Disney’s 1998 classic tale,Mulan, is renowned as a timeless film, one that inspires young girlseverywhere. It is by far the most girl-power filled film in theDisney Princess franchise due to its eponymous heroine who goes towar in place of her father by impersonating a male soldier. Not onlydoes she single handedly save the whole country of China, but shealso manages to get a husband in the process, with whom she liveshappily ever after. Although this sounds like the perfect tale ofgirl power, some more sinister themes lay beneath the innocuous,picturesque surface.Set in the Northern Wei dynasty ofChina, the gender roles of China were simple as depicted through songin Mulan. “We all must serve our Emperor… a man by bearing arms,a girl by bearing sons.
” Mulan’s one and only role in life is tomarry a man, who she is deemed fit for and to bear many sons and tendto the home. She is to live a life of homely domesticity. This isperhaps one of the most obvious motifs that don’t shine a nicepretty light on Mulan. Mulan has to go to a beauty salon in order tomeet the matchmaker and “bring honour” to her family. At thesalon, Mulan is mercilessly soaked in a freezing bath, has her hairtied up neatly, her waist laced up, and is overloaded with excessivemake-up and jewels. The potential brides, Mulan included, are thusmade to look like “cultured pearls, each a perfect porcelain doll.
“According to the beauty specialists, “A girl can bring her familygreat honour in one way, by striking a good match.” They preachthat “Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who workfast-paced, with good breeding and a tiny waist.” This demonstrateshegemony as Mulan willingly gives power to the beauty specialists,the matchmaker and her future husband as she goes through thegruelling process of looking like a “perfect bride.” However,even though Mulan looks like a perfect bride, she is far from one asshe demonstrates her clumsiness through the matchmaker interview, aswell as her impudence speaking without permission and her lack ofpunctuality as her mother remarks that she’s “late” to thebeauty salon. The matchmaker interview ends up a bust and she getsthrown out remarking that she “may look like a bride but will neverbring her family honour.
“The second motif present in Mulanis identity or Mulan’s lack thereof. After the botched matchmakerinterview, Mulan sings eloquently, “Look at me, I will never passfor the perfect bride, or the perfect daughter.” Mulan isdesperately searching for her identity, her “part to play” in asociety that doesn’t accept her as herself “now I see, if I weretruly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart.” She cries”who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me” asking whenher reflection will show who she really is. As she stares into themirror, she wipes off the left side of her make-up caked face,perhaps revealing that she is left-brained typical for men. Mulan isa strong, independent, intelligent lady, but everyone around her onlysees her for her beauty her long black hair, big lips and dark eyes avisage of beauty, but she would be unhappy in her role as dutifulhousewife. “Reflection” serves as a turning point for Mulan:afterwards, she openly protests against her father.
In doing so, shedisobeys important rules; she faces men outside of the farm and evenaddresses them directly in objecting that her father has alreadyfought bravely in previous wars. Her temper is anything but subdued,and she openly disagrees with her father: “You shouldn’t have togo! There are plenty of young men to fight for China!” While herrejection of her father’s authority could be considered juvenile,it should be noted that she primarily acts out of concern for heraged father, who is withered and unfit for the tolls and stresses ofwar. Still, Fa Zhou, who has taken offense at Mulan’s protest,claims that she has dishonoured him. It is only now that he angrilyreprimands her: “I know my place, it is time you learned yours!”Mulan begins to openly show who she is after accepting the fact thatshe “can’t hide” who she is even though she’s tried.
She isoppressed because she lacks power and privilege as the youngest womenin her household.Anothersevere problem with the film is that everyone seems to adopt anessentialist perspective about women and men. Though this problem isnot the film itself but also a problem that looms over China. Theessentialist perspective assumes that people are their personalities(Warren & Fasset, 2011). In this case, the essentialistperspective is pushed onto Mulan and all women of her time.
Theybelieve that all women are satisfied with being married to a man whois chosen for them and that they are content living a life ofdomesticity. Mulan’s mother and father believe this, Mulan’sgrandmother believes this, even Ling, Yao and Chen Po believe in theconservative values of ancient China. Ling sings “I want her palerthan the moon, with eyes that shine like stars” where Yao goes onto sing “My girl will marvel at my strength, adore my battle scars”where Chen Po doesn’t care what she looks like, he simply careswhat she “cooks like.
” They want the girl to think they have nofaults, that they’re major finds and will adore that they’resoldiers. It’s all very traditional “seen not heard” Chinesevalues of a woman. When Mulan (as Ping) goes on to say “How ’bouta girl who’s got a brain and always speaks her mind” the boys allsay in unison “Nah!” making it known that Mulan would once againnot be accepted were she to truly be herself as she has a brain andspeaks her mind constantly. It makes it clear to Mulan that she wouldnot be a girl worth fighting for and that her worst fears are comingto life, that she’ll never bring her family honour. She, as a womanlight years ahead of her time, can only be heard when she’s dressedup in her armour with her hair sheathed off by what China considersthe epitome of masculinity a soldier’s sword. Even Mushu has thetraditional male mindset.
