The ’90s teen rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You was released in theaters 20 years ago on March 31st, 1999. Here, HG contributor Holly Genovese celebrates how Kat Stratford’s intellectual, critical, angry feminist perspective allowed her to embrace her own anger as a teen, and how it continues to inspire her during the Trump presidency.
I love a good throwback romantic comedy, but only one of them has served as inspiration for my feminist rage: 10 Things I Hate About You. 20 years after its release, the film is motivating me to fight back even more than it did in 1999.
Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is everything a popular teenage girl isn’t supposed to be: she skips school dances, loves Sylvia Plath, and vocally complains about the patron saint of asshole men, Ernest Hemingway. She says “Romantic? Hemingway? He was an abusive alcoholic and misogynist who squandered half of his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.” We quickly learn what kind of girl Kat is: an angry one. I have heard others argue that Kat Stratford rests on too many stereotypes to remain a progressive depiction of a teenage girl, but I disagree.
Kat showed me it was okay to be an angry feminist, to love a depressed woman writer, to wear combat boots, to be uninterested in male writers I was supposed to like, and to generally kick ass.
Now, under the Trump presidency (which Kat would surely have abhorred), Kat Stratford’s outspoken, social justice-focused, intellectual anger continues to inspire me.
Kat’s feminism isn’t the kind that you can buy on a T-shirt or that you can encompass by wearing a pussy hat. It’s a permanent perspective that makes you question and challenge everything around you. Of course, we have to acknowledge that Kat is a a privileged feminist, made clear when her English teacher says, “I know how difficult it must be to overcome all those years of upper-middle class suburban oppression.” Kat has more to learn about the world, but she’s still critical of the patriarchal structures that create her privilege. We see this represented in Kat’s stand against the sexist attitudes of her ex-boyfriend Joey Donner, in her arguments with her father about moving away for liberal arts college, in her reactions to her dad’s attitudes on sex and dating, and in how she reacts to general male privilege throughout the film.
Moreover, Kat argues that “oppressive patriarchal values dictate education” when fighting with her principal about the curriculum. Kat constantly questions the gender normative behavior of her fellow students. She won’t give her time to people who don’t deserve it, or value it. She is forthcoming with her political opinions, even when it makes people uncomfortable. Kat is open with her younger sister about how she was used for sex early in her high school career, pressured by the popular Joey, and she has no time for the sexualization and degradation of women.
Kat is not a doe-eyed, bookish figure somehow attracting hot guys to her nerdiness. She’s smart. She loves to read. She defines intelligence for herself. She fights back. She goes to rock shows and exists alongside charming bad boy Patrick Verona on her own terms. She shows teen girls that you can be angry, nerdy, and loud while dating someone awesome (maybe not someone as awesome as Heath Ledger, but still).
It’s rare to see a rom-com centered around a teenage girl who so outwardly embraces feminism—much less a teen girl who critiques the literary canon, the education system, her dad’s slut shaming, and her sister’s desire for popularity.
I’m not sure exactly what Kat Stratford would be doing in 2019. She would certainly be excited about the release of Sylvia Plath’s newly discovered short story, “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.” She would certainly be stomping around in her combat boots, angry at everything Donald Trump and his supporters have said and done; Trump’s blatant misogyny and anti-intellectualism are specifically at odds with her ideology.
Kat’s passionate and critical traits are eternally valuable, which is why she always been one of my favorite romantic comedy heroines. But in 2019, as we survive yet another year of President Trump, I think we can all embrace a bit of Kat Stratford’s feminist rage.