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Feminist Critique of Mulan

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Brigid Freed

on 3 June 2013

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Transcript of Feminist Critique of Mulan

Mulan Plot Summary Mulan is an animated children's movie set in ancient China. Mulan is a girl who doesn't fit in with what her patriarchal society expects of women. When the Huns invade China, one son from every family must go to fight, but Mulan is her parent's only child, so her old and sick father volunteers. In the middle of the night Mulan disguises her self as a man named Ping, takes her father's armor and sword, and leaves her family. When her family realize she is gone they are devastated, but know if they go after her she will be discovered and killed. Mulan reports to army training and struggles at first with the rest of the men, but eventually becomes one of the most valuable soldiers. She uses her cleverness to save the lives of many of her fellow soldiers. When Mulan is wounded in battle and the men discover she is a woman they abandon her, but spare her life. In the end Mulan comes back and ends up saving the lives the men and the emperor with her wit. She is honored by the emperor, and ends up marrying her general named Shang from the army. Thesis:
The movie Mulan challenges some traditional gender stereotypes because it portrays a female protagonist resisting the sexist provisions of her society and succeeding in a traditionally male area, but also perpetuates some gender stereotypes because it shows Mulan marrying Shang in the end of the movie showing that Mulan is still just another woman looking for a man. Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes Female Characters Mulan Mulan portrayed as the 'tomboy' character. In the beginning of the movie the audience is presented with the characteristics that are expected of women in China. Mulan must remember to be "quiet, graceful, demure, polite, delicate, refined, poised, and punctual." These values are similar to the Cult of True Womanhood, and in the beginning Mulan tries her best to be these things. The society presents marriage as the only way for a woman to bring honor to her family. Though there is clear sexism in the society the audience is supposed to identify and respect Mulan's defiance of these roles. It becomes clear as the movie continues that Mulan is not these things. She feels bad that she cannot be what her family expects of her and be herself. When Mulan goes to war she ends up succeeding amongst the men and saving the lives of many soldiers. This action represents goals of second wave feminism and is how she defies gender roles because she succeeds in male field. When the men discover that she is a woman they lose all respect for her and abandon her. Matchmaker The matchmaker is portrayed as evil in the movie. Mulan is instantly judged as worthless by the matchmaker based on her manners and the fact that she is too skinny and not fit for 'bearing sons.' This shows a bit of Republican Motherhood because women's main role was to bear and raise good sons.The matchmaker herself is shown as fat and ugly. The directors seem to portray 'evil' characters as either or a combination of fat, ugly, and old. There never seem to be 'good' female characters that are not skinny or very pretty. After Mulan's experience with the matchmaker she becomes sad that she failed to impress the matchmaker and struggles with being true to herself and doing what her family wants her to do. Male Characters Shang Shang is the army captain and is portrayed as the masculine ideal. He is strong, athletic, and never cries even when he discovers that his father dies in battle. He perpetuates the 'Tough Guise' stereotype that men should be physical and not show their emotions. All of the other soldiers aspire to be like him, and the audience laughs at their attempts. In the movie when Shang attempts to train his soldiers it leads in to the song "I'll Make a Man Out of You", in which Shang attempts to make 'men' out of his soldiers. Hinting that being a real man is measured by your physical toughness. The irony being that Mulan is a woman, and by the end of the song Mulan is as good and even better at the physical tasks as the other men and Shang. This shows that the movie is trying to show that a woman can still physically compete with men. Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po Yao, Ling, and Chien Po are soldiers shown for comedy in the movie. Yao is portrayed as the aggressive guy. He is very masculine, rough, and has a permanent black eye, but at the same time he is not good at the physical activities they do in training. Ling is a friendly and funny guy and Chien-Po is a big gentle guy who loves food. The audience is supposed to laugh at this trio's stupidity, slapstick humor, and lack of being the masculine ideal. The men look up to Shang as the ideal man. There is a scene near the end of the movie where Mulan, after they discover she is a woman, has an idea to save the emperor from the Huns. She convinces Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po to dress up as women to distract the Hun guards. Shang is the only man that doesn't cross dress showing that a real man would never dress like a woman. Chi Fu Chi Fu is the misogynistic character in the movie, and is portrayed as evil. He is egotistical and pompous. He is on the emperor's cabinet, but in the end of the movie is 'shamed' by the emperor when the emperor offers Mulan Chi Fu's cabinet position. Chi Fu makes many sexist comments throughout the movie. He tells Mulan's father that he should teach is daughter to remain silent in the presence of a man. He also says in reference to Mulan, “She’ll never be worth anything! She’s a woman!” He even encourages Shang to kill Mulan after they discover she is a woman.While Chi Fu is very misogynistic and sexist the audience is intended to hate him and root for Mulan. Race The characters in the movie are all Chinese with the exception of the Huns. When characters were portrayed as evil their 'asian' characteristics seemed to be exaggerated more, their skin color darkened, and their accents thickened. Good characters skin seemed to be lighter and had virtually no accents. Disney seems to be saying that the good people are the people that are more 'white' and less asian looking. They are perpetuating the 'white' ideal At the end of the movie Mulan and Shang end up together, even after Shang abandons her when he finds out that she is a woman. The fact that they end up together at the end of the film reinforces the gender stereotype that women are only valuable with a man. The fact that most Disney movies end in the woman finding a man reinforces traditional gender stereotypes. By:
Brigid Freed The End
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