My Dissertation | Mulan

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Mulan is the last princess I wrote about for my dissertation and I wrote this section quite quickly. There is so much to talk about when it comes to Mulan, that I actually found myself running out of words extremely fast. I would've loved to have mentioned A Girl Worth Fighting For but unfortunately, I was already over my 10,000 word limit. I dreaded writing my dissertation but once I had started it didn't seem too bad anymore, I am really proud of what I have written. I hope you have enjoyed reading these sections from my dissertation and it means a lot to me that people have actually taken their time to read them. Thank you!

How has the representation of the female gender in the Disney Princess movies progressed during the Disney Renaissance in relation to Snow White?

Mulan saw the release of The Walt Disney Company’s first Chinese princess and “the Disney heroine who strays farthest from the feminine stereotypes.” (Rustad, 2015, p.117) Mulan challenges the stereotypes and gender roles that have been placed on women. The idea of gender obligation is shown throughout the scene in which Mulan is preparing to see the matchmaker, as the use of diegetic music explains that the princess must bring “Honor to Us All.” (Zippel, 1998) The song holds a patriarchal tone, as it makes it extremely clear that Mulan is preparing herself in order to be chosen by her future husband. The matchmakers sing “trust my recipe for instant bride” and “when we’re through, boys will gladly go to war for you.” (Zippel, 1998) This reinforces the notion that being beautiful is a vital characteristic to have; otherwise you will not find a husband and be able to bring honour to your family. It could be argued that the use of diegetic music still portrays Disney progression in the way they represent their female characters. Although, the song imposes traditional roles onto Mulan she “is similar to Belle, as she too isn’t seen as acceptable in society.” (Maity, 2014, p.30) Mulan does not fit the image of a ‘perfect bride’, as a close-up has been used to portray her disbelief as she sees her own reflection in the mirror. However, she does not actively partake in ensuring that she conforms to the stereotypes of femininity that the matchmaker is attempting to place on her, such as being “calm and obedient.” (Zippel, 1998)  Mulan states that she is “not meant to play this part.” (Zippel, 1998) Nor does the princess make the effort to conform to the female ideologies that her family and society have placed on her. Instead she undertakes “more masculine roles and pursuing non-traditional paths...such as bravely taking leadership roles.” (England, Descartes, and Collier-Meek, 2011, p.563)

Mulan is portrayed as an independent and strong woman, as she puts her life at risk in order to protect her father’s. Unlike the princesses before her, Mulan “interrogates patriarchal gender relations by depicting symbolic contrasts between the discourse of traditional femininity and masculinity.” (Flanagan, 2007, p.70) The use of diegetic music portrays the princess’s effort in wanting to uphold a sense of masculinity while Shang, the leader of the army, sings how he’ll “make a man out of you.” (Zippel, 1998) This demonstrates Disney’s progression in the representation of their female characters, due to Mulan proving that she “takes on traits that are stereotypically for men.” (Maity, 2014, p.30) Mulan proves that she is just as capable in undertaking inherently masculine tasks, by retrieving the arrow from the top of a pole, which the other men in the army were not able to do. The use of visual imagery depicts Mulan’s determination and willpower to fit in among the soldiers. A long shot has been used to illustrate Mulan sat on top of the pole, while her fellow men are seen beneath her, cheering her on. This portrays the development in Disney’s portrayal of their princesses, as Mulan has been shown to be of equal stature to her fellow soldiers. She is not represented as weak just because she is a female; she proves her capability as “the male experience is one of physicality and awareness of the body.” (Limbach, 2013, p.120) The film highlights Judith Butler’s idea that gender is not an inherent set of characteristics. Butler believes that “gender...must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self.” (1988, p.519) Mulan embraces traits that are both predominantly feminine and masculine. She has opened up to the possibility that an individual is able choose their own identity, rather than having the constraint of being held to a certain gender.

In addition, Mulan’s “true ‘heroism’ is later enacted when she is dressed as a woman” (Limbach, 2013, p.123) and saves China from the invasion of the Huns. The advisor of the emperor states that “...she’s a woman! She’ll never be worth anything.” (Mulan, 1998) However, Mulan proves her worth as a woman and her competence in her masculine abilities even when she is dressed as herself, not her male alter-ego. A medium shot has been used to depict the image of the Emperor bowing to Mulan, while a pan has been used to show the people of China bowing in unison. This proves Mulan’s heroism and ability to protect the people she loves, while also challenging the stereotype that it is usually the princess who needs to be saved, as she is the one who saves her people. A long shot has been used to depict the soldiers dressed in female clothing, alongside Mulan in her dress. The soldiers are able to succeed in this gender performance, proving that gender "is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous.” (Butler, 1988, p.520) Mulan demonstrates that, when she has the courage to be herself it is then she is able to achieve true success and save her country, as she “relies upon her own ways to defeat them.” (Davis, 2006, p.200) The soldiers dressed in female clothing represents the notion that woman are in fact capable of holding the characteristics of strength and determination. This portrays the progression in the representation of Disney’s female characters, as “the film champions Mulan for throwing off the conventional Disney princess attributes of demure beauty to save her country.” (Stover, 2013, p.6) 


  1. Your dissertation sounds so awesome! I love Mulan she's such a great role model.

    Ella xx

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