Things Feminists Hate: Disney Princesses – Mulan

Oh I know what you are thinking.

How the hell could feminists take issue with a movie that is about a women defying all traditional gender roles, becoming a skilled soldier, and saving her whole country?

Apparently they manage to take a lot of issue with it. *eye roll*

So here’s the deal.

Feminists look so close at a piece of entertainment that they end up only seeing the brushstrokes and missing out on the whole image. In many ways that’s where feminists find problems in Disney movies and Mulan in particular. They are so busy looking at a single line in a single song, that they forget that the target audience isn’t seeing sexism in the film.

Ask a little girl if the scene where they sing “A Girl Worth Fighting For” where Mulan says “a girl who speaks her mind” and the men respond “Nah!” is supposed to be taken seriously, 99.99% of them will look at you like your crazy.

“No, because Mulan is a girl. So it’s supposed to be funny, because the guys like when Ping speaks HIS mind and he’s really a girl!” They will say…and then they will look at you like they think your brain is dribbling out your ears.

I know this from experience. Children can cope far better with the world than the average feminist.

Oh, Mulan.  She’s meant to be non-offensive, and she ends up being not-anything.  Despite claims to the contrary, she’s not a feminist hero.  She has to dress as a boy to achieve selfhood, and refuses political influence in order to return to the domestic constraints of her father and husband-to-be.  The movie itself doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test, if you consider that the only topic the other female characters discuss is Mulan’s marriageability – a hypothetical relationship with a man.  The final defeat of the antagonist is achieved by the male Mushu riding on a phallic firecracker, as Mulan flails helplessly at his feet.  Positive female role model? Case closed.

Bitch Flicks

This movie was also the subject of comment from feminist critics. Mimi Nguyen says the film “pokes fun at the ultimately repressive gender roles that seek to make Mulan a domesticated creature.” Nadya Labi agrees, saying “there is a lyric in the film that gives the lie to the bravado of the entire girl-power movement.” She pointed out that she needed to become a boy to do it. Kathleen Karlyn, an assistant professor of English at the University of Oregon, criticizes it suggesting “In order to even imagine female heroism, we’re placing it in the realm of fantasy”. Pam Coats, producer of Mulan, aimed to produce a character that exhibits both masculine and feminine influences, being both physically and mentally strong.

– Wikipedia

mulan-from-mulanOkay, hold up.Which way do feminists want it? Women to be dressed like women (isn’t that sexist to assume that women have to dress ‘feminine’) or that women should dress however they want and will get the job done?

No female soldier in this day and age goes to war in a dress, heels, and pearls anyway. Show me one military (besides North Korea) where the women dress in heels to do maneuvers and I’ll give you this point. Soldiers dress like soldiers, because dressing any other way would be impractical.

It’s also explained very well that women were not allowed to fight in the military, so of course she had pretend to be a man. In fact, the story would be quite boring if she hadn’t had to disguise herself. The irony, of course, being that she was finally able to be more like herself while in disguise.

And aren’t we forgetting that Mulan and her friends all accomplish their final victory over Shan Yu…while dressed as women?

Yes, even the men were dressed as women.

And that’s how they saved the emperor.

Every citizen who witnessed that moment were aware that a woman had not only saved the emperor, but also saved the entire country.

But here’s something they seem to be missing. This is a woman from a culture put stock in women being subservient and homemakers and respectful of their family, but Mulan broke the rules in order to protect her father and ended up bringing more honor to her family’s name than she ever could have just as a wife.

How is it not feminist for a movie to show a woman breaking out of her culture traditional role for her and being successful at doing so?

Then there’s this nonsense about the Bechdel test. Of course there aren’t two women talking about anything other than a man in this film. Literally the only scene where Mulan is conversing with other women is when she’s being prepared to meet her matchmaker! She spends the rest of the movie with an annoying cricket, a talking “dragon”, and a bunch of men. She has plenty of conversations with the other soldiers that don’t involve getting her man.

Why is it that she has so few conversations with women? Oh, that’s right, she’s pretending to be a man and she’s at war. Where exactly did she have the opportunity to converse with other women in a setting that wouldn’t look completely contrived?

*sigh*

Several feminist blogs make points about “anti-feminist” lyrics in the songs as well.

“Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons” and a few others.

I think that, as with Snow White, feminists are missing the key point that the lyrics are making a mockery of the anti-women traditions of the era. How can they not catch the irony that the best soldier in the entire platoon is a woman, pretending to be a man. The most anti-female character of them all is also probably the most “metrosexual” male of the lot and it’s clear he’s a joke.

