Here’s what Dr. Natalie Loper had to say about 10 Things I Hate About You, the first film in the Strode series this fall.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
10 Things I Hate About You is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, which is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and remains one of his most popular. This popularity troubles many people, fearful that the play’s treatment of women is inappropriate in the 21st century. They do have a point, since the play participates in a long tradition of anti-feminist literature, including folk tales, ballads, and puppet shows in which unruly women are bullied, humiliated, and even beaten into submission. In Shakespeare’s England, women who did not conform to social norms—who scolded their husbands, disobeyed their fathers, or were a nuisance to their neighbors—could be forced to wear a metal bridle with a bit between their teeth, pulled through town on the back of a horse-drawn cart, or strapped to a “cucking stool” and dunked in a river until they agreed to be quiet. Church homilies and English laws upheld the rights of husbands to govern their wives. Pamphlets advised husbands on how to tame their wives, often using methods used to tame hawks for hunting, and Shrew shows Petruchio using them, too. Shakespeare’s Kate is described as a shrew and a scold; she flies into rages, hits people, and throws things. Only one man, Petruchio of Padua, is up to the challenge of marrying her, and by the end of the play, Kate seems to have been reformed; she submits to her husband’s will and advises other women to do the same. Her sister, Bianca, changes, too. At the beginning of the play, she is the model woman: quiet and submissive, she publicly defers to her father’s authority. Privately, however, she slyly manipulates her three suitors and her father in order to marry the man she desires. Is Shakespeare using popular stereotypes about women to entertain people, to reinforce social norms, or to critique a misogynistic culture? The debate has yet to be decided.
10 Things I Hate About You, directed by Gil Junger (1999)
10 Things I Hate About You stars Julia Stiles as Kat Stratford, an unruly teenager who would rather read Sylvia Plath and listen to Riot Grrrl music than attend what she calls “antiquated mating ritual[s]” such as keg parties and her high school’s prom. This causes a problem for her younger sister Bianca (played by Larisa Oleynik), who wants to be popular and date popular boys. The problem? Their father has decreed that Bianca can’t date unless Kat does. Luckily, Bianca has two suitors who scheme to get around this rule: nerdy new kid Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) provides the brains, while pretty-boy Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) provides the money. Their goal is to convince the mysterious and scary Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat. The results of this scheme have divided critics nearly as much as Shakespeare’s play has. Some people applaud the film for how it updates Shakespeare’s play: Kat’s reputation as a shrew stems from her feminist ideals, and the film is seen as a journey of self-discovery rather than a forced submission to social norms. Others think the film offers a restrictive view of feminism and claim that Kat’s transformation is no less disturbing than Kate’s because it perpetuates gender stereotypes and upholds the status quo. Even so, the film remains a popular 1990s teen film, and it contains many elements of the genre: distinct high school cliques, adults whose authority is questionable but nonetheless maintained, and teens who struggle to balance competing desires for autonomy, acceptance, and approval from their peers, parents, and teachers.
~Dr. Natalie Loper