This Totally Awesome Woman is not your average army wife. She’s been known to cross-dress and she’s not afraid to skip the hair and makeup routine.
Can you guess this year’s first Totally Awesome Woman?
I know for some this seems like a sort of “duh” pick and for others, it may be a, “what are you thinking?!?” choice. But, that’s the point. I think discussions about women in pop culture are a great way to foster accessible discussions about feminism. For more on this, see this post!
Anyways (steps off soapbox now), I know a lot of people (including myself) are less than enthused with Disney’s portrayal of young women. I mean, I know we all re-watch Cinderella and hope the prince will realize what an utter _____ the step-mother is (insert favorite insult here) and sweep Cinderella off her feet (see what I did there???). But, I think a little critical reflection on our childhood “heroines” is necessary. However, to stray from my typical Disney tirade, I want to take a moment to appreciate Disney (I almost choked on that sentence).
I’ll concede. I have some problems with Mulan. But, in general, I think it’s a great movie for young children. I think the fact that Mulan doesn’t think twice about chopping off her locks or pretending to be a young man rushing off into battle (without any training) in her father’s honor (despite the fact that he’s mad at her) is pretty cool. If that isn’t breaking down gender norms, I don’t know what is…. I also find it interesting that in the end, all of the characters seem to embrace features of both genders. I know I said “both” but I’ll clarify that later.
Earlier, I said I have some problems with the film. For example, I think the whole idea of “making a man” out of someone is a little problematic. Although Mulan is clearly demonstrating she is more than capable of keeping up with the boys (and kicking their asses at some points), the idea that you need to re-gender yourself to do that seems a little odd. Granted, in the end, she beats up that big scary guy while maintaining her own identity. But, you could argue that her identity was “masculinized” already (is that even a word???). Having said that, the concept of gender exploration is an interesting one, particularly when the person doing it is living in a culture/time period where gender roles are rigid and divisive.
Also, it could be argued that in the beginning, she had tension with being too feminine. In the middle, she realized she wasn’t “all masculine” and in the end, she found her own unique balance of masculine and feminine. I think there’s something to be said about the existence of gender identities that vary by individual. Prima facie, it seems like the movie embraces gender binaries. But, I think on closer look, almost all of the characters, but particularly Mulan, blur the lines of masculine and feminine and what it means to be gendered.
In the end, I think Mulan is a great film. Even if you don’t find it super-feminist, I KNOW you know all the words to those songs (and they still get stuck in your head). But, I do see some conflict in the film. However, given that it’s a kid film and my criticisms are super nitpicky, I find it hard to believe that these potentially problematic nuances are enough for me to say it’s not a good movie for young kids.
So, what do you think? Is Mulan a good role model for kids? Does the simplicity of the plot oversimplify struggles of gender identity for children?
I know for a lot of us this was the “last good Disney movie” so I think a discussion of this would be pretty cool. Looking forward to your comments!