Hey girls, be ladies and enslave yourself to men

Are you a foul-mouthed, domestic disaster of a young woman who cares more about footy than fashion, enjoys sex and can drink a bloke under the table? Then you should know that the Australian version of the British reality TV show, Ladette to Lady, is looking for you.

Good on Channel 9 for picking up the ball on this gem of a concept, and the Sunday Age for splashing the story-such as it was-across the front page of last week’s paper. If the chronicling of the descent of young Australian women to abject unmarriageability, and their restoration to the status of useless appendage by the matrons of an English finishing school, isn’t a matter of national importance, I don’t know what is.

You only need to imagine a man in the role of a Ladette to grasp the show’s fundamental misogyny. A man claiming to be “thrilled” at what he’s “achieved” in the wake of a successful flower-arranging session; a man being told in all seriousness that the acquisition of the proper technique for imbibing champagne will give him the self-confidence necessary to progress further in life; a man still smiling from the fun of a minor food fight being asked pointedly whether he had seen himself in the mirror. It would never, ever happen. Only women’s capacities and aspirations could be trivialized in the frank and unapologetic manner that is the trademark of Ladette to Lady.

The show also reeks of classism, implying in a none-too-subtle fashion that it is lower-class attitudes, accents and fiscal imperatives that have brought the lady-like ideal to its knees. Ladettes are instructed in elocution and deportment, and the inadequacy of their working class salaries to support a lady’s life of leisure – Ladettes work as gas fitters and tanning salon operators – is underscored. It is the necessary fiscal dependence of a lady that explains the centrality in the show’s format of activities where the Ladettes are paraded like ponies before wealthy men, and offered the chance to use their feminine wiles to trap one into marriage.

Indeed, it was the frank encouragement the crone-like instructresses at Eggleston Hall gave to the Ladettes to abandon their economic and emotional independence from men for the better life available through submission to the dictates of femininity that depressed me most of all. These women are the 21st century’s foot-binders. Indeed, they are worse than the Chinese mother and grandmothers who ritually crippled their daughters’ feet because at least the fate these women were attempting to help their daughters avoid through a good marriage was the short, brutish and nasty life of a female peasant.

Nothing so noble is going on here. Instead the staff at Eggleston Hall are the unabashed handmaidens of the patriarchy, thieving the self-confidence and self-esteem that is essential to their young charges’ rebellion and using the feminine ideal as a cudgel to beat the brash and non-conformist Ladettes into submission.

The rise of Ladette to Lady suggests that, at the start of the 21sth century, there is nothing more fearsome than young women happy in their own company, more interested in fun than pleasing men or getting married, and comfortable in using the purchasing power derived from their independent incomes to avoid the tedious tasks that have defined the lives of women for millennia. “Who cares if you can…bake a cake,” one young woman told The Sunday Age. “You can buy cakes from the cake shop.”

Well exactly.

Publication history

Bianca Stevens expelled from Ladette to Lady  Illawarra Mercury
Hey girls, be ladies and enslave yourself to men  Sunday Sun-Herald (Sydney)