Tag Archives: karen mccullah

10 Things I Hate About You: 7 STARS

*Ok so not a very merry start for this week’s feminist film news but CN: Rape, paedophilia. Please skip ahead to the review which is violence and rape free if you would like to. This did not happen this week, but it took me till now to find out about it, I don’t know how that can be true but it is. So we all know that Woody Allen is married to his ex-girlfriend’s daughter, and that she was pretty young (18-20) when they got together. I knew that and I thought, ew, that’s awful, what a misuse of his position of authority in that family and what a horrible betrayal of Mia Farrow’s trust BUT they are still married, she was an adult, I guess they fell in love. That’s what I thought. What I didn’t realise is that, to this day, Mia Farrow and her now adult daughter Dylan contend that Allen also sexually abused Dylan when she was 7. There was never a criminal trial but the issue was brought before the court in Mia and Woody’s custody battle over Dylan and her two brothers. In this case it was ruled that Woody would have no visitation rights to any of his children, that his behaviour towards his daughter had been “grossly inappropriate” and that she needed to be protected from him. I have summarised the situation here but you can read what Dylan and Woody have to say about this here, and here you can read a response to Woody’s statement. I don’t want to get involved in  discussing the problems of a crime which will always be one person’s word against the other’s, where one is always a child. All I will say is that either you believe that Mia Farrow is capable of manipulating her 7 year old daughter so effectively that she has maintained, or internalised, a malicious lie for going on twenty years – something which involved putting her child through 3 different, media-heavy trials where she had to recount the invented abuse – simply out of revenge. Or you believe that Woody Allen sexually abused his seven year old daughter. I’m not saying that the first option is impossible, but I also don’t think the attitude of the Hollywood community (which is essentially: We can’t know who is telling the truth, so we’ll do nothing, say nothing and keep producing/acting in Woody’s films) is a neutral option. If the actors Dylan addresses in her statement thought, “Maybe this man raped his child” they wouldn’t appear in his films. Be realistic, if he was a house painter, and they heard ‘his adult daughter contends he raped her when she was a child’, they would choose someone else to paint their house. What they are doing is making the judgement that his films are good enough to risk mixing their name up with his past ‘sex scandals’, and that he is important and famous and talented enough that he couldn’t be a paedophile. I love Woody Allen’s films, but I won’t be watching any more, or reviewing any here, because I think he probably raped his daughter. Maybe he didn’t, but frankly I’m not prepared to take that risk.*

(SPOILERS. I mean the source text for this film is literally 400 years old so you guys are really behind on your reading if you haven’t gotten to it yet, but yes I will be discussing some of what happens. I don’t think any CNs are required, maybe for a discussion of how, much like in Happy Christmas, a young man doesn’t take advantage of a drunken young woman, but that’s more the absence of triggering material than its presence)

“I guess in this society, being male and an asshole makes you worthy of our time.” – Kat

“I see a woman may be made a fool,/ If she had not a spirit to resist.” – Katherina

I’m very sorry to have had to start with that but I think it’s important that people are at least made aware of the situation because I genuinely did not know and it has really effected how I feel about Woody Allen. But on to better things aka 90s teen movies based on Shakespeare plays. What could be better? 10 Things I Hate About You (which is based on The Taming of the Shrew in case anyone didn’t know that) is awesome. It has a great fierce heroine, a range of supporting female characters all of whom are different and, to different degrees, interesting, and it is a pretty solid interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. As a literature student I’m always slightly terrified by the prospect of modernisations but I think this is a great example: they keep enough of the plot to make it make sense, they lose some of the old school classism and misogyny (and all of the disguises, which I think is kind of a shame) but not all of it, so we are forced to recognise that fathers don’t tend to marry their daughters off in 90s America but that doesn’t mean their obsessive control of their habits and concern with their sexuality isn’t rooted in the misogyny which was felt in Elizabethan England. I promise not to rabbit on about Shakespeare throughout my review but if you are interested in my thoughts on why almost everyone is wrong about The Taming of the Shrew you will be able to find them at the end, never fear.

