Mulan, Disney, and Feminism

Feminism doesn’t sell because, like all attempts to change the world, it doesn’t pander to peoples’ preconceptions. (Telling people they are wrong about something tends to make them angry on some level – all the more so if it’s something they haven’t taken the time to examine, and thus cannot easily defend. This does not usually improve sales.) So what does Disney do to make a feminist story sell? It guts out the feminism.

Disney is unlikely to show this kind of heroine.

Disney is unlikely to show this kind of heroine.

Lightspeedsound reaches essentially the same conclusions, but does so via a mountain of evidence rather than reduction. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more about Orientalism and its implications a la Edward Said – the idea that the reimagining of “Orientals” (and shoehorning of Asian women like Mulan into stereotypes) serves a specific purpose.

For example, the paper asserts that Disney’s Mulan “manages to confirm both the stereotypes of exotified Asian women:  Mulan, the blushing lotus blossom, and the matchmaker, the domineering dragon lady.”  I think it would be most interesting to get into why these stereotypes persist, and specifically how they are damaging to feminism, and, if we accept Said’s assessment, what benefit is derived from Westerners “buying in” to these stereotypes.  Ego stroking in the face of the supposed Asian economic threat?  Assuaging any left-over guilt from Vietnam?  Downplaying the need to treat Asians as human beings?

This is not a criticism of Lightspeedsound as a writer – this was a paper for a class, and it was doubtless bound by artificial constraints.  I just really want to see an examination of root causes.  At any rate, there is plenty of interesting stuff in there.

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Published in: on September 14, 2011 at 7:16 PM  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ack, I’m being teased, aren’t I? OK, I’ll go read the paper – great topic – but it sounds like you’re biting off a very very big bite, and refusing to chew. I guess if we limit the discussion to Disney’s Mulan alone, a swallowing time might arrive at last.

  2. The author has a solid case that Mulan is orientalist, but her arguments that it is “radically anti-feminist” are mostly specious.

    She feels that Mulan is depicted as less effective in battle. Apparently we saw different movies, because the Mulan I saw took out a jillion bad guys with a rocket, pulled her boyfriend out of an avalanche from horseback while wounded before shooting an arrow over a cliff (that her male companions had previously bungled), and defeated the leader of the Huns who had kicked the asses of ever other person to cross him.

    HMRM also objects to the movie showing Mulan settling down at the end, presumably destined to live happily ever after with her ‘Prince Charming’. On the other hand, she shes Mulan returning home in the poem as an act of liberation. The main difference that HMRM finds offensive seems to be the romance angle. Considering that the majority of the human population wants to be romantically invovled with people from the opposite sex, I really don’t see adding a romance to a story to be that big of a deal.

    This is not to necessarily say that the story did not become less feminist in the Disney-fication process. However, most of the arguments read as if HMRM watched the movie with a checklist of things that make a film anti-feminist, rather than any attempt to really grapple with the movie. She seemed to miss the fact that the Orientalist vision of traditional Chinese society is used to give Mulan with her ‘modern’ sensibilities and desire for freedom something to rebel against. There are pieces of good observations and interesting arguments here, but the whole thing is held back by an aggressively feminist approach on the part of HMRM that keeps her from really addressing the movie as it is.

    But hey, that’s the internet for you.

    • I wonder: if we accept that the movie’s Orientalism is dehumanizing, is it then also necessarily anti-feminist, as it involves the dehumanization of females? Or would you say that it is even-handed in its dehumanization of both men and women?

      For example, I can see an argument for how the ‘Dragon lady’ stereotype is no less demeaning than the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype. Even if you have a ‘dumb jock’ stereotype in a movie with a ‘dumb blonde,’ feminists will still object to the dumb blonde portrayed, and I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that objection.

  3. […] I must admit that there are times when the feminist paradigm is questionably applied.   Go Make Me a Sandwich is a blog that strives to critique gaming […]


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