If Bad Lads Army (2002 – 2006) represents the best of the historical reality tv show then Ladette to Lady (2005 – 2010) is categorically the worst. The thing about history is that you don’t need to go too far back before things become a bit problematic. Bad Lad’s Army dealt with this well, all of the life lessons taught are still applicable today, and the issues the period generates act mostly as a window into how far we’ve come. Ladette to Lady gives us none of that.
Ladette to Lady sees a group of ladettes, usually heavy drinking, party girls who indulge in laddish behaviour, go to Eggleston Hall, a finishing school in Teesdale, where they learn all the skills a woman needs to survive in this day and age; needlework, ballroom dancing, comportment, and elocution. At the end of each week, the three teachers decide which contestant has performed the worst and ‘expel’ them, until eventually, one is crowned winner.
Ladette to Lady is a ghastly and humiliating exercise in snobbery. I have few good things to say about it. The lessons taught are mildly interesting at best and horribly sexist at worst. Eggleston Hall’s primary objective seems to be to teach young women that they are to be seen and not heard and are to serve their husbands in everyway imaginable. The Australian version of the show has a contestant who sums the entire process up in one sentence “You’re just teaching us how to be decorated fuck dolls for the men, Miss” This sentence may as well count as about 60% of this review because it is as concise and accurate a criticism as anyone could give.
The contestants are difficult, that much goes without saying, after all they’re loud, brass, party animals, but all of them more or less quickly settle down and so by the time you get to about week 3, the trouble makers have all been ‘expelled’ (or freed) and the remainer are outgoing but essentially well-meaning in their desire to gain something from the series. That means that the teachers often have to resort to finding more and more ridiculous criticisms, include one particularly egregious example where a girl is chastised for producing an Australian flag while participating in a horse ride.
The teachers are almost entirely unredeemable. You will never find a more repulsive collection of hags in your life, to brand them snobs would be a gross understatement. They constantly look down their noses at the contestants and the whole thing quickly starts to reek of those horrible re-education camps that Native Americans were forced to endure in the 19th and early 20th century. There is one exception to this though, Rosemary Shrager somehow manages to come off as likable and perhaps the only one who is truly invested in the well-being of the girls. They all go to her when they have a problem, and when one girl is expelled because of her alcohol issues, Shrager is the only one who bothers to step outside and comfort her because she’s in tears, deeming herself a failure and lamenting the one chance she had to actually learn and improve. It’s Shrager, not the other two harridans, who talk to this girl and urge her to get the help she needs. It’s a truly touching moment and displays Shrager in full mother goose mode.
The series is remarkably sexist. It wouldn’t be an issue if it actually dissected these problems and portrayed the finishing school system for what it was/is, a way to turn young girls into the perfect little housewife. When men visit, they are to be waited on by the girls, they are to endure their misogynistic remarks in good humour and are swiftly chastised if they don’t. One girl was actually reduced to tears of frustration after one toffy nosed minor aristocrat make a joke about using a whip on her in a sexual manner. She was seen to be in the wrong by the teachers. The subjects they teach could be interesting, I’m a firm believer that almost every hobby is valid and do not wish to insult to mock anyone who finds flower arranging or ball room dancing interesting, they can be, but when a school sets out to teach these things as though they were life skills and vital to a woman’s success in life, I have a problem. Cookery is the only thing I saw that would be of any use in day to day life and even that is portrayed as something a woman does to please her man and keep a home. I am sure that to the teachers at Eggleston Hall, the ideal outcome of the finishing school process would be for a woman to marry well, produce heirs for her husband, and keep a household. It is archaic and derogatory.
The horror doesn’t even stop when the contestants leave the school, you see, at the end of the series, the teachers pay a visit to some of the girls in their hometowns, to check if they are maintaining school standards. On such example is a woman who works as a mechanic in her local garage and enjoys it greatly. She joins in with the banter of the guys she’s working with, likes getting stuck in to things and is probably very good at what she does. When she leaves the show, she goes back to work and when the teachers find out about this they cannot help but hide their disappointment. You can run, you can hide, but you can never escape the keen, judgemental eye of the harpies of Eggleston Hall.
Ladette to Lady is a horrid little show, providing no useful life lessons, criticising women for making their own choices, and providing a window into a deeply misogynistic system that, unfortunately still exists. I hate almost every aspect of it.