STAR: The Bechdel Test

– STAR: Developed female relationships

(Kat has a friend called Mandella. They are friends. They are cool. Kat and Bianca also talk. Their relationship is interesting because it can be viewed as stupidly 2 dimensional in entirely opposite ways. Either Bianca is pretty and popular and Kat is an angry bitch, or Bianca is a superficial airhead and Kat is a strong independent woman and in both instances they really hate each other. In fact I think the film does a good job of showing how siblings can be properly mean to one another almost all of the time and still care about one another deeply. I think their ‘role reversal’ thing, where Kat falls in love and Bianca beats up Andrew Keegan in fact demonstrates that they were never really that different, Kat always wanted to find a pretty boy to kiss and Bianca was always pretty fierce, albeit in a Prada backpack kind of way. Basically they don’t fit into either the pretty girl/loser or independent woman/mindless doll diametric and thus their relationship is interesting and cool)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters 

– STAR:Developed, prominent female characters

(So there’s Kat and Bianca, ‘Mandella’ or Shakespeare girl as she is more often known and of course Ms Perky aka Allison Janney aka CJ from The West Wing aka the love of my life. Is it good to have a guidance councillor who spends most of her time reading aloud from the erotic novel she is writing? The answer is yes. I also like that Mandella’s side relationship is unusually characterful. Normally the best friend gets either no mans or a relationship which makes no sense. A love of Shakespeare bringing people together makes a lot of sense to me, and Mandella and Michael have a few build up scenes, so I like the attention given to the side characters. There is also Chastity played by the ever beautiful Gabrielle Union, she is the least developed character but even here I get it, she’s an opportunistic social climber, she’s tired of Bianca telling her what liking or loving is really about and she wants to kiss a pretty boy of her own. Clearly this isn’t a great model for friendship but it doesn’t make me shudder with horror at the simplification of the female experience either. What’s really important is that we have a realistic cast of women and a funny feminist heroine, what’s not to love.)

No Excessive Air of Misogyny

– No rigid adherence to gender norms

(Ah, here’s what’s not to love. No I actually don’t see this as a failing in the film at all, but the world that’s being depicted is a deeply misogynistic one and that’s what the stars are meant to tell us so, be warned, here be misogyny. Mainly this is from Kat and Bianca’s father. Now I appreciate that raising 2 teenage girls must be difficult, especially when your wife has, like many a Shakespearean mother before her, disappeared, but this man’s obsession with his daughter’s sexuality is absurd. Sure they shouldn’t have unprotected sex, no one wants an unwanted pregnancy, but the idea that imprisoning them every night is a reasonable way to counter that is insulting and awful. To be fair this issue is kind of brought up, in that he admits that he’s just scared his daughter’s don’t need him anymore, but I’m not sure he deserved a big hug and complete forgiveness for allowing his daughter to go to college. The man made his daughter wear a pregnancy suit because she had expressed the desire to kiss a boy, not cool guy. Joey is obviously a complete dick and, although I completely take Kat’s teacher’s point about the privilege of the middle class white girl and how, as a black man, his representation on the literature syllabus is a lot more limited than hers, he still shouldn’t send her out of class for pointing out Hemingway is a misogynist)

STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

– No objectification of the female body

(No nudity, or girls in underwear! Think about that teen movies of the present. In 1999 not a single bra needed to be seen to make a film about underage girls appealing. That said, table dancing and an off camera flash was required. Now I quite like how Kat is confident enough to flash her teacher for a joke, I think that’s great and very much in the spirit of National Topless Day – I for one am tired of men walking down the streets with no shirts on as if that isn’t SUPER WEIRD, so I think we should do it back to them any time we can. Having said that I think the issue of Kat’s sexuality could be easily misconstrued, although I don’t think it’s handled badly really. I think my most uncomfortable moment watching the film was when Bianca suggests that any teen mum is a ‘skeezy whore who should have made her crack head boyfriend wear a condom’. I mean fucking hell Bianca calm down. I don’t think we’re meant to agree with her but her statement is meant to be treated as funny and frankly it just seems way too venomous for that. So there is a suggestion that having sex is a- entirely a woman’s responsibility b- a scary and dangerous thing and c- not something any woman actually wants to do, she just does it to please other people. Not good. However that is not what Kat actually says in the only open conversation about sex in the film. She says she had sex with Joey, because he was a babe (true) and because everyone else was doing it, then she decided not to do it again, then he was a massive dick to her and broke up with her so she smashed his car up, then she meets another pretty boy and they make out all over the place and it’s hot and they definitely have sex. That is not a story that demonises sex, it just demonises Joey. So basically we’re in the danger zone, but we have not succumbed to the danger, huzzah)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women 

