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Studying The Feminism In The Movie Mulan English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2844 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Mulan” is an animation movie that was released by Walt Disney Pictures on 5th June 1998 in USA, while in Indonesia it was released on 23 October 1998 [1] . Since then the movie was well received and became popular all over the world. Similar to previous Disney’s animation production, Mulan, which based on a China Legend, Ballad of Mulan, has an interesting story with morale message and it is enriched with music and songs. Mulan also has won several awards such Golden Globe Awards for Best Original Score and many other.

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With its simple, entertaining story and strong morale lesson, “Mulan” is really appropriate for children. I was 9 years old when I watched this movie for the first time and I have watched it several times since that time. As a little girl, the simple morale lesson I can take from “Mulan” is that a woman also have the power and can be appreciated just like men. Therefore, I thought this movie can be considered as feminist movie. However, after I really get to some details in this movie such as the dialogue, the plot and the songs, I realized that actually there is a contradiction between the morale lesson that is promoted by this movie and the details in the movie, which are supposed to support the morale lesson.

At first, “Mulan” seems to empowering woman by the performance of the female main character, which is Mulan herself. However, the details in this movie show the strong patriarchal system in that society instead of promoting the feminist side. Therefore, the details in this movie will be analyzed by using textual analysis in order to find the contradiction between the big morale lesson and the details. The purpose of this paper is also want to see how the masculinity construction actually has a powerful authority over the woman in a society.

The Feminist Side of “Mulan”

Mulan is one of the Disney princess characters; however she has different characters compare to the other princesses [2] . She did things that were unusual for a woman, especially a princess. She was not dreaming of finding the right prince that she would marry in the end. On the other hands, she showed that, actually, woman can do something for the society, instead of only waiting for her prince. She shows some feminist qualities that were hardly found at her society.

First, Mulan is an independent woman. She did everything by herself and did not rely on others, especially men. This quality can be clearly seen when she was in the training camp. This film exposed Mulan as “an individual pursuing and proving her self” [3] .She tried to prove herself that she could survive through the training camp by her own effort. She succeeded to show that until the end, she even surpasses the other men in the camp. She could go on through every obstacle by her own. Women tend to depend themselves to others, especially men, either they realized that or not. When a woman is not married, she relies on her family or, in other word, her father. Then, after she married, she will depend to her husband. It seems like a patriarchal circle of life. As a result, woman will always depend on somebody else. However, Mulan wanted to show something different. She looked for her own identity by her own way and it shows that woman also can live independently.

The next feminist quality of Mulan is her bravery. She was not afraid of doing something that was against the ideal norm at that patriarchal society. She stole her father armor and dressed as a man to replace her father in the war.

Mulan, herself, actually had tried to think as a feminist. She wanted to break the common social construction in her society. It was obvious in the song, entitled “A Girl Worth Fighting For”. When the men asked how was the ideal woman for Mulan as Ping at that time, she answered, “How about a girl who’s got a brain. Who always speaks her mind?” (A Girl Worth Fighting For – Mulan; 1998) After that the men show a disapproving expression for Mulan’s answer. Actually, what Mulan said shows her true feeling about how a woman should be. She was against the idea of ideal women in that society. Woman was only working in home and most of them did not really get good education. Furthermore, ‘speaks her mind’ was also a taboo thing to do in that old Chinese society. A woman had to be quiet and just followed what the men were saying. However, Mulan had thought something different as a woman which showed her feminist side.

This movie is opened by a scene where the Huns succeeded to pass the northern border which is the Great Wall and surprised everybody included the emperor himself. Then, he told his assistant, Chi Fu, to gather as many men as he can. At first, his General insisted that his army can handle this problem, but the emperor did not want to take any risks and said “A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One man may be the difference between victory and defeat.” (The Emperor – Mulan; 1998). Therefore, in the beginning, the country was only counting on men to fight and defend China. They would have never expected that a woman would save the country in the end.

