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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

10 Things to Defend: Why 10 Things I Hate About You is a Secret Feminist Masterpiece

Now, I know what you’re thinking. 10 Things I Hate About You, that ’90s movie where the angry feminist gives up her whole identity to win lush-locked young Heath Ledger — how can that be a nuanced exploration of the struggles of modern day female freedom-fighters?

Well. Let’s think about Kat Stratford (remember Julia Stiles with slicked-back hair and too much midriff?). At the beginning of the movie, Kat is, well, a heinous bitch. She bans her best friend from going to prom and apparently kicked a guy in the balls so hard he had to have them surgically retrieved. She disregard her English teacher when he asks why she’s angry that their prescribed texts are all by male authors, but not that they’re all white. Kat’s response to living in a patriarchal society is to reject it. Kat embodies many of the critiques of second wave feminism: while she fiercely stands up for her beliefs, she never acknowledges issues faced by those who aren’t white, middle class, straight women. As much as she is my queen, Kat is a somewhat stereotypical man-hating feminist.

She’s different at the end of the movie, and yes, she gets the guy — but this doesn’t mean that she changed for the guy. Kat changes because she learns to function within society, a huge part of which is learning to have healthy relationships with other people — not just young Heath, but also her sister, her dad, and her Shakespeare-obsessed bestie.

Basically, Kat learns to be a third wave feminist. She realises that existing within society often (always) means existing within the patriarchy. Feminism should be intersectional, and acknowledge the complexities it exists in. Kat spends most of the movie raging against her over-protective father, her personal reminder of the patriarchy. In the end Kat realises that even though her father is a male authoritative figure, he’s a parent and wants what’s best for her. Just because an individual occupies a position that is patriarchal, it doesn’t make them an enemy.

Can the movie be feminist if in the end juvenile Heath wins her back by buying her a guitar?! To answer that, you must pay attention to that slightly dull sub-plot about Kat wanting to start a band. And now think with me — there was something significant about music in third wave feminism, right?

If you went “wait, was that Riot Grrrl?” then ten points to Gryffindor. ’90s third wave feminism fostered Riot Grrrl culture, a huge part of which was centred around DIY music — the only way to stop the music industry being full of men was for women to make it themselves. Throughout the movie, Kat toys with the idea of starting a band but can’t quite go through with it. Teen Heath buying her a guitar implies that she’ll finally do it, and by accepting, Riot Grrrl culture will complete her journey from a second to a third wave feminist. Not only is baby Ledger encouraging Kat to do what she loves, he is symbolising his support for her feminism.

So go on, rewatch 10 Things I Hate About You. Freak out at how much of a child Joseph Gordon Levitt is. Cry internally over the fact that my boy Heath went too soon. But please, don’t say that Kat Stratford gives up her feminism. Because the film is not that shallow. Not even a little bit. Not even at all.


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