So, one of my all-time, longest-lasting favorite movie is “Mulan.” My whole family + all the childhood friends I’ve ever had know this. My high school and my Bethany friends know this, and most of them agree with me.
Now, “Mulan” merits praise for a lot of the obvious reasons: it has some of the most memorable musical tracks of any Disney movie (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” anyone?); it wrangled in one of the biggest comedians of its time (Eddie Murphy); its artistic delivery is polished, detailed, and graceful; and the orchestral music itself has a life of its own.
Some might notice I’ve left out something crucial: the characters.
That’s because they deserve a discussion of its own.
See, as I’ve left my teen years I’ve approached this “feminist” mentality that started my first year of college. It took off from there and steadied into a reliable facet of my worldview. What I mean by “feminism” is that I’m someone who believes in women being able and qualified to be highly achieving professionals and intellectuals. That’s my main argument. I may even be one of those women with a difficult time understanding the decision of some to be “housewives” (however, I do respect that decision). I’m someone who believes women should speak up for themselves and defend their rights. I believe in making my own decisions, and I resist the idea of submissiveness unless it’s to someone worthy of it. I don’t think these traits should garner a girl the label of a “bitch,” but honestly, if those are the behaviors that get them the title, then the title is a good thing. However, I’m also quite a little rule-follower. I have a lot of social propriety and I don’t like feeling as if I’ve been rude.
This is the wonderful complexity I think “Mulan” nails on the head, for which the writers should be endlessly commended.
See, “Mulan” is not a movie about a girl that rejects her society’s values in favor of some self-serving goal. She has become what some schools of psychological thought would call “self-actualized.” She does break the rules. But as the emperor tells her,
“I have heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan.
You stole your father’s armor,
ran away from home,
impersonated a soldier,
deceived your commanding officer,
dishonored the Chinese Army,destroyed my palace!
And you have saved us all.”
Mulan’s accomplishments came at the expense of her personal safety and societal stability.
But, possibly even more importantly than that, ultimately her actions that won her victory were inspired by and delivered through her gender perspective. You know what I’m talking about — Yao, and Lin, and Chien-po — become “ugly concubines.” Were it not for Mulan’s unique female perspective, nobody would have ever gotten into the palace in time to stop Shan Yu.
Yes, Mulan physically and emotionally improved and hardened herself throughout the course of the movie. But I don’t think she ever rejected her femininity unless it was necessary for her safety (“Just because I look like a man doesn’t mean I have to smell like one”).
This beautiful balance I think is what all women should strive for. Nobody should strive to fit their gender roles at the expense of their own personal betterment. Nobody should accept gender roles if that means placing them above their own values. Nobody should accept gender roles if it impedes upon intelligence or physical or emotional well-being.
Another point I wanted to make, but lost sight of when I got on my pedestal via the words above, was how Disney STILL managed to reject her as a powerful female for the sake of their advertising.
At one point, I’m sure you all saw “Mulan” covers where there was the “feminized” Mulan with “Ping” in the reflection of her sword. This is the essence of the movie.
However, in the later DVD release (not sure about the details — I got this one within the last few years; it came with the horrendous second movie), they kept the flashy sword while TOTALLY removing the intentions they had for having the sword in the earlier cover in the first place. For some reason, this is pretty damn offensive to me. Most people, I hope, have seen “Mulan” and know better. But just like — for some reason, the cover artists made the decision to all but eliminate “Ping” from the portrayal of the movie. The tiny figure on the tiny horse doesn’t even have her hair in the traditional Chinese bun. WTF?
This leads me into my second point about Disney’s inability to follow through with Mulan’s accomplishments: Her Barbie doll.
My parents happen to still believe I’m a 12-year-old girl, so once in a while they’ve bought me a Barbie doll. I’ve got this Mulan doll they released as part of the “Disney Princess” arc. She’s wearing a sparkly pink kimono with a fancy golden crown on her head.
A. Mulan never wore that elaborate of kimono in the film
B. Even though Shang got the hots for Mulan and she made him all flustered and Grandma Fa told him to stay forever, and so Mulan *did* implicitly end up with a man, hello, SHANG IS NOT A PRINCE. HE IS A MILITARY OFFICIAL.
THEREFORE, this crown they placed on the Mulan-Barbie’s head is a total fictionalization with no basis whatsoever in the actual character they depicted.
Thus, the Barbie doll designers didn’t have the balls to accept the fact that Mulan, a very pretty, intelligent, physically accomplished woman, is pretty damn kick-ass and would probably rather wear armor if she had a choice in the matter. They just packaged her away in the serial stereotype of a Disney princess. (I will note, we all know she’s not the only one they’ve done this to, but she happens to be the dearest to me.)
So I suppose I’m making a point here about the disparity between quietly admitted attitudes about gender — say, movies produced in the 1990’s that depict very strong, uncompromising females — and what people actually have the balls to admit out loud for fear of being shunned by society.
I mean, maybe most individuals feel all right with a woman like Mulan (by the way, she’d have had a much harder time in Chinese society with what she did), but mostly we’re all still stuck under this idea that we can’t fess up to the possibility that there’s a problem.
THERE’S A PROBLEM.
That’s what I have to say to all the blind optimists I know.
No matter how much you choose to let that fact rule your life, please, don’t pretend there’s not. Don’t try to ignore it. Accept it.
And if you’re feeling brave enough, do something about it.