Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Laura H on 03/17/2010

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.

the ladettes

the ladettes

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.

...to ladies

...to ladies

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.

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  • Toongrrl @ at 11:57 am, March 17th, 2010

    I think I’m starting to prefer the days when my parents nagged me to act “like a lady” and when such parents pushed their kids into Charm School. It still kills me when a a feisty girl of substance and heart is pressured to act more “delicate.” Recommend “Reviving Ophelia” for this and this “Hey Arnold!” clip for an intresting look at such schools and manners.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I0U1Y_H5jc&feature=PlayList&p=DC0E1772732235A8&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=47

  • Amy CT @ at 1:29 pm, March 17th, 2010

    Yay! Another UK FBomb-er! :)

    I have never watched that show, and never intend to… principally because of your comment here:

    “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.”

    – OUCH.

  • Vee @ at 2:20 pm, March 17th, 2010

    I think I watched half an episode of this and I couldn’t stand it because, as you said, its main aim was to make these women think they were not good enough as they were.

    I might be wrong, but I think there is a male counterpart of this called “From G’s to Gents” on MTV. I haven’t watched it but I don’t think it is as extreme as Ladettes to Ladies.

  • Ruthie G @ at 6:20 pm, March 17th, 2010

    Once I saw some promotional stuff for this show. They had the teachers and a couple of the women from the last series. They lamented the way one of them used to work on a building site and-shock horror, get the sniffing salts!-wore jeans. The two women looked like they were very close to slapping the teacher and walking off when she appladed them for how “respectable” they looked. I remember this because it was the first time it occured to me that some people might disapprove of feminism.

  • Mvibes @ at 7:56 pm, March 17th, 2010

    Vee: Ive seen from Gs to gents. No, its not as extreme as any of the “become a lady” shows. (I know of 3 in the US alone! And I dont even watch tv much…imagine how many there really are).
    These shows are rediculous, theres nothing wrong with acting that way. Unless your doing things that will hurt yourself, others around you, or are illegal there is no reason to change how you are to fit someone elses “standards of a lady”. But even if you are doing something that needs to be changed GET PROFFESIONAL HELP, not the help of some snob who thinks they are never wrong.

  • Red El @ at 12:16 pm, March 18th, 2010

    I’d be oddly tempted to try and get myself onto this, if only to demonstrate that I already have a rather excellent grasp of social niceties, cooking, sewing, wearing dresses, being delicate, etc, and have actively chosen not to use those frilly little skills in favour of having an actual life.

    Anyone else want to join me, and have a go at sabotaging their efforts to humiliate women on TV?

  • Apples and Porsches » Blog Archive » Wholestyle on the Web @ at 1:13 pm, March 18th, 2010

    [...] The F Bomb: Ladette to Lady – How to be an Acceptable Human Being Harsh (and deserved) criticism of a reality show that takes young women and molds them into “real ladies” [...]

  • Julian Morrison @ at 9:16 am, March 19th, 2010

    The pictures say enough. Input: diversity; output: conformity.

  • Thurman Selke @ at 11:56 am, March 20th, 2010

    So after all talking about her do you guys think she has a penis ?

  • Freya Barnard @ at 12:40 am, March 21st, 2010

    are you all retarded? The show is a JOKE there is nothing real about reality TV and the women are all volunteers

  • Kit @ at 5:52 pm, March 22nd, 2010

    I am so annoyed by shows like this, it makes me angry to even know they exist. Women have made such progress in recent years, or so I thought. The fact that someone could constitute what a ‘real lady’ is is appalling. I’m just as much a woman as the girls who act all proper and housewife-y are. It also makes me mad that people would go on a show to change who they are. So what if you don’t fit someone else’s standards of what a ‘lady’ is? And if you’re worried about getting a guy, most guys I know would prefer that you just be who you are, not a conformist who feels her only role on Earth is to marry, procreate, and care for her husband. In fact, most guys like a girl who speaks her mind. And even if they don’t, why would you want to date them anyway?

  • Jake Eady @ at 12:25 pm, March 27th, 2010

    After watching an episode of this I felt absolutely sick, this is by far one of the most appauling examples of dicrimination I have seen in this century.

    Notice that in the “…to ladies” photo above, all of these ‘ladies’ look almost identical!: same hat, same sunshades; same style of top…hmm…to think that religion is accused of ‘breeding cattle’ so to speak, yet in comparison this programme is more despicable and disgraceful. In comparison Religion is not prejudiced & discriminatory.