When she is discovered by the soldiers tobe a woman, her power is instantly gone and she is left alone in thesnow with her horse, Khan, and Mushu. She monologues, “Maybe Ididn’t go for my father, maybe I went for myself. Maybe what Ireally wanted was to prove I could do things right. So when I lookedin the mirror, I’d see someone worthwhile, but I was wrong.
I seenothing.” Mushu cleans off the helmet and tells her “Look at you,you look so pretty” in a pretty sad attempt to cheer her up. Thoughthis does nothing but make Mulan more sad as she thinks of her familyback home and how she shamed them even more than before. Though”Ping” was praised for his bravery and ability, once the sham isrevealed and that she was a woman, she is instantly called a snakeand spit upon for even daring to take a man’s place in the army.Chi Fu asserts “You know the law” and orders Shang to kill Mulanfor her treason.
But he allows her to roam free, because she savedhis life and risked hers, whether she was a man or not. Isn’t itrather ironic that when Mulan dresses up as a man, she is more ableto be herself? Suffocated by the role that the society in which shewas born prescribes to her, Mulan is more at ease and morecomfortable playing a man (mind you, this is after she gets used toit). She keeps up with the training in order to become a man, andeven begins to surpass her other, actually male counterparts. Thisdemonstrates the application of one’s front and back stage selves.
Mulan, in this case, has many different sides. The self she is afraidto show her family, the self that struggles to blend into what hersociety says she should, the self that longs to be her own woman andnot live a life of homely domesticity and finally the self where sheis completely allowed to do all the things she wants in life, simplybecause the people surrounding her believe she is a man. Because ofthat privilege, “Ping” gets to live without restraint whereasMulan is always restrained in her society. They tell her to “Fulfilyour duties calmly and respectfully. Reflect before you act. You mustdemonstrate a sense of dignity and refinement. You must also bepoised and silent!” Mulan is told that these key componentsimplemented correctly will bring her honour and glory.
To put itsimply, everything that she has ever been told goes against everyfibre of who she is. They tell her to suffocate this want to be freeand her own person because she can’t do that unless she wants toshame her family. Basically, Mulan’s only choices in her time wouldhave been to become a stripper or to hide in obscurity for the restof her life. Neither of which would satisfy Mulan’s need foradventure.The social construction of genderas depicted in dynastic China is summed up in the song “Honour toUs All” & “Make A Man Out Of You.” Mulan must be “primpedand polished” till she glows with pride to be a woman, she musthave a tiny waist, be calm, obedient, work fast paced, be a goodbreeder and have good taste whereas men on the other hand must “beas swift as the coursing river with all the force of a great typhoon,with all the strength of a raging fire” and be equally asmysterious as the dark side of the moon. Dynastic China would verymuch so hold these values of what makes a man and a woman dearly. Itis for this same reason that Mulan is almost executed forimpersonating a soldier in the war she overstepped her bounds as awoman.
Women are to tend to the home and to the kids while the menfight the wars and are the typical breadwinners of the family. Anydeviation from that is ludicrous and asinine. This socialconstruction is hammered in almost at birth as a woman’s job duringthat time was to primp their daughters to eventually be married offto some man she doesn’t know. While completely commonplace at thetime, Mulan does not find satisfaction in doing her household choresand tends to exhibit more “tomboyish” habits than anything. EvenMulan, who so desperately fought the social norms, still got a man inthe end.
This raises some issues as she was a revolutionary who brokeaway from what she was told to be yet, still does her part inbringing honour to her family by marrying a “good match.”Allin all, Mulan is a movie that children and adults will continue tocherish and adore. However, next time, do not let yourself be soeasily grabbed by the catchy musical numbers and seeminglyrevolutionary story that is told. Yes, Mulan is an unorthodox heroinewho changes all the rules, but she does so by conforming to a flawedsystem and affecting change from the inside, under the guise of aman. In lieu of doing it as a woman, it is not as girl power filledas many of us would like to believe.
She, for the most part, affectsall of this change as a man. Once she’s discovered, all her hardwork in the training and the relationships she’s forged are alltossed to the wind and she’s quickly relegated back to her place asa lowly woman. However, despite its flawed execution in being a girlpower story, it embodies a quintessential feel-good, be true to yourheart film that will leave you wanting to affect change in the worldaround you.? undefined undefined undefined undefined undefined undefined undefined undefined undefined undefined