1. March to the beat of your own drum.
Katarina Stratford doesn’t fit into cookie-cutter categories like the rest of her peers — or, as she explains it to her younger sister Bianca, she isn’t “Susie High School.” The teen’s personality, interests, and belief system all exist beyond the confines of traditional binary thinking and predetermined standards set by society. Kat opposes social norms and refuses to blindly conform just because it’s what she’s “supposed” to do. She does her own thing, and she’s proud of it.
2. Don’t let your dad make important life decisions for you.
Walter Stratford tries his damndest to keep his daughters under close surveillance — especially since he’s a single dad who spends his workdays helping other women deliver babies — but he can be pretty suffocating at times. Kat doesn’t fall subservient to his rules just because he’s her dad; in fact, she makes it pretty clear that she plans on following her own agenda despite his attempts to restrict her (Sarah Lawrence or bust). She explains to him, “I want to go to an East Coast school. 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.”
3. Challenge your teachers when you think they’re wrong.
Just because teachers are authoritative figures doesn’t mean they’re always right. When Mr. Morgan tells his English class they’ll be reading Hemingway, Kat doesn’t sit idly by without contributing her two cents. “He was an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half of his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.”
4. Read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
In order to counter the male-dominated literature from her English class and the “oppressive patriarchal values that dictate education” (as she gently puts it), Kat balances her perspective by reading female authors at home. The Bell Jar — the literary classic by Sylvia Plath — is seemingly one of her favorites.
5. Popular guys in red convertibles are not impressive.
When the ever-popular Joey Donner drives around in his red convertible, he very much wants to be noticed: He shows off in Padua High School’s parking lot and even pulls alongside Kat to suggest she check out the latest issue of Cosmo for some fashion advice. Her response? Throw mad shade. There’s nothing worse than a narcissistic dude who can’t get enough of himself.
6. Stay true to yourself.
It’s easy to succumb to peer pressure, especially if you’re a young woman in high school, but one of Kat’s best qualities is her strong will — she lives up to her own expectations and hers alone. She tries to set an example for her younger sister Bianca and explains that she doesn’t have to do things for someone else’s reasons or happiness. When complaining about going to a party on the weekend, Kat opines: “Bogey’s party is just a lame excuse for all the idiots at our school to drink beer and rub up against each other in hopes of distracting themselves from the pathetic emptiness of their meaningless consumer-driven lives.”
7. If Biggie comes on at a party, it’s OK to dance on a table.
Kat isn’t usually much of a party girl, but after a few drinks at Bogey’s she can’t help herself but get down to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” There’s usually a somewhat contentious relationship between feminism and hip-hop, but this teen shows that it doesn’t always have to be so complicated. Maybe Biggie doesn’t have the most female-friendly lyrics, but maybe Kat can still navigate dancing around and having fun to his music because there isn’t a rule book for feminists to follow.
8. Poetry readings at feminist bookstores are fun after-school activities.
When Patrick tries to woo Kat after her slightly embarrassing night out, he follows her through the stacks of a feminist bookstore and coyishly asks to borrow a copy of The Feminine Mystique. Whether or not Betty Friedan’s feminist tome would be a good choice for Patrick is open to interpretation, but that was in 1999 before Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism or A Little F’d Up by Julie Zeilinger. Feminist bookstores — if you can find them — are great places to learn, raise your consciousness, and explore different ideologies that can affect your personal politics.
9. Your body, your rules.
Joey Donner isn’t a total jackass solely because he’s conceited and thinks he’s the bomb dot com — he plainly states how he’s interested in Bianca’s virginity at the beginning of the film, and eventually we find out that Kat also lost her virginity to Joey in the past. Kat tells her then-boyfriend when she realizes she’s not ready to continue having sex, and he dumps her. After this traumatic experience, Kat takes complete control of her body and from then on acts entirely on her terms. It doesn’t matter that other high schoolers are having sex and think it’s cool — since Kat isn’t ready, she’s sticking to her guns and won’t be swayed by peer pressure.
10. Let yourself fall in love.
Feminist theorist bell hooks once wrote, “Dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love — which is to transform us.” This sums up Kat and Patrick’s love affair pretty well. Neither of them were looking for any kind of serious love or romance, and their relationship ends up causing some problems along the way — it’s not just rainbows and butterflies. But in opening up to each other and letting their guards down, both characters find the ability to transform and change for the better, in one way or another. Love can be a radical act in itself, depending on how you choose to execute it.
11. But money doesn’t buy affection.
At the end of the film, Patrick buys Kat her dream guitar and leaves it in her car as a surprise attempt to win her back. Sure, it’s thoughtful when someone shows you they care by paying attention to what makes you happy, but one expensive guitar does not a relationship make. Kat makes it clear that even though their romance sees a happily ever after, her male counterpart shouldn’t get into the habit of turning to consumerism as a means to making her happy.
12. Don’t go to prom unless you really want to.
Even though Kat ends up attending her senior prom, she initially wanted no part of this “antiquated dating ritual.” This high school rite of passage might be a viable option for some, but Kat has a point in detesting the age-told tradition that perpetuates gender norms and heteronormative perceptions of sexuality. After tearing down a poster for the prom she expresses said disdain to her friend, Mandella: “Do you really wanna get all dressed up, so some Drakkar Noir-wearing dexter with a boner can feel you up while you’re forced to listen to a band that, by definition, blows?”
13. Make sure your voice is heard.
Kat’s opinions (and her desire to let them be known) undoubtedly make her into the fiercely independent woman she is. She doesn’t back down for anyone or anything, especially when she knows she’s right. After getting sent to her guidance counselor because of her resistance to read Hemingway in English, she maintains her stance and waiver — having the freedom to express yourself isn’t just a luxury, it’s a basic right.