Disney’s Mulan and Gender Performance: She Brought Honor To Us ALL.
Mulan saved an entire country in Drag.
Let that sink in. If you haven’t watched Mulan yet, “YOU ARE A DISGRACE!” This movie challenged stereotypes surrounding gender and not enough people are talking about it.
Some argue that Mulan isn’t a feminist film because of numbers such as “Bring Honor To Us All”, “Make a Man out of You”, and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” reinforcing gender stereotypes. I found an article online titled “Feminist and Queer Theory of Disney’s Mulan” from mulananalysis.weebly.com that argued, “While the film may be considered progressive by departing from the usual ‘damsel in distress’ story line, upon further analysis, we see that it isn’t as feminist as it first appeared. Disney’s Mulan reinforces a binary understanding of gender stereotypes that privilege men over women.” I understand the author’s argument, but Mulan isn’t reinforcing stereotypes. Mulan is challenging them.
This center and eccentrics film exposes sexism instead of promoting it. In, “Honor To Us All” Mulan expresses discomfort in a traditional Chinese bridal ceremony, where a woman must be a presentable trophy wife in order to wed a man. To me, this song exposes the ridiculous expectations of women in China during the Han Dynasty. These expectations were a part of Chinese culture, and to not acknowledge history would be dishonest. Through our protagonist, the POV is, “These expectations are too much for me. It’s ridiculous.”
In “Make a Man out of You” soldiers harness their masculinity through intense physical training, because to “bring honor” to China as a man, you must serve in the army. Mulan, disguised as her father’s son, took on the pseudonym of “Ping” and through perseverance, was the first soldier to fetch the arrow atop a pillar (the challenge presented to them). Succeeding the challenge as a woman in drag proved that “being a man” has nothing to do with strength, and that success is accomplished through hard work, not by the definitions of one’s gender.
I want to reiterate this idea of exposing sexism as opposed to reinforcing it. The plot of this story concludes with Mulan saving all of China under a disguise, which ultimately proved that through her gender performance, she was able to work through a flawed society in order to save it. It was a lesson to every girl and boy watching that bravery is not an attribute of a gender, but of character. Songs about what men expected out of women humorously clashed with Mulan’s POV, so it’s her story we should be following. The article I mentioned earlier is shallow. It argues that Mulan is sexist because of the apparent gender binary and the stereotypes included. But I challenge the author and other viewers with that assumption to analyze the film in between the lines. Eastern culture, currently and throughout history, has constructed gender roles that constraints individuals from true expression.
To not include the narrative of a gender binary would be dishonest to the culture and provide no standards for Mulan to challenge. Her story is deeper than a girl who saved China. She is a heroine who crossed lines to achieve purpose during a time where male impersonation was punishable by death. She brought honor to us all.