Ladette to Lady: How to be an Acceptable Human Being

A while ago I was off school ill and, in the grips of extreme and irreversible boredom, I started browsing through 4OD (for those who don’t know, that’s the website of the UK Channel 4 which allows you to watch recently aired programmes online). I came across the latest series of Ladette to Lady and started watch. To put it mildly: what the hell!

As the name suggests the main aim of Ladette to Lady, is to take a bunch of the “most wayward and shameless girls” they can find, who have previously been involved in such shocking activities as drinking and – brace yourselves, girls – having s-e-x! They then load these girls onto a minibus and ship them to Eggleston Hall, a finishing school for young women, where a group of superior, conceited older women proceed to teach them how to be “real ladies”.

And pray tell; how would one go about creating a “real lady”? Why, through an intensive course of cooking, sewing, elocution, flower-arranging, horse-riding and make-up application, of course. Duh! Because, girls, we all have to remember: the key to being an acceptable human being lies exclusively in whether we are able to satisfactorily explain that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane. Forget your humour and your intelligence and your sense of fun; if you can’t cross-stitch, you’re screwed and you know it. Oh, and do you know what might really help us in the quest to fit into this narrow view of what constitutes being an acceptable human being, sorry, young lady? I think I’d really see the error of my ways if I had a stuck-up, middle-class, privileged harpee standing over me whilst I fumble over my hastily thrown together bouquet, who could helpfully remind me at regular intervals what “whorish scum” I am.

We had better be careful, too: one of the Eggleston Hall teachers delivers the bombshell that "when a woman meets a man she is thinking 'is he a life partner? When a man meets a woman he is thinking 'is she good breeding stock?'" Yeah, cos the first thing that goes through my mind when I meet a guy is totally “hmm…are you or are you not someone with whom I would like to spend the rest of my life?” It makes stepping outside my door very difficult, I can tell you. When you have to stop to consider the relative pros and cons of getting married to every man you see, things like shopping tend to take significantly longer. And I’m sure that every guy who sees me stops to wonder whether my hips are the right width for child-bearing, “and would I really wish that nose on a child?”  One girl is even expelled from the school because among other thing, she is “a bit of a feminist” Oooh, ouch, that’ll totally ruin your chances.

It’s not that I’m saying that it’s necessarily a good thing to act like the girls on this programme pre-idealist feminine makeover. Some of them binge drink, which is never a good idea. Some are involved in crime; equally a big no-no. And perhaps some of them have a view on sex which isn’t exactly safe or in any way desirable. This brings me on to the girls in the series who had jobs that the teachers stuck their nose up at. There was a lumberjack, a gas fitter (the thought of which was shocking to the teachers) and, occasionally, up pops a glamour model or a pole-dancer.

And here’s where I get a bit stuck. I am, as of yet, not sure on my feeling towards pole-dancing, pornography, etc. On the one hand, I absolutely get that it’s brilliant that women are now able to express their sexuality so openly and I’m delighted that it’s acceptable for females to be seen as sexual beings who don’t feel obliged to repress their desires. On the other hand, there’s something about a woman contorting and displaying herself for the pleasure of a load of leering men, whether they be the ones crowding round her pole in a club, or buying a magazine with her on the cover, which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Whatever my views on the subject, however, I would never look down on a woman who chose a career in glamour-modelling or pole-dancing. It’s her choice, and who am I to say whether or not, for her, it is a liberating experience or a cause for shame? Unfortunately, the Eggleston Hall teachers do not share my view and I think it’s disgusting how obviously they look down upon women who have made such choices with what are, crucially, their own lives. I’m not sure where Mrs Shrager the cook was during the sexual revolution; probably waiting for her frittatas to finish breathing, or whatever.

So whereas I’m sure some of the activities these women partake in are not ideal for anyone (the prolific binge-drinking springs to mind) I have to wonder about whoever thought that this was the way to fix it. If I wanted to help someone overcome their alcohol problem I’d do something sensible like take them to an AA meeting or talk through the reason they had for drinking. My first port of call would not be, however, teaching them to make soufflé. Why?  Cos that’s stupid.

And why all this focus on women? Why is it our job to uphold the morals of society? There are loads of young men running riot around the cities, drinking too much, getting into fights and sleeping with lots of women, and yet we put this down to “just boys being boys” or “sewing their wild oats”, but as soon as women start participating in this sort of behaviour, it’s turned into some sort of global crisis. It’s so bad in fact, that we now have a whole television show devoted to sorting out these problem women by imposing upon them twisted, sexist principles of behaviour. There is no male-counterpart of Ladette to Lady in which wild young men are bullied – and it is bullying – into outdated stereotypes of chivalry and brusque “manhood” in order to fulfil their life’s purpose of finding a wife and being “good breeding stock”. Why not?

It’s bullying, then, that gets results in the end. At the climax of the series there is unfailingly a large, ostentatious ball in which the few successfully reformed “ladies” are unveiled. There is crying and sentimental speeches about how lives have been changed and lessons learnt. So, it’s a success, right? Wrong. It’s a success only for bullying and harassment.

You see, the teachers will always have the upper hand here. Sure, some students rebel. They feel something’s wrong with the ideals of ladyhood that’s being preached to them. All the teachers have to do is sit there on their comfy chairs, sipping calmly from their china teacups whilst the poor women become ever shriller and more vulgar in their inability to explain just what is so wrong with the things they’re being told. And they can’t do it; they’re no match for the highly-educated female teachers who can win viewer sympathy with a quick turn of phrase and the wrinkle of a powdered nose. Their student, quite often, simply cannot verbalise their outrage and so end up skulking away, tails between their legs, feeling well and truly outed and inferior. Because that is what the success of this programme hinges on: making women feel like they’re not good enough as they are.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Media
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Laura H
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