Lancaster University

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‘Ladette’ culture on the increase in the classroom

09/15/2004 13:28:27

The ‘ladette’ culture associated with high-profile celebrities such as Zoe Ball, Denise van Outen and Sara Cox is on the increase among teenage girls at Britain’s secondary schools, according to teachers interviewed as part of a study carried out at Lancaster University.

Girls as young as 13 are increasingly showing such behaviours as smoking, swearing, fighting, drinking, disrupting lessons, being open about sex, and being cheeky and loud, according to a study by Dr Carolyn Jackson at the Department of Educational Research.

Dr Jackson carried out the research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, at six schools in the north of England - around 1000 pupils completed questionnaires, and she interviewed 150 pupils and 30 teachers. She will present her findings at the British Educational Research Association Conference in Manchester on September 16.

It is the first time that academic research has been carried out into school-age ‘ladettes’ even though the term has been widely used and reported in the media, says Dr Jackson. “Initially the term ‘ladette’ was associated mainly with post-school-age young women. However, more recently the press has reported concerns about schoolgirls becoming ‘ladettes’.”

Within the classroom environment, ‘ladettes’ are portrayed by fellow pupils as hard, loud, disruptive, rude to teachers, mildly aggressive to some other pupils and frequently swearing, according to Dr Jackson’s research. Teachers also suggest that ‘ladettes’ are aggressively assertive, “in your face” and arrogant.

One teacher said: “I think the girls are becoming an awful lot more assertive in the way they deal with things, not always for the right reasons… I’m very much in favour of women being assertive but I don’t like the element of arrogance that goes with it. You’ve got to draw that line between, sometimes they appear to be almost bordering on rude.”

Another added: “I’ve noticed quite a considerable change in the patterns of the girls in the last, I would say, 5-10 years. I noticed it particularly with the girls we have now at present in school… I think children will question things that you say to them now in a way that possibly they wouldn’t have done, certainly 10 years ago.”

And another said: “I think more and more now you’re getting girls who are louder than boys.”

Outside of school, teachers were particularly concerned about how much alcohol girls drink and the consequences of getting drunk for their behaviours and their safety. The girls identified as ‘ladettes’ said little in the interviews to allay these fears – almost all confirmed that a relatively large proportion of girls go out drinking, particularly at weekends.

One girl said: “Most parents are like ‘you can drink but don’t drink a lot’ and so they’ll say ‘right, I’m sleeping at my mate’s house’. And then they’ll be drinking all night and all day and they’ll come home with big headaches.”

The research reports that teachers are concerned about the ‘ladette’ culture but that such concern can involve double standards – teachers expect more interruptions from boys and may be more tolerant of them than of girls. Some of the ways in which boys are disruptive are seen as ‘harmless fun’ and the perpetrators as ‘loveable rogues’.

For boys, worries about ‘laddish’ behaviour centre around academic achievement and classroom management. For girls, concerns also related to their sexuality, safety and morality. For example, some teachers found drinking much more worrying when the drinkers were girls, and the same applied to fighting.