When ABC Family's 10 Things I Hate About You debuted in July, it hinted that Kat (played by Lindsey Shaw) was politically-aware, but as the show has progressed, her character's feminism has become part of the plotline and dialogue.
While I don't watch many teen-oriented shows (with the exception of Gossip Girl, My Super Sweet 16 and America's Next Top Model), I can't remember the last time a teenage TV character proclaimed to be a feminist — and wasn't making a joke. In fact, when Tracie made a list of self-professed feminist TV characters, half of them originated a decade or more ago.
While the character of Kat is based on the "shrew" by William Shakespeare, on this show she is a fully modern young woman dealing with modern problems. For instance: Last week's episode, directed by Gil Junger (who directed the 1999 film starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger.) Kat's plot revolves around her newly engaged teacher, who seems more interested in a sparkly rock than grading papers fairly.
The assignment was to write about "the day that changed your life." Kat wrote about reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, "the dawn" of her "feminist awakening." What she didn't read? Her friend Mandella's paper about the county fair. Still, when Kat finds out that everyone in class received As, she complains. Also, she calls her teacher out for being "so not a feminist."
What happens when she complains is that everyone still gets As, but Kat gets a B-. She confronts her teacher about this new, lower grade; but her teacher explains that Kat's paper on finding feminism received a low grade because it was "predictable" and "preachy."
After a talk with her father, Kat realizes that she is indeed self-centered; she hadn't even read her friend Mandella's paper about the county fair, assuming it wasn't as interesting or important as her feminist manifesto. Turns out that Mandella's paper was about the humiliation of being an overweight person not allowed to ride the fairground rides and turning to fatty foods at the fair as a coping mechanism. Kat apologizes to her friend.
Also, she writes a new paper. About her dad buying her tampons.
The week before last, Kat's plot had a feminist bent as well:
Kat's sister Bianca called Kat out on being a "stop global warming activist" while driving a gas-guzzling, air-polluting clunker.
Kat decided to convert her "Chernobyl-mobile" to bio-diesel using some instructions she found online, adding that doing so would "dispel the myth" that women can't fix cars.
The guys in the garage (including Patrick Verona) gave Kat a hard time. They had a bet going that she wouldn't be able to finish converting her engine; but when one guy said, "Isn't anyone going to bet on the girl?" Kat said, "I'll bet on myself." She had confidence she could pull it off. But by the end of the day, everyone was going home and she hadn't made any progress. The guys urged her to quit, and Kat was clearly at the end of her rope.
In the middle of the night, Kat was still trying to fix her car. Her OB/GYN dad came to visit; she pouted that she wasn't a "damsel in distress." Yet he made it clear that her problem with the car stemmed not from being female but from being stubborn and not asking for help when she clearly needed it. (Kat and her dad finished the engine conversion and the next day in the garage, the guys had to pay up when she started the car with her new bio-diesel system, which they assumed she'd installed herself.)
This summer show will, most likely, be ending in a few weeks, but here's to hoping that it — and its message, a strong one for teenage girls — returns.
10 Things I Hate About You airs tonight at 8pm on ABC Family
10 Things I Hate About You [ABC Family]