Then, the story shift to Mulan, the main character, was preparing herself to meet the matchmaker. She had to face a matchmaker in order to get a fine husband and make her family proud. However, in the end, she was not succeeded and the matchmaker said, “You may look like a bride, but you will never bring your family honor!” (The Matchmaker – Mulan; 1998). In this part, Mulan seemed like a failure both as a daughter and also as a woman. As a woman, she could not fulfill ideal norm of the society, which was to find a good man, marry him and get some children. Because of that, she also could not fulfill her job as a daughter, which was to bring honor to her family. Actually, this kind of perception is a typical of patriarchy construction.

Something surprising happened when the assistant of the emperor asked one man from each family to come and serve the country as an army. Because Mulan’s father was the only man in the Fa family, it meant that only he could do that job. However, Mulan realized that her father was not fit enough to do that job, so she decided to replace him. Then, she cut her long hair, which was a feminity sign of a girl, and stole his father armor and sword. She dressed as a man and ran away from her house to the training camp. In that training camp, she became a man, named Ping.

After that, Mulan tried to survive in the training camp. At first, it was very hard for her to adapt with the masculine environment. Instead of making friends with the men, she made some problems that troubled her until she was almost sent away by her captain, Li Shang. However, because of her strong will and bravery, she managed to stay at the camp until the end and even surpass his male mates at the camp. She could do the things that were supposed to do by men such as fight, climb and run with heavy burden and also shoot the arrow and cannon. It shows that woman also can do man things if she has the will and brave enough.

After the training camp, the soldiers that had been trained had to face the real war field. They were shocked when they arrived in the General Camp because everything were on fire and they could not find anybody who were still alive. So, they continued their journey. In the journey, Mushu, Mulan’s dragon, shoot a cannon accidentally and made the enemy knew their position. After that, in the snowy mountains, they fought the Huns that had more people compared to them, while they only had one cannon left. Suddenly, Mulan got a good idea and she did a very brave and effective action. Because of that action, Mulan was hurt by Shan Yu, the Huns’ leader. However, she had the courage to take a risk and managed to bury all the Huns at once; even she could save her captain who was almost died. This scene shows a very brave action that was done by Ping, who was actually a woman. After that, her captain praised her and said “From now on, you have my trust.” (Shang Yu – Mulan; 1998). Then, all of her friends also praised and cheers for her.

Then, the story goes to the central of the city. In fact, Shan Yu and several of his people were not died and they got to the city to do their plan. Mulan who happened to be a woman again knew it and try to convince her captain and also the other about it. However, there was no one believing her. In the end, Mulan, with her woman appearance, succeeded to save the emperor and also the country, China. She proved that she could do such heroic things, which were identical to manly things at that time, and, actually, succeeded to save the people. Woman who was used to consider as a weak creature, had shown a great and strong physical power.

After all she had done, the Emperor even bowed to her and after that all the people also did the same thing. This scene was a very dramatic woman. Everybody bowed toward Mulan, who was only an ordinary woman in the beginning even had been considered fail as a woman, and she seemed not really believed what had happened. She was given several precious things such as the Shan Yu’s sword and the crest of the emperor for all the good things she had done. The emperor even offered her a position in the council member, which was dominated by men at that time. However, she refused it because she wanted to see her father first.

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Next, she got back to home and met her father. She showed the awards to his father. Instead of appreciating the awards, he threw those things, hugged Mulan and said “The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter.” (Mulan’s Father – Mulan; 1998). This line really shows how Mulan, at last, appreciated as a woman. Her father admitted that Mulan had done the right thing. As a woman, she had proved that she can brought her family honor without doing an ideal woman things such as found a right man and then married him.

The Patriarchal Side of “Mulan”

Besides trying to empowering woman, this movie actually also has a lot of ideal woman stereotyping at that time. Before Mulan met the matchmaker, she was memorizing some words such as “Quiet and demure. Graceful. Polite. Delicate. Refined. Poised. Punctual.” (Mulan – Mulan; 1998) Actually, those words implicitly show the typical of ideal woman in Chinese dynasty time. Although ‘quiet and demure’ gives positive connotation, those words had bad effects for women at that time. Woman had to keep her mind and she did not have the right to express her opinion, especially in front of men. It can be a proof of how a strong patriarchy system made a woman cannot have important role in the society.