    And what a fantastic article by the way Laura!, a powerful eye-opener to the deeper workings & realities of this abominable programme. Thankyou *****

  • Feminist Blog Carnival No. 16: Beauty Edition! « Beauty Schooled @ at 7:41 am, March 31st, 2010

    [...] fbomb reassures us that televised gender stereotypes are being enforced on both sides of the pond with  Ladette to Lady: How to be an Acceptable Human Being. [...]

  • Kitegirlcoach @ at 5:25 pm, April 23rd, 2010

    Hi guys, my turn. I’ve watched 3 or 4 of the series now and love it. The producers tell us we’re watching a “social experiment” by taking ladies from a British upper class finishing school and handing them an assortment of those as far as possible from what you would describe as a lady.

    A few are tomboys, often brought up with little female influence in their early lives (not always of course) and most are the “tarts”. The ones desperate for attention or for provoking a reaction; behaving as badly and loudly as they can for a reason they cannot explain. ALL are volunteers. It creates a lot of friction and dramatic moments – perfect for reality tv and a whole lot more lively than Big Brother, let’s face it.

    Why choose these volunteers? Well, if they put in a bundle of middle class wannabe princesses in there the series wouldn’t be half as interesting to watch.

    Something really fascinating happened as the show progressed though. Firstly we were watching the teachers struggling just as much as the girls. They’d never dealt with students such as these and it left them exasperated. Yes, they were making mistakes, telling the girls even their best efforts were crap. As more series were filmed though, the teachers really got to question why they do the thing they do and we got more interviews from them about the psychology behind it. These were questions I bet they’d never asked themselves before.

    Once they understood themselves, the teachers changed their ways, started to encourage when they saw genuine effort and offer more support rather than berating … a beautiful thing to see.

    Two main things they realised they were teaching these girls. Firstly, they were teaching them how to LEARN again, the only way to grow and improve your life. The lessons had to be obscure to make them a harder challenge. (If you’d told the girls they were going to get a pole dancing lesson, it wouldn’t be a challenge for some of them.) So trying to tackle a totally new subject and feeling good about putting in a good effort became a massive psychological win for these girls, most of whom had stopped learning how to learn a long time ago.

    Secondly, many of the girls had really low self esteem. No respect for themselves. So all they drew into their lives were people who didn’t respect them either. Not a place anyone wants to be. By getting them all to raise the bar and put more effort into looking after themselves; presenting themselves in a way that would give them access to a wider range of people, using manners to get good manners in return and show them they had much more value than they gave themselves credit for, it could literally be life changing.

    Some of the girls didn’t get it, would rebel and be chucked out quickly. But you’d see about 2/3rds of the way through each series there would be just a few who suddenly got it. Who understood, even if they couldn’t put it into words, and started putting in huge effort to stay there because they could see the value of what they were getting out of it.

    Don’t underestimate this show, particularly from series 3 and up, once the teachers understood what they were offering was not how to skin a rabbit, but how to respect and love yourself.
    It’s more precious than you might think.

  • Ignacio Gjesdal @ at 3:30 am, May 1st, 2010

    I really enjoyed this post. I can tell you put in a great deal of effort and time into this post. I will be back to read more as you post more!

  • Ward Axelrod @ at 2:17 am, August 1st, 2010

    I really found your post helpful. Although I know some about the topic, I haven’t ever come across the information that you wrote about. Appreciate the post.

  • Alexa @ at 3:55 pm, May 3rd, 2011

    Annoying show, excellent piece!

  • lucy @ at 6:19 am, October 22nd, 2011

    THIS PERSON WILL DEFINITLY GAIN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE AS SHE IS OUT OF CONTROL.

  • DarkElf_95 @ at 5:21 am, October 16th, 2012

    ‘Secondly, many of the girls had really low self esteem. No respect for themselves.’

    What respect is a girl going to have for herself if she is being forced into being subserviant; forced into an outdated stereotype that should never ever be revisted?

    Personally, I could never watch this show without feeling as ting of tears that this was even being broadcast on prime time TV, and thank you so much Laura for posting this – my feelings exactly ^^

  • DarkElf_95 @ at 5:29 am, October 16th, 2012

    Extending on that last point, I also wanted to point out the amount of ‘related’ adverts to (I’m guessing) a predominantly female audience. In almost every single ad break, there were adverts for make-up, hair products, and a sliding wardrobe that apparently had no other use but to store masses of high-heeled shoes that are later seen being worn ‘innocently’ by a female toddler trying to walk.

    Just these at the same time are fully reinforcing a female stereotype based purely on image.

    As a recommended read, I’m going to suggest The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard. Once you read it, the feeling of injustice will possibly never end.

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