We’ve all wanted to be Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles, “Save the Last Dance”) from the 1999 blockbuster film “10 Things I Hate About You” at some point in our lives. Admit it. From her style, to her confidence, to the books she reads, to her “I don’t care” attitude, she is THAT girl. Her theme song is Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation.” Can she get any cooler than that? She seems to achieve the façade she effortlessly puts on, but while this “aesthetic” is appealing to modern audiences, myself included, we should walk on eggshells when idolizing characters like Kat. Thinking Kat is an icon is fine (and accurate), but I don’t think I’d call her a feminist. In her patronizing version of feminism, Kat is the epitome of a white feminist, and her idolization serves as a vehicle to silence minority experiences while giving white experiences most, if not all, of the attention.
Basking in her minimalistic style, angsty-girl music and feminist prose, she is perceived by many as a “heinous bitch,” as explained by her guidance counselor. She places herself on a pedestal of confidence. We may call her the queen of “fake it ’til you make it” since, as she shows near the end of the film, she does have feelings similar to those that her traditionally feminine sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik, “The Secret World of Alex Mack”) experiences. Nonetheless, her personal portrayal of her superiority over everyone around her is problematic, ultimately contributing to her performative feminism and privilege.
She constantly judges her sister — and every girl around her, for that matter — for expressing their femininity. Although Bianca is wrong in criticizing Kat for choosing to opt out of doing what’s considered “cool” and “popular,” Kat is similarly wrong in making fun of her sister for enjoying being feminine. She emphasizes her sister’s shallowness, claiming she comes from “Planet Look At Me, Look At Me” in an attempt to ridicule her sister and her interests. Kat thinks that Bianca is defenseless as a result of her hyperfemininity. Kat also goes so far as to criticize her best friend for wanting to go to the prom, not understanding why anyone would go to such an “antiquated mating ritual.” In the end, Bianca proves, albeit in a stereotypical way, that her femininity does not impede her from standing up for herself and those she cares about. She confronts Joey (Andrew Keegan, “Independence Day”) in defense of Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Inception”), Kat and herself, which serves as an indirect reality check for Kat. So, although their sibling relationship certainly improves throughout the movie, claiming to be a feminist while bringing other girls down is not very feminist of Kat and could even pass as “pick me girl” behavior.
While it is understandable and important to hold one’s own opinions, Kat tends to put hers forward as facts that people are not allowed to disagree with. To aggravate this, she outwardly dismisses Mr. Morgan (Daryl Mitchell, “Galaxy Quest”), her Black teacher, for calling out her white privilege, when he ironically remarks on her overcoming “all those years of upper-middle class suburban oppression.” In refusing to be aware of her privilege, she communicates her opinion as the most reliable source to learn and understand feminist theory when, in reality, she blatantly ignores the need for intersectionality in activism. The closest the film comes to making her activism intersectional is through her aforementioned encounters with Mr. Morgan, but this attempt fails, since she takes his constructive criticism as a personal attack, indirectly claiming her opinion to be factual.
While her stark disapproval of femininity and her ignorance to her own privilege contribute to her white feminism, she’s also straight-up mean. Nice and fake are not synonyms; Kat could have made an effort to be nice to the people that mattered to her and simply ignored or addressed those who annoy her in a more cordial manner. She chooses to handle all of her issues with violence and verbal aggression, which eventually translates to her becoming a genuinely cruel person. She takes down posters hung up at her school that people worked hard to make, she crashes into Joey’s car and she talks back to mostly everyone, from her classmates to her teachers and even to her father. It’s OK and completely understandable to be angry at the world, but if you expect respect, you have to respect others first.
Kat definitely hides under a mask of self-assurance — the viewer slowly learns that she, too, has feelings and is not an alien mutant, as Bianca likes to call her. She has trouble opening up to Patrick (Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”) because of her past experience with Joey, so we have to cut her some slack. After all, despite the tough front she puts up, she’s just a teenage girl trying to navigate her way through high school like everyone else is. Finding out you’re just a pawn in a bet to get your little sister in bed would hurt anyone, and Kat is no exception to this generalization. However, her criticism of others’ emotionality while hiding and denying her own is hurtful, even if she doesn’t realize it.
Many may think this analysis is overdoing it. She’s just a fictional character, and at the end of the day, maybe it’s not that deep. But claiming it isn’t deep and continuing to idolize characters like Kat Stratford is exactly why it is. Sure, she’s the coolest. She’s angry at the world, and she’s not afraid to show it; she’s very sure of who she is and doesn’t hide that from anyone. She is, to put it simply, a vibe. However, it’s important to separate her likeability and appeal as a character from her icon status because, in calling her a feminist icon, we are indirectly silencing an entire group of women who need their stories told, but keep being overlooked as a result of the idolization of white feminists, both in media and in real life.
Daily Arts Contributor Graciela Batlle Cestero can be reached at email@example.com.