Furthermore, in the song “Honor to Us All” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For”, there are also some characteristics mentioned in the songs. Again, it shows typical woman that the men were looking for. In the song “Honor to Us All”, which was sang when Mulan was getting ready to meet the mach maker, “men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who works fast-paced, with good breeding, and a tiny waist.” Those characters were another effect of the patriarchy system. So, when a woman did not fit that qualification, she could be considered as a fail woman. That main point was brought up again in the song “A Girl Worth Fighting For”, which was sung when the soldiers finished their training and got ready to face the real war. In this song, these ideal characteristics were even getting clearer because this time the men who were mentioning it. One man said “I want her paler than the moon with eyes that shine like stars. My girl will marvel at my strength, adore my battle scars.” This emphasizes more to the physical appearance of a woman, that she should look beautiful. Besides that, this song also emphasizes the stereotyping beside man and woman. While Po, the biggest and calm soldier, said that “I couldn’t care less what she’ll wear or what she look like it all depends on what she cooks like beef, pork, chicken.” It resembles that woman’s task related to domestics jobs such as taking care households, kitchen things and others.

These ideal woman characteristics, which were being repeated from the beginning until the end of the movie, seem wanted to emphasize the actual message for woman. The movies do show some feminist qualities, but it still keeps the patriarchal idea. Almost all of the ideal characteristics describe a woman’s physical qualities Therefore, it wants to say that you can be a feminist, but still you cannot abandon the patriarchal norms that have already alive.

Mulan, as the only daughter of Fa family, had a great responsible which were “to not uproot my family tree. Keep my father standing tall.” (Honor To Us All – Mulan; 1998) This responsible was another effect of patriarchal system. In a patriarchal system, father or man is the center of the family. In this song, instead of only saying “making my family proud” as general, she emphasized more to her father. Her concern was only about his father because when she made her family ashamed, it would be considered as her father responsibility.

Therefore, her intention to replace her father can also be related to the effect of patriarchal system. Mulan decided to dress as a man and came to the training camp because she felt responsible to her father, which was also the effect of patriarchal system. After all the failure she did as a woman, she wanted to cover it by doing these things. She considered that did those things were the right things for her. Just like she said when everybody knew her real identity, “Maybe I didn’t go for my father. Maybe what I really wanted was to prove I could do things right. ” (Mulan – Mulan; 1998).

The wound that she got from her brave action in the snowy mountains had revealed her real identity as a woman. After all the praise she got, everything seemed to be the other way around. The Emperor advisor, Chi Fu, who had suspicious to her, dragged her out harshly from the tend and said “a woman” with a shocking and disgusting tone. He showed Mulan to the soldiers and also saying harsh things such as, “Treacherous snake!”, “High treason!”, “Ultimate dishonor!”. All of Mulan’s good things were forgotten only because she was a woman. It really shows that woman had lower status compared to men. Although it was a very heroic action and helpful to other, it will not lasted if the one that did it was a woman.

If we see again from all the things that had happened to Mulan, she was appreciated after she was dressed as man. People gave some respect to her after she was “trained” to be a man at the training camp. That man characters still stick to Mulan until the end of the story. When she was a woman, at first, she was unappreciated because she could not bring honor to her family as a good daughter. Even, after she appreciated as a man and back as a woman, she got back to the reality that women are not appreciated and still underestimated by the society. As a conclusion, in “Mulan”, women, actually, are appreciated by the society when they became and act like men.


“Mulan” shows that the function of feminism is only to the strong masculinity construction in the society. If we only take a glance, then it seems that man and woman already have an equal position and role. However, it turns out that the winning of feminism happened because of the masculinity construction. In other words, masculinity has an important role behind the success that Mulan got in the end. Therefore, feminism is not really an easy thing to get and a strong patriarchy construction will not be easily broken.

In one side, this movie is empowering women. It shows that woman also can have an important role in the society. On the other side, this movie still limited women according to the patriarchal norms that were existed. However, this movie is a seed of the feminism nowadays. “Mulan” does not really show a perfect kind of feminism, but it makes women to think that they can try to do something for the society.


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