“Did they send me daughters?” Yeah, they sure as hell did and you’d better be grateful for that.

For my final piece of analysis I wanted to look at the ending after Mulan saved the entire city from the Hun’s. She is offered a job by the Emperor as the Emperor’s consul in which she refuses so she can return home and be with her family. This was the most shocking moment because she had the chance to be empowered beyond many men and yet she decided to return home. This gave me the speculation of her in the end playing into the stereotype of what women should be like: homemakers.

Disney In a Different Light

Okay, here’s another point. Bitch Flicks and DiaDL both make commentary about how Mulan turns down political power in the form of being counselor to the emperor.

Here’s the deal, Mulan didn’t do what she did for the reward. That was never her point. She did what she did, at first, to protect her father from dying at war. Then near the end she is fighting for “what is right”, which was the same reason her father was going to go to war. Mulan became much wiser over the course of the war, but she was also wise enough to know that she didn’t have the qualifications to be a consul to the emperor.

In many ways that makes her more intelligent than many of our modern day politicians.

As I said before, Mulan didn’t do what she did for a reward and in the end she just wanted to return home to her very worried family.

And for those that freak out about the fact that Mulan got the guy in the end anyway, let’s consider this.

On the one hand she could have ended up married to some man she probably didn’t care about at all, while the Huns were sacking China…or she could end up with a man who she’d grown to love and who had worked with her to save the country…

Somehow I don’t think she was feeling too put upon.

In the end, not only does the emperor of China bow down to Mulan, but most importantly she is finally able to be true to herself, while gaining the respect of her family and friends.

What in the world could be more feminist than that?

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19 Comments

  1. Oh, feminists, why are your complaints always so contrived and pointless? Disney is meant to be entertainment, after all. I wonder, are you only going to do the 11 “official” Disney Princesses (all the ones you’ve done, plus Tiana, Rapunzel and Merida) or are you going to include non-official princesses and heroines like Kida from Atlantis, Megara from Hercules, and Eilonwy from The Black Cauldron?

    • I’ve thought about it, but I figure once I get through the main ones I’ll have been doing this for about 3 months…people will probably want a change. Never fear though, the “Things Feminists Hate” will continue to be a weekly blog…I’ll just change out topics on occasion.

  2. I love this series! And I just don’t understand the feminist reaction to this movie. They should be doing fist pumps in the air for Mulan! She DEFINES the original goals of their movement!

    It makes me wonder if those feminists who would tear these movies apart secretly desire the strength and independence these fictional women display — or their dresses. 😉 They desperately desire loving family; connection with other women; inner beauty; a strong man who loves them only, whom they get to choose. Feminists should desire freedom to want what THEY want to want, instead of what someone tells them to want, but they are afraid to express desire for any of the things that MAKE women “feminine” (man not necessarily included, since one shouldn’t define themselves by another person, no matter what their gender).

    I don’t even know how to articulate it, probably because the feminist (and progressive) worldviews are already so nonsensical, there really is no way to explain it other than to say they’re just wrongheaded. 🙂

    Mulan is my favorite. I never get tired of that movie (which is good, because it’s my second son’s favorite, too, and we’ve watched it A LOT). I tear up at the end when her father throws the sword and medallion aside and hugs Mulan. Why would someone hate something so fundamentally necessary as the love and acceptance of the father? And then the respectful treatment of the woman by the man pursuing her, especially because of her father’s presence? That should be desired for EVERY woman (present company knows what I mean, right?).

    Anyway. Feminists have lost sight of . . . everything. Sad.

  3. apparently disney controls the culture of ancient china, which is what forced mulan to pretend to be a man. Fuck you disney, for accurately portraying some major aspects of a culture in your movie and then also allowing the main charecter to save her entire people

  4. I have to say I am with the feminist groups on this one. an important thing to note is that most of the things that influence our ideologies are subconscious. Advertising is the most common and obvious example of what I mean. Popular culture is a breading ground for such a thing.

    As for you’re remarks about looking at things in detail. Knowledge is acquired by looking outside our frame of relevance.

    This video will explain why we should look deeper than the obvious meaning. Something you have failed to do in you’re critique.

    • “an important thing to note is that most of the things that influence our ideologies are subconscious. ” No. Only the weak willed and stupid who don’t reflect on what they know (idiots, liberals, third wave feminists, you) are slaves to pop culture and their subconscious…thinking, like most of the reader of this blog are not so much the victims of their subconscious and marketing, but rather actually think.
      Also could you have found a more bloated video full of pompous nothingness?

