"10 Things I Hate About You" turns 25: How Kat Stratford inspired a generation of angry girls

And why "Bottoms" and "Yellowjackets" can both be traced to the beloved 90s teen film

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published April 8, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Julia Stiles In '10 Things I Hate About You,' with Heath Ledger, Larisa Oleynik and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the background. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Julia Stiles In '10 Things I Hate About You,' with Heath Ledger, Larisa Oleynik and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the background. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, we all wanted to be Julia Stiles' Kat from “10 Things I Hate About You," the '90s teen movie based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." Like the play, the story centers on two sisters, Kat and Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik).

The eldest, Kat is abrasive, rude and has one friend  — unlike Bianca, who is seemingly popular, obsessed with her Prada bag and yearns to start dating. There's just one problem: The girls' strict doctor father (Larry Miller) forbids Bianca from dating until Kat dates, too. This kicks off a variety of string-pulling scenarios that ultimately end up pushing Kat into the path of local Australian bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), while Bianca debates between empty-headed Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) or nerdy new kid, Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Outside of the fluttering romance plot and teen hijinks, Kat’s anarchist vibe was bitingly cool, self-assured and unyielding in her feminism and beliefs. As such, she was labeled as her high school’s resident freak, and while her interests in “feminist prose and angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion” were too jarring for the movie’s Seattle high school suburbanites, they resonated with teen girls in real life — and have continued to do so for decades. 

As "10 Things I Hate about You" turns 25, it's worth looking back at how the 1999 film never domesticated its 18-year-old protagonist and instead, through Kat's character and the movie's overall riot grrrl sensibilities, laid the groundwork for Kat and other angry girls to be just that — angry. 

Before the film’s inception, in the early '90s, an underground punk feminist movement was born in Olympia, Washington that helped launch third-wave feminism into the stratosphere. As the birthplace of '90s punk, Seattle was a hub for male-centered rock and grunge and the riot grrrl movement — which was centered on a bedrock of feminism, punk music and radical politics — was founded as a response to the hypermasculine music scene. Essentially, women and girls wanted to use music to express their unbridled anger, rage and frustration. 

It opened the door for women to air out their grievances, just like male rockers (and often, these grievances were born from the patriarchal system). 

Riot grrrl bands ranged from Raincoats to Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. They sang songs about empowerment, rape culture and supporting and uplifting women. As a decentralized movement, the musicians and activists made art and zines; they organized protests and performances; and they did it while also sitting around and talking, elevating their listeners' consciousness of the issues about which they sang, the New York Times reported. 

These punks also revolted against what it meant to be a stereotypical girl, rejecting the push of hyper-consumerist, capitalistic ideals projected onto women. This included throwing a middle finger at the dominant culture’s standards of beauty. Riot grrrls didn’t care much about fashion for its aesthetics or seemingly superficial purposes. They cared about fashion because it could mean they could make a statement with their bodies and clothes. 

In many ways, Kat is the perfect example of what it meant to be involved in the riot grrrl movement in the late ‘90s. She is the school’s outcast because of her politics and sheer rage at the system. She doesn’t date boys because she detests them, only reads feminist literature and truly loves female-centered punk music. In class when her male English teacher, Mr. Morgan (Daryl Mitchell) suggests reading Ernest Hemingway, she questions why they don’t read any women. These are the “oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education,” she said. “[Hemmingway] was an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half of his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.”

Instead, she suggested they should read Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir or Charlotte Bronte. After getting sent to the office for disrupting class, she tells the guidance counselor Ms. Perky (Allison Janney), “Expressing my opinion is not a terrorist action."

Outside of class, Kat's riot grrrl tendencies can be observed in her extracurriculars and her fashion sense. While attending a Letters to Cleo concert, she lets her emotional steel armor fall as she slips into a crowd filled with other women punk fans who understand her. 

Kat's fashion, which leans more masculine with feminine statement pieces, looks particularly personal and lived-in. By the end of the film, she ditches her oversized cargos and baby tees for a delicate blue prom dress with a matching shawl after Patrick pleads with her to attend the dance. As her character further breaks free from her emotional armor, she pulls her hair back in a wispy French braid and adorns a flowy, feminine white top – the first time she wears white in the movie.

However, this makeover isn't indicative of Kat losing her principles, as is sometimes the case in films in which love changes a woman; it's indicative of her coming into herself. 

This version of Kat never wavers in “10 Things” because of its clever writing duo, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith. They did not allow Kat to be turned into a submissive girl because she fell in love. They cut off the misogynistic trope of “taming the shrew” by its ankles before it could walk. Instead, they choose to transform the hedonistic and chauvinist Patrick. Before Patrick is propositioned to take Kat out, he is portrayed as scary, lonely and unapproachable. Sounds a bit like Kat. 

The character’s deviance from all authority and especially male authority lives in her feminism, her clothes and her music taste. She knows that “in this society, being male and an a*****e makes you worthy of our time.” So in turn Kat fights back. She fights back by not being “what people expect. Why should I live up to other people's expectations instead of my own?” She even defies her father when he tries and fails to guilt trip her into not going to Sarah Lawrence. She tells him, “I want you to trust me to make my own choices and I want you to stop trying to control my life just because you can't control yours!”

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When Kat finds out about Patrick's whole gimmick around dating her, he then buys her a guitar. While Kat says he can’t buy a guitar every time he messes up, he jokes and tells her he can buy her drums, a tambourine and other band instruments. Earlier in the film, Patrick also publicly humiliates himself for Kat by singing Frankie Valli's song, "Can't Take My Eyes off You" in front of the whole school. He softens for Kat and it's precisely because of her sincerity in her values and strength in personhood. 

Ultimately, he's the shrew who gets tamed — I mean, c'mon, he even gives up smoking cigarettes for her.

In "10 Things," Kat proved to the world and media that women should never be tamed. The importance of autonomy and choosing to be angry can be a fruitful and healthy emotion for women. The shrew label never worked on her because her unabashed confidence and conviction were always painted as her strengths. 

While the character learns how to soften herself and allow space for vulnerability, it never takes away from who she is at her core – it just adds to her greatness. In this depiction, Kat paved the way for characters like PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) from “Bottoms” or even the leads in the Showtime drama “Yellowjackets.” Like writers McCullah and Smith said in an interview with Decider, “a lot of teenage girls saw themselves [in Kat] for the first time—or a version of themselves they wanted to be: Someone who’s unafraid to say what she thinks and do what she wants.”

By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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