I can’t let go: nuanced portrayals of flawed feminism in “10 things I hate about you”, despite its sexist plot
In I can’t let go we revisit the nostalgia around our favorite pop culture moments that have not aged well.
For actress Julia Stiles, “10 Things I Hate About You” was a stepping stone to mainstream cinema. But she has a struggling to watch the movie today – the regressive plot scaffolding makes it cringe a bit.
The film is derived from Shakespeare’s famous play “The Tame Shrew” – where the shrew is a gruesome portrayal of a woman and the man is tasked with “taming” her. Adapted for a Hollywood installation in 1999, as a teen comedy, the film was meant to be an upgrade, a more palatable version of the play.
And while “10 Things I Hate About You” succeeds in eliminating blatant misogyny, he doesn’t really abandon the regressive plot. Here’s how it goes: a middle school, overprotective dad with two daughters. The younger (Bianca) cannot go out until the older Kat (who is presented as a “prude”) who hates men finds a boyfriend, according to the father’s dictate. So the person interested in Bianca pay Patrick (the magnificent Heath Ledger) to woo Kat. Of course, Patrick tries to change her and Kat ends up letting her guard down.
Women onscreen bow to sexist and reductive stereotypes – the idea that women should change to please men, or feminists are inherently angry, or that conventional “girly-girls” deserve contempt. Not to mention the disturbing morality of sexuality and the acceptance of the body (the sluts’ shame was relentless), the reductive character models that locked them into clichés, and the upper-middle-class white-dominated scenario.
Adapting sexist literary works for a Hollywood audience is any improvement looks like a large improvement. Credit is due: Heath Ledger’s Patrick was far from the parody of his Shakespearean counterpart Lucentio. But language laden with sexism, prejudice and misogyny still exists. So while “10 Things I Hate About You” might be a better version of the play, the film has joined the league of other sexist cinematic representations like “Cruel Intentions” (2000) or “Never Been Kissed” (1999). .
Intent and action aside, the film has a cultural life of its own and deserves close scrutiny. To that end, here’s why I agree with the film’s imperfections. Julia Stiles (Kat) is a feminist; she is also angry. The devil’s attitude perhaps resides in her with resilience. She has a right being angry, as someone born of the injustices women face and who has decades of internalized misogyny within them.
Kat hates her sister because she’s feminine and “too girly” (the good old rhetoric “I’m not like all girls”), so Kat’s feminism isn’t perfect. But the film puts her in the spotlight without tipping the scales against her. While the ’90s feminist is still a pawn of the system, she’s still aware of the social rules in which she operates (and something she’s anxious to reject) – the friction within is hard to miss. Her feminism is flawed, but strong, something that resonates decades later.
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In the collective male consciousness, Kat is seen as a “nervous prude,” and Cameron’s attempt to pay someone to court her reinforces restrictive ideas about sex and sexuality.
But “10 Things” never gives the impression that Kat lost, when she opens up to Patrick. She can resist any regressive dynamic while still feeling love, attraction and the like. Even when she finds out about the bet, she doesn’t wallow, claiming it as a victory for herself.
Coming to the men in the film, the legendary “tamers”: the constructions that surround them are deeply problematic – betting on the choices of the woman, trying to bend her to their will, the father who wants to control his daughters.
Which does not exclude the character of Patrick. So much has been said about feminism in “10 Things,” except for Patrick’s “dreamboat” type character. Comedies for teenagers tend to eliminate issues of consent, aggression, while presenting sexual experiences as “conquests” for the man; Patrick, on the other hand, is aware of consent. There’s a scene where Kat is insanely drunk and he refuses to kiss her – he’s right.
While the film might not have the best diversity or gender-neutral language, it seems to be very aware of its flaws. A scene with the black English teacher (Mr. Morgan) shows it: he berates Kat for her problems as a rich white girl who is deaf to socio-cultural realities. Her anger is a privilege and she ignores injustice because she can. But the lack of understanding – or empathy – does not detract from the seriousness of the social stratification – “10 Things” may have called the feminist angry for her lack of intersectional thinking.
It feels like a movie of its moment – from 1999, of how feminism, high school romance, ideas about gender and social structures played out. “The jokes, the clothes and especially the music really make me feel that year, when I was in high school,” said cultural writer Alissa Wilkinson. notes in Vox. While it might be enough to salvage the film based on the nostalgia of the 1990s high school romantic comedy, it’s also worth praising the film for letting ideals and flaws coexist. Imperfections do not spoil what is Assumed to be.
Self-reflection not only criticizes Shakespeare’s cultural tropes, but also those that persisted into the ’90s – hell, even now. This is precisely why it is difficult to drop “10 things”. The movie is better but imperfect, sexist but again progressive – show a story before and of its time.