  5. Pingback: Language and Disney | English Language

  6. Pingback: Mulan | Feminism Through Film Animation

  7. I dislike the fact that the ‘feminist’ analyses deemed Mulan a failed model for female empowerment simply because she chose to go home and take care of her family despite being offered a job with the emperor. That implies that women who choose traditionally feminine life paths are somehow inferior or less realized than women who break the socio-cultural mold in which they are cast, which is ridiculous. Isn’t feminism about empowering women by providing them more choices in life and giving them the power to make those choices for themselves? Furthermore, I found it quite odd that they were indignant about the fact that Mulan had to make herself over into a man in order to save the day because that argument reinforces gender binaries. Mulan had expressed in earlier portions of the movie that many of the traditional roles and expectations of women in her society did not suit her/were limiting. In order for her to realize the skills and values she wanted, she needed to hide her femininity. The conditions of women aren’t always perfect enough for them to openly pursue their goals, and if they were, sexism in various workplaces would not exist. The fact that Mulan chose a life path that gave her purpose (to protect her family and serve her country) and enabled her to develop herself despite the risk to her life and social consequences is, in my opinion, a very powerful feminist statement. Sigh. Feminist culture commentators need to seriously put more thought and considerations into the dynamic of the fictional worlds in which the stories they critique take place, because even the humblest and meekest expressions of defiance and empowerment in the context of hyper-restrictive societies like Mulan’s China are worth celebrating.

  8. Erm. As a feminist I loved this film and thought Mulan was pretty feminist. All the sexism that was shown was needed? I mean how the heck are you going to parallel Mulan, a strong woman who defies gender roles, if you don’t show the sexism around her? The songs, the dialogue was meant to be sexist because that’s how it happens in real life. And Mulan defies all of that. Jesus, girls, a film can’t always be ‘not sexist’. Because reality is sexist, and it’s important to show that in movies. If we eradicated sexism from this dialogue, what exactly would Mulan be fighting in the storyline?

  9. Look, I’m a feminist, and I’m just going to say that I don’t see this film
    as being pro-sexism.
    For me, feminism is about pro-choice for everyone. People should choose what they do with their lives, and that’s exactly what Mulan (the character) does. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a woman being traditionally feminine or traditionally masculine – whichever suits her personally, it’s all good. (And this applies to men too, by the way.) Personally, I think Belle from
    Beauty and the Beast is just as much a “strong, independent woman” as Mulan, but in a different way; a way that suits her personally. I also think there’s nothing wrong with a woman marrying as long as she chooses to, I.e. She doesn’t need a man, rather she wants one.

    When I originally became a feminist, I was under the impression that most feminists were simply wide-eyed idealists, dreaming of a world of peace and unity. (Just imagine Robin Williams as a feminist, by which I mean the sappy, emotional Robin Williams who gave sentimental speeches at the ends of his films, and you’ll get what I’m talking about.) But as it turns out – nope, they’re just a bunch of nitpickers who try to see sexism anywhere, just so they can complain about it. Again, not all feminists are like that, but it seems to be the norm. Personally, I only call sexism whenever I genuinely see it fit. I just try to enjoy the film, and something pops up that demeans (wo)men, and that’s when I get annoyed. I think this can be best summed up with this quote:

    “I’m only brave when I have to be. Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
    –Mufasa, The Lion King (1994)

    So, yeah, I’m not like most feminists. I try fighting for equality and decision making, instead of just blaming the patriarchy for everything. I always try to empathise with women, consider how I would want to be treated if I were a girl, and just work from there.
    And yes, I do consider myself a wide-eyed idealist, similar to Robin Williams in the films where he was down to earth and sentimental. If there were more people like me, the world would be much friendlier towards people of any group; but as it stands, there exist prejudiced douchebags lurking on every corner, and it really pisses me off. But at least we can do our part by being kinder and more respectful to everyone, and encouraging them to fulfil their hopes and dreams, regardless of societal expectations.

    So, that’s all I have to say. Any questions?

  10. I just watched this movie for the first time with my five year old daughter. Maybe I don’t get it because I’m a guy but I scoff at the idea that Mulan had to act like a male to succeed. She in fact chose to. She made the choice to cut her hair. She made the choice to take her father’s armor and ride off to battle. She took the hand that life dealt her and found her path. Isn’t that what we should want for all our children? I think sometimes in our efforts to make sure our kids can be whatever they want to be we fail to accept what they decide to be.

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