ banter becomes threatening or demeaning.
My mother-in-law told me a story that as a young 16-year-old secretary in a steel firm, when about to deliver some files to a particular department, an elder secretary told her: “Oh I’m not allowing you to enter that office, it’s not safe in there.”
A few days later she was requested to deliver again and with no one else available, she entered the office with trepidation. As she nervously rushed along to complete her delivery through an obstacle course of desks, she accidentally tripped and unceremoniously landed heavily on the floor.
The whooping and sexually demeaning yells continued until a far gentler male left his desk and helped her up and straightened her papers. That man who knew better won her heart and became her husband and grandfather to my children. That, that is the lesson surely? As females and males, we are of course intrinsically different, our struggles and insecurities may differ, but if there is kindness, if we boldly stand out from the crowd and call out bad behaviour, then we all become part of the same tribe.
Which is why I had to, simply HAD to have my say today and not shy away from possible feelings of unpleasantness, because shying away and shrouding feelings is what makes things turn murky.
Despite not being terribly religious I know enough that Easter at its core was about speaking out and standing firmly for what was believed to be right, and now is celebrated as a time of hope, new beginnings and rebirth. Maybe this Easter break it’s a perfect time to have one conversation with someone you love, male or female, young or old about how you both feel? It may surprise you what they’ve been holding onto.
May I wish everyone an incredibly happy Easter – eat, drink and above all, love each other x
MY FAVOURITE CARROT CAKE
We all have those recipes that are like jewels, much coveted and ultimately prized – they become this from being so good because you can’t resist them, and because they are requested to be made time and time again by friends and family. This was certainly the case when I made it day in and day out for our first café, and yes, requests for the recipe used to come thick and fast from its loyal following.
It’s remarkably simple, based on many different carrot cakes I’ve tried out over the years. No fancy food mixers needed, although I do use an old-fashioned handheld electric whisk to beat the oil and sugar. It’s ready in less than an hour from start to finish and will elevate your baking reputation to superstar overnight. Perfect for any teatime, but really suits an Easter celebration. You can have some fun with young bakers by making sugar paste carrots to adorn rather than walnuts, and I always find there are plenty of willing volunteers to help clean the cream cheese frosting bowl. . .
Butter for greasing
225g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1½ teaspoon of mixed spice
225g of soft light brown sugar
225ml of flavourless oil, I used vegetable oil but you could also use sunflower or rapeseed
3 large free range eggs
200g grated carrots – approximately 3-4 carrots depending on size
100g broken walnuts (but pecans would be delicious too) Reserve 8 left whole for decorating.
For the cream cheese frosting:
375g cream cheese, at room temperature
90g butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
A dash of lemon juice
125g icing sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F
Grease 2 x 8-inch sandwich cake tins with butter and line with greaseproof paper.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and the mixed spice into a large bowl.
Whisk the oil and the light brown sugar in a large jug, then beat in the eggs one at a time until thick and incorporated, then pour into the flour mixture.
Add the carrots and the nuts of choice and mix until no flour is visible and all the ingredients are incorporated.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tins, making sure there is an equal amount in each.
Bake in the oven for around 25-35 minutes – the cakes are ready when the cake is risen, no longer feels wobbly on top, and springs back when pressed.
Leave to cool in tin, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
For the frosting:
In a bowl beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract and lemon juice on medium high until light and whippy, then incorporate the icing sugar and beat again.
Determine the top and bottom of the cake halves and arrange the bottom half on a plate or cake stand of your choice. With a palette knife generously slather the frosting on the bottom half, do this confidently – if you dither or are too sparing with the frosting the carrot cake will crumble into your frosting. Make sure to push the frosting to the outside edges of your cake, which will
give the end appearance a full and bountiful look. Carefully arrange the top cake layer and frost in the same way.
When finished, swish the palette knife to ruffle the frosting.
Place reserved walnut halves/sugar paste carrots around the top of the cake.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Read Gemma’s blog at gemwithrelish.com
Call 01284 277980