Term Paper, 2007
19 Pages, Grade: 1,7
2 Short Summary of Disney’s “Mulan”
3 The Representation of Gender
3.1 The Protagonist Fa Mulan
3.2 Treatment of Women
3.3 Depiction of Men
3.4 Meaning of Song Texts presented in Disney’s “Mulan”
4 Gender as Performance
5 “Mulan’s” Influence on Society
6 Conclusion: Disney’s “Mulan” – A feminist movie?
The Representation of Gender in Disney’s “Mulan”
“How can they tell if I am male or female?” With this last line of “The Ballad of Mulan” the (anonymous) author raises the gender question already in the 6th century.
In this essay, I would like to analyse The Representation of Gender in Walt Disney’s “Mulan”, using the structure of the movie to focus on The Protagonist Fa Mulan, the Treatment of Women and the Depiction of Men. Additionally, the inquiry concerning the Meaning of Song Texts in Disney’s “Mulan” appears useful as these always play an important role in conveying movie themes. In order to establish a connection to the seminar on which this paper is based, I will illustrate how the movie is a good example for Judith Butler’s theory of Gender as Performance. Last but not least, I would like to show the Influence of Disney’s “Mulan” on Children and Society because fairy tales and movies “[…] do influence the manner in which children conceive the world and their places in it […]”. Drawing the “Conclusion”, I will try a careful approach to find out if Disney’s “Mulan” might even be considered as a feminist movie.
Walt Disney’s motion picture movie “Mulan” is loosely based on an ancient Chinese poem “The Ballad of Mulan” and set in 15th century China. It deals with a brave girl named Fa Mulan who is in search of self-definition and in this process enters the Imperial army disguised as a man and manages to save the country.
Fa Mulan is an impulsive girl who is expected to be a disciplined daughter and a future caring wife. However, after a catastrophic visit to the local matchmaker, she is reproached for being a disgrace to her family and predicted that she will never find a husband. Later that day, messengers of the Emperor announce that the Huns have invaded China and that one man from each family is obliged to fight in the Imperial army. Mulan’s elderly father obeys the command but it is obvious that he would not survive the battle. Therefore, Mulan steals her father’s armament, dresses as a man and runs away to join the military in his place.
In confrontation with the enemy, Mulan manages through a tactical maneuver to win the battle. However, she has received an injury and her secret is revealed. As a consequence, Mulan is left behind while her company enters the city in order to celebrate their victory. As she realizes that a small group of Huns has survived and attacks the Emperor, Mulan succeeds with another peculiar strategy to rescue the sovereign. She is glorified as a heroine and offered employment under the imperial crown which she thankfully refuses. She prefers to return to her family to which she now has brought great honor.
“The heroes are male because that has been the unconsidered choice, the norm, the American selfhood. Woman is the exception; man is the default setting […]”. Fa Mulan is such an exception. She is the heroine of Disney’s motion picture film “Mulan”. As noted in “Understanding Disney” “[…] the hero succeeds […] because of what they do […]” and “[…] heroines require nothing beyond what they are born with […]” . Considering this distinction, Mulan deviates even twice from “the norm” of fairy tales: not only is she the heroine of the story but also does she achieve this by her actions. The way towards being a heroine in a patriarchal society, however, was a major challenge for the protagonist. At the beginning of the movie, Fa Mulan is forced into the stereotypical feminine gender role but cannot fulfil it properly. Consequently she suffers from self-reproaches and the humiliation of being criticized in public.
The first appearance of the protagonist is the young girl sitting on her bed and writing characters of a ‘perfect woman’ on her forearm. For the meeting with the local matchmaker, she tries to memorize the following qualities: a woman has to be “quiet and demure, graceful, polite, delicate, refined, poised, punctual.” Speaking of punctuality, she heads towards the city in order to be transformed from the tomboyish girl to a “perfect porcelain doll” . Though, seeing herself in the mirror does not seem to make her really happy. The dress and the make-up appear more like a costume to her, a façade. This styling does not represent who she really is and how she feels but her family and society expect appropriate behavior from her.
At the matchmaker’s Mulan is told once again that in order to “[…] please [her] future in-laws, [she] must demonstrate a sense of dignity and refinement. [She] must also be poised and silent.” These characteristics are inculcated into the girls’ minds and in the sense of Simone de Beauvoir, Mulan “[…] is not born, but, rather, becomes, a woman […]” by imposed behavior.
The encounter ends as a disaster and the matchmaker tells Mulan that she “[…] may look like a bride but [she] will never bring [her] family honour. ” Her outer appearance does not reflect who she is inside. When Mulan arrives home and takes off her make-up from just one side of her face, this picture visualizes her inner conflict. It shows her true self and the woman she is supposed to be. How she suffers from the previous experience and the inability to fulfil the social expectations is expressed in the song “Reflection” (see Chapter 3.4).
After having discussed the war issue with her father and being told that she needs to find her place in society, Mulan decides that she will join the army in her father’s place. The depiction of her changes from woman to man clearly illustrates the elimination of stereotypical feminine features. She is cutting her long hair short, changes her dress for her father’s military uniform and substitutes the prescription notice with her hairgrip.
 Lau, J.: Ode to Mulan ; http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/mulan.html; as of March 28, 2007
 In the following, I will refer to the Disney movie “Mulan” in inverted commas and to the protagonist Fa Mulan without special labeling
  Zipes, Jack: Don’t Bet on the Prince. Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North American and England ; Gower, 1986; p. xii
 cf. Wikipedia: Mulan ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulan; as of March 20, 2007
 Reising, Russell: It’s a Dirty World after All ; In: American Quarterly ; Vol. 49, No. 4; John Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, MD, December 1997; p. 857
 Wasko, Janet: Understanding Disney. The Manufacture of Fantasy ; Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd.; Malden, MA, USA, 2001; p. 133
 Disney’s “Mulan”. Special Edition; Directors: Bancroft, Tony/Cook, Barry; Walt Disney Productions, 2004; Chapter 3, Time 00:03:00
 ibid.; Chapter 4, Time 00:08:27
 ibid.; Chapter 4, Time 00:09:49
 In: Butler, Judith: Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory ; In: Conboy, Katie/Medina, Nadia/Stanbury, Sarah: Writing on the Body. Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory ; Columbia University Press; New York, Chichester, West Sussex, 1997; p. 402
 Disney’s “Mulan”; Chapter 4, Time 00:10:51
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