– STAR: No threat of male violence against women

(This is probably my favourite aspect of the film, the fact that there is no suggestion that Joey forced Kat into sex or that that is his dastardly plan for Bianca (I mean I’m sure he wants to have sex with her but all we see him wanting to do is show her pictures of himself, which is boring but hardly malevolent). Heath also behaves like a nice young man, he doesn’t kiss Kat when she’s wasted, even though she’s totally acting like she wants to kiss him. Good! An example of how consent should work! An example of a man who is somehow able to control his manly animal manliness in the presence of a wasted woman and whose top priority is that she really wants to be with him. I mean he does at one point imply that women can’t play musical instruments properly but he seems to come around on that, and although he is being paid to hit on Kat it’s never suggested that that’s the only reason he hits on her, I mean he likes her too, for him I see it as a win win. And for us too because the hot young people jibe at each other and then they become friends and then they fall in love and then they make out covered in paint, win win win)

So 7 stars and 3 Bonus Points. One for female writers Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith. They are a writing team and they wrote Legally Blonde too. Wicked. One for BME women in the form of Chastity. I know that’s tokenistic. I know that doesn’t make this a good film in terms of presentation and intelligent discussion of black issues or multiculturalism or anything, but she is there and she deserves a point. And one for discussion of feminist issues. Which is great. What are the things Kat likes? Pretty boys, music and feminist literature. Bravo my friend those are some great teenage girl interests you’ve got there. I like that there are lots of women in this film. I like that there is a credible and respectful relationship between the two leads. And I like that the most dramatic change they make from Shakespeare’s play is to reconcile Kat and Bianca in proper sisterly fashion. All in all I like the film.

*A note on The Taming of the Shrew. I have literally written whole essays on this in the past but I’ll try and keep this short and sweet. Essentially I think this is a play about acting. It actually has a frame so all of the action is technically a play within a play and I think that’s important. I think what Katherina is doing is learning to play a part on the world stage. At the beginning of the play Katherina is not like Kat, she does not have friends, she is not a sassy independent woman, she doesn’t have a love of music and recourse to feminist literature. No. She is filled with rage all of the time, she physically attacks her sister, she terrifies everyone she meets and she really really wants to get married, her rage at men is mainly that they like Bianca more than her. Petruchio is the only person who will even talk to her, he allows her to try and form her character in relation to other people, he shows her that how she has been behaving is ‘not what people do’. By wearing the wrong clothes to his wedding, misconstruing all the directions everyone gives him, insisting that it is night when it is day Petruchio shows Kate that how she’s been acting is not as a clever and happy young woman (like Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing) but as someone who doesn’t understand how the world works, what other people are like, essentially as someone who is getting their lines wrong. When Kate makes her final speech of submission I don’t think she really believes that women should always be subservient to men, nor do I think she’s rolling her eyes and taking the piss, I think she’s very consciously playing a part. This is what Bianca has always done but Bianca thinks the play is over after the wedding and what Kate has learned is that everyone will be happier, and richer, if you continue to play along, if you accept, in fact, that all the world’s a stage. So there you have it, my impression of The Shrew, a shrew tamed not by breaking her will and forcing her into submission, but by showing her how to act for the mutual benefit of both parties. Not rad fem stuff, but a lot less diabolical than many have suggested*