Taming the Unruly Woman (Brooke Daley)

Comedy frequently attacks societal norms of behaviour. Thanks to this, humour provides feminist film theory with a framework to analyze how rebellious women are treated in society. In her book, Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter, Kathleen Rowe introduces the idea of the unruly woman. Rowe defines an unruly woman as someone who doesn’t follow the rules and makes a spectacle of her body.[1] This scene from 10 Things I Hate About You (Junger, USA, 1999) illustrates her point by following the main character, Kat, as she performs a table dance at a crowded party.

10 Things I Hate About You is a retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew. Kat, much like her Shakespearean original, is a woman that doesn’t like to be told what to do. She makes a spectacle of herself to protest against male domination.

Kat has the reputation of being an unruly woman and suffers socially as a consequence. In the scene, Joey asks Patrick, “How did you get her to do it? Act like a human.” This implies that Joey saw her as less than human, because Kat has challenged the patriarchy and societal expectations of how women are expected to act. An unruly woman can make a spectacle of her body to challenge the stereotypes of femininity.[2] Kat makes a spectacle out of her body by performing a highly sexualized dance on a table. Kat parodies the male gaze and the male objection of women for their entertainment.

Kat is an unruly woman that must be ‘tamed’ by a male, because she challenges her role in the society around her. It is only after Kat is ‘tamed’ by Patrick that their romance can occur, because an unruly woman challenges the premise of romance that a woman wins by submission. Comedy gives women a platform to oppose the stereotypes and rewrite the unspoken rules of conventional society.

[1]  Kathleen Rowe, “Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter,” The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter (Austin: Texas, 1995), p.12.

[2] Ibid, p.11.

One comment

  1. As someone who personally loves this movie, I think this is a fascinating observation of Kat. At first, I did not interpret this dance scene as a traditional stab at the male patriarchal gaze. But now it is clearer that instead of using the sexualization of her body as a tool for objectification, it’s a symbol of sexual freedom and rebelliousness.

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