Sisterhood Blog

What '10 Things' Taught Me About Secular World

By Tova Ross

  • Print
  • Share Share

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in ‘10 Things I Hate About You’

I would be remiss if I let 2014 whoosh by without pausing to commemorate the 15th anniversaries of three of the most seminal coming-of-age stories of our time. I’m referring, of course, to “She’s All That,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” and “Never Been Kissed”: the trifecta of teen movies from 1999, a banner year for helping to perpetuate the misinformed fantasies of hormonal adolescent girls throughout the world.

I had forgotten about this momentous anniversary until my friend Frimet Goldberger, who regularly illuminates what it’s like to find your way in the world after an insular Hasidic upbringing, wrote about her regret at never getting to attend a prom, “that quintessentially American rite of passage.”

I didn’t grow up Hasidic like Frimet, but I didn’t get a prom either. Nor did I get to wear my boyfriend’s varsity jacket as I floated through the halls of our high school, reform the bad boy into the sensitive soul he always was, or enjoy a makeover that literally just meant taking my hair out of its ponytail and putting on a more flattering shirt, instantly catapulting me from giant neb to major hottie. I didn’t get to do any of the things portrayed in those movies, and for a boy-crazy youth who grew up in a strictly-regulated home on the outskirts of the yeshivish community in Flatbush, Brooklyn, these cinematic plot devices served as the collective outlet of all my ideas about what it was like to be a “normal” teenage girl in modern-day America.

Not that I was necessarily allowed to go to these movies: despite being 13 years old, my parents were inherently suspicious of any movie with a racier rating than G (even PG raised eyebrows). PG-13 was not up for discussion. My friends from school and I instead colluded to come up with a mutual lie that we told our parents — we usually said we were going bowling — and then we’d sneak to the movie theater and feel very sneaky and grownup as we attempted to purchase tickets and overpriced candy and soda as nonchalantly as possible.

As we sat there on the gum-pocked seats of the local theater clad in our Skechers and cargo skirts, we fell in love with Freddie Prinze Jr., the jock with the heart of gold, who fell for Rachel Leigh Cook as art-nerd Laney Boggs in “She’s All That”; we swooned at Heath Ledger’s crooked grin and Aussie accent as he verbally sparred with sharp-tongued and quick-witted Julia Stiles, who read Sylvia Plath and listened to Riot Grrrl music in “10 Things I Hate About You”; and we tried to make sense of whether high school popularity was really as fluid as “Never Been Kissed” suggested and how on earth schoolteacher Michael Vartan could fall in love with Drew Barrymore, who he thought was his student (wildly inappropriate even with pre-2014 lens). Amid these romances, we noted with shock what appeared to be regular high school shtick: flirtations and hookups galore, sex-ed with bananas (we thought we knew what those were stand-ins for, but we weren’t positive), disrespectful asides from surly teens and casual bantering between students and teachers. All these phenomena were almost inconceivable to us, so segregated were we from co-ed environments and also because we referred to all our teachers in third person as outlined in our derech eretz handbook (which detailed the proper, Jewish way to comport ourselves in public).

Sometimes, it was easy — and often suffocating — to imagine that the world started and stopped right there in our immediate Orthodox Jewish community. It was a lovely world at times, but a very, very small world. These films showed me and my friends what life was like not only for teens throughout most of the country, but for most of the teens in our city. Though sometimes the “outside” world looked like a giant minefield fraught with danger, it was also teeming with vibrancy, possibilities and also so many cute boys. I can’t speak for my friends at the time, but I was green with envy and began to nurse a deep resentment for what I saw as a sheltered upbringing that lacked the normal American girl experience I craved.

I’ve watched those movies semi-regularly since then, as I often engage in wistful nostalgia for the pastimes I voraciously consumed in my youth, so very angst-filled back then but in reality, so very simple compared to adulthood. A lot’s changed, obviously: Heath Ledger, so wonderfully vibrant as a heartbreaking rebel, and Paul Walker, glorious as a villainous sidekick, are no longer alive. Freddie Prinze Jr. has kids with Buffy. Drew Barrymore married a veritable yid. As for me, I’m no longer bitter at not growing up in the kind of world depicted in those movies. I’ve made many American-as-apple-pie friends since then who tell me those movies didn’t quite capture their actual lives. I can see some of the positives of growing up in a world with limits and a lack of knowledge about the more sordid aspects of an anything-goes environment. And, like Frimet, I’m excited to co opt some of the less seedy “rites of passage” that the more stringent communities of our youths eschewed. (Err, I’m invited to that prom you promised to one day hold for your fellow ex-Hasidic girls, right Frimet?)

Maybe I didn’t get a high school dance, or have my sweaty boyfriend wrap me in a bear hug after scoring a touchdown in the big game. But at the very least, I got to sit there in a raucous movie theater next to my similarly wide-eyed partners in petty crime, awash with wonder at this world that was so very close to us — but still so completely out of reach — and dream.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: movies, Orthodox, Jewish, Hasidic, "She's All That", "Never Been Kissed", "10 Things I Hate About You"

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.