Disney’s as a man to fight for her

Disney’s
movie Mulan is an animated musical-action film that was released in 1998.

It is a story about a young Chinese woman who fails to carry out a Chinese
women’s traditional duty of getting married. Thus, she embarks on a mission to
save her weakened father from dying in the war and to save China from the Huns.

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Knowing that only men can join the army, she conceals her identity by dressing
up as a man to fight for her country and bring honour to her family. With the
help of her guardian spirit Mushuu and a lucky cricket she is able to defeat
the Huns and bring peace to her country. While also falling in love with her army
captain, General Li Shang. This Disney film is a feminist film that portrays
and encourages that women can also be powerful and successful. The movie that
tried to change and move away from the typical stereotypes of a woman and her
roles but ended up reinforcing those traditional stereotypes. While trying to
break away from the female stereotypes, the film created scenes where gender stereotypes
showed that males have more privileges over females. The film Mulan
reinforces masculine and feminine stereotypes, shows how difficult changing stereotypical
gender roles are and also portrays gender performativity which creates an ideology
in the minds of young boys and girls. The movie unconsciously shapes and constrains
the beliefs and behaviours of the audience. It creates a biased and one-sided
perception of females and teaches children that women can never truly be empowering
while men have the ability to do that.

Mulan is trying to break away from female
stereotype norms while unintentionally reinforcing masculine and feminine stereotypes.

Firstly, male stereotype traits are reinforced when the scene of the captain Li
Shang signing the song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (Mulan, 1998) is
shown in the movie. When analyzing the lyrics “Let’s get down to business, to
defeat the Huns. Did they send me daughters when, when I asked for sons?” shows
that only men are capable of being strong and brave enough to fight. Li Shang
is implying that women cannot be fit for this job and that they are weak and
will not be able to handle his war, while he is training the recruit. This is
very discriminating towards females because it tells you that having “womanly” features
and qualities are not suitable for fighting in the war. Instead to be
successful all the recruits need to develop into men. This example proves patriarchy
which is “is a
system of power relations in which women’s interests are subordinated to those
of men…patriarchy essentializes women in a way that devalues them while
predominantly serving the interests of men.” (Ott and Mack 195) The song
degrades the qualities of a female to make the characteristics of a male stand
out. Again, reinforcing that men are the only true heroes, act like them and
you will succeed. Not only are masculine stereotypes reinforced but so are
feminine stereotypes. While marching to battle, the army sings the song “A
Girl Worth Fighting For” (Mulan, 1998) where they each describe what kind
of girl they want, reinforcing that men are given a choice when choosing their
brides while females had to go to a matchmaker. The men sing “A girl worth fighting
for. I want her paler than the moon with eyes that shine like stars… It all
depends on what she cooks like.” The active/passive and sexual subject/sexual object
analysis can be used to reinforce the idea of female stereotypes, “Women, in
contrast, are coded as passive and weak, and media texts tend to represent
women as the “family nurturer” as a result” (Ott and Mack 200) This teaches the
audience that women are only worthy if she is able to raise a family and
increase her husband’s ego. However, when Mulan signs “How ’bout a girl who’s got a brain. Who always speaks her mind?” all the
men turn to her with a disgusted face and say “Nah!” The audience gets a
message that women should be brainless and only follow and act how men want her
to. Thus, this movie does not represent men and women equally and contradicts women
empowerment.   

            The
film Mulan was made to combat the stereotypical gender roles in the Chinese
culture, however, the movie contains proof of the contrary. China, in Mulan, is
shown as a male dominated society in which men and women’s actions must comply with their cultural roles. In
this setting, a man brings honor to his family by fighting in the war and
becoming a high positioned soldier. A woman fulfills her honorable role to the
family by marrying a man with status and wealth. Towards the beginning of the
movie, when Mulan is grooming to go see a matchmaker all the women sing to her “Honour us all”. It suggests that, “a girl can bring her family great honor in one way,
by striking a good match. Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast-paced. With good
breeding and a tiny waist” (Mulan 1988.) However, Mulan seems to successfully
move away from these traditional roles when she saves all of China and as her achievement
she is offered a seat in the council. Instead of accepting this stereotype
breaker role as a woman, she refuses and decided to go home like a passive
daughter. This portrays that as ‘a man’ in the army she was able to work but once the
roles are reversed, Mulan yearns to go home which is considered a norm for
women. Also, when she returns her grandmother says, “Great, she brought home a sword. If you ask me she
should have brought home a man”
(Mulan 1998). This goes to show that despite her efforts, her family’s ideology on culture honor and women roles have
not changed. They would still like to see her a bride. Like shown in the movie Mulan,
a women’s role
is to honour her family by becoming a bride and in this lie their true
happiness. Although the film tries to show Mulan as a feminist princess it
fails to do as it only reinforces the gender roles of both male and female.

A different
approach can be used to analyze the gender stereotypes and norms in Mulan. Queer
theory’s concept of gender performativity can be used to analyze the drag
components of the film. Gender performativity argues that gender characteristics
and roles are society constructed. These gender traits, other than physical
traits, are not born with us, but are imposed on people through the norms of
society, or in this analysis through the media. Mulan shows gender
performance through the movie since Mulan the main character dressed as a man throughout
the whole story. Being born a woman, Mulan however is not able to perform ‘girl’
tasks properly. Through the song “You’ll Bring Honour to Us All” (Mulan
1998) the film shows Mulan getting ready and being tested on pouring tea.

However, Mulan fails to act properly like a woman. Therefore, Mulan being a
woman has difficulty with this female gender performance. On the other hand,
when she is disguised as a man to fight in the army, she is able to develop the
skills of a man and achieve recognition. This example reinforces Butler’s
ideology that “…masculine and feminine are cultural constructions.

They allow for the social classification, essentializing, and (dis)empowerment
of the groups that identify with them.” (Ott and Mack 216) The opposite gender
performance is also shown in the movie. Mulan’s soldier friends were required
to dress up as women to seduce the Huns so they could go save the emperor. They
were able to save the emperor through this act and implement this gender
performance. Again, this strengthens the idea that genders do not have specific
roles and characteristics based on their sex but they are solely social norms that
reinforces onto humans. This analysis showcases that gender roles can be
changed and that each sex is not compelled to act a certain way.  

   In conclusion, Mulan tries to break
free from female stereotypes to be a feminist movie but unintentionally ends up
reinforcing masculine and feminine gender stereotypes and roles. However,
through its drag component of the film it is able to convey the message that
gender characteristics and roles are created by society and culture and can be
changed. Thus, the film reinforces the idea that we live in a male dominant
society and in order to for a woman to succeed she need to possess male
characteristics. The media is unable to be fully feminist implementing that it
is a powerful persuasive tool that builds the social rules that humans unconsciously
follow.