Have you always wanted to know the “proper” way to eat a banana using a fork and knife? If so, Netflix’s “Mind Your Manners” will be right up your alley (quite literally — it’s the opening shot, and maybe that should’ve been the first red flag). While the idea of “Mind Your Manners” isn’t necessarily problematic, some alarm bells are quickly set off as ideas about social norms and etiquette are brought up throughout the show.
Less about manners than the title implies, “Mind Your Manners” is more a makeover show in which etiquette expert Sara Jane Ho works closely with one individual in each episode to improve various aspects of their lives. Since ideas about etiquette and class are very old and traditional to begin with, it’s not all that surprising that the show comes across as outdated and out of touch in today’s world. Alternatively, a show about table manners where participants struggle to learn which fork is the salad fork and which spoon is the soup spoon would have been an amusing concept, and that’s what the title suggests the show would be more about. Poking fun at the idea that there is a correct way to eat or a correct way to walk (with straight posture and a book on your head) is the lighthearted show “Mind Your Manners” failed to be.
The first episode stars a 25-year-old Black woman, Stephanie Osifo. A self-proclaimed party-girl, Osifo went on the show hoping to tone down her alter ego “Ya Bish” into a classier version of herself. Osifo offered some insight into why she puts on a persona and wears so much makeup when she goes out, remarking that it is rooted in wanting to give people something else to talk about when they look at her beyond the scarred skin that she was bullied for as a child. While getting to the root of her insecurities and working to improve them is probably something that would be better taken care of in therapy, there’s no reason “Mind Your Manners” couldn’t have taken on some lighter aspects of it. At the very least, Ho should have listened to Osifo more by showing her some new ways to dress or wear makeup that are closer to the version of herself she hopes to become.
When it attempts to help Osifo obtain her classier persona, “Mind Your Manners” fails to approach the makeover in a way that still allows Osifo to be true to herself. The first lesson that Ho embarks on to make Osifo “more like a lady” is changing the way Osifo talks, claiming that she needs to “improve (her) diction” and “lower (her) volume.” In this sentence alone there is so much to unpack, but Ho later says to the camera, “Steph doesn’t enunciate properly, which is fine if you’re in a nightclub. But sometimes, you have to be taken seriously, and language is the way we navigate the world.” The idea that a “lady” must speak a certain way and at a low volume adheres to outdated ideals and reinforces ideas that women should be submissive and try to take up as little space as possible out of convenience for others. Saying that Osifo needs to “improve her diction” and “doesn’t enunciate properly” and needs to change those things in order to be “taken seriously” also heavily supports the idea that there is one idea of what “proper” English is and that it should be as white as possible. The implications of this “improvement” were also pointed out by some Twitter users.
The next lesson Ho seeks to impart to Osifo is how she can dress differently in order to become this classier version of herself, and it is again riddled with misogynistic ideas. Numerous times, Ho says classy women are “sexy without being slutty,” reinforcing ideas about the double bind for women. When Osifo comes into one session wearing a dress that her nipples are visible through, Ho remarks how that is “not classy.” Societal rules about class and etiquette are completely socially constructed, and it is frustrating to see a modern show supporting such outdated ideas that perpetuate racism, classism and sexism. It’s an unsettling reminder that no matter how much progress there has been toward deconstructing and eliminating these ideas, they are a long way from being abandoned completely.
And that’s only the first episode.
The unfortunate part of all this is that Ho really doesn’t seem like she has bad intentions. On the contrary, she seems like a sweet and personable person who truly connects with and cares about each individual. For example, she knew Osifo was insecure about her skin and also took her own makeup off when she had Osifo remove hers to help her feel more supported during the process. When working with Osifo, it seemed like Ho just wanted the best for her and wanted to see her feel confident and beautiful in her own skin. Ho doesn’t seem like a malicious person, and I find it more likely that her ideas about class and how women should behave may be ones she grew up with that have been perpetuated through patriarchal societies.
It is aggravating to see a show that expresses such problematic beliefs come to the screen, especially in this day and age, a sentiment shared by many viewers “Mind Your Manners” was a frustrating disappointment, and Netflix needs to do better.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at email@example.com.