Disney’s Mulan





mulan powerful



Disney’s “Mulan” was released in 1998 and remains as one of Disney’s classic children’s movies. Mulan takes place in Imperial China during the invasion of the Huns over the recently constructed Great Wall. The movie follows the journey of Fa Mulan, the only child of a respected war hero. During the initial invasions, Mulan is struggling to bring honour to her father and family, by becoming a respectable woman who will soon find a husband. After failing yet again at fitting into society’s cookie cut out of a perfect Chinese woman, Mulan returns home to soon find that the Emperor has released letters of conscription to each family. Since Mulan is the only child in the Fa family, and female, her father is forced to enlist in the war. However, he is injured from his first time serving and as a result is weak and requires a cane to walk. Therefore, in order to save her father, Mulan changes her appearance by cutting her hair off and sets off to fight for China in her father’s place. The story thus follows Mulan’s struggles of being a woman in a man’s world, leading to her ultimate triumph of being the one to save the Emperor, and China, from the Huns.

The basis of Mulan’s story revolves around one the largest forms of cultural hegemony, and one that is still predominately seen in the East today. This cultural hegemony is the equality struggle between men and women. From the beginning of the movie, gender roles are very clearly distinguished. Although this further enhances Mulan’s ultimate triumph, it negatively feeds into the cultural hegemony of the movie.
mulan tight waist
Mulan’s character is introduced as being a failure to her family up to this point in her life. The first scene shows Mulan studying for her meeting with the town’s matchmaker. In order for Mulan to bring honour to her family, she must do well on this interview so that she will be married to a respectable man. As Mulan goes over the qualities a woman should have she recites: “quiet, graceful, delicate, polite, poise, punctual.” This is an example of pop culture’s stereotype for how a woman should behave. To further this stereotype, as she is being prepared for her interview the workers sing to her: “men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast past, with good breeding and a tiny waste…you’ll bring honour to us all.” As the workers dress Mulan they pull her belt tight, clearly making Mulan uncomfortable, but emphasizing her petite figure. We watched a part of Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” in lecture four, and discussed the way pop culture and the media discuss body image. With regards to Mulan, it is clear that the importance lies on her physical qualities and essentially what she will be able to offer a husband. The comments on Mulan’s size however, do not end there. When Mulan meets the matchmaker, the first thing she says while evaluating her is “too skinny, not good for bearing sons.” Not only does this completely objectify Mulan as a baby-making machine, but also the importance of the message is once again brought back to Mulan’s physical qualities. Jean Kilbourne explains how in the eyes of the media we are never good enough. This holds to be true in the portrayal of Mulan. First she is told to be skinny and then put down as being too skinny. The message being sent to young children, and young girls for that matter is completely absurd. Rather than enforcing body image as a positive aspect, this movie tells children who are in the stage of developing self-image that they will never be good enough.
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The cultural hegemony in Mulan is depicted through the idea of honour. By Mulan being a female, any of her actions that are not considered culturally acceptable automatically bestow dishonor on her father. When Mulan interrupts the conscription announcement in her first attempt to save her father, the Emperor’s assistant tells Mulan’s father: “you would do well to teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a man’s presence.” Mulan is constantly told that she must learn her place, even by her father, who although loves Mulan, is still embarrassed by her actions. As a female, Mulan will never have the same social power or respect as a man. This can also be seen when Mulan is revealed to her fellow soldiers and captain as being a woman. Although Mulan saved the entire team and was even wounded in the process, as soon as she is revealed to be a female all respect for her is lost. The captain was in fact supposed to kill Mulan for her actions, causing “high treason! Ultimate dishonor!” However, he spares her life since she just saved his. Nevertheless, Mulan loses all credit for her brave actions that saved the Imperial army. Thankfully, her honour is restored in the end of the movie when she saves the Emperor (as a female) alongside her fellow soldiers.
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At one point, Mulan makes her fellow soldiers dress up as women to distract the guards. When the guards see them they mutter “concubines” to each other. Ironically, concubines in Imperial China were women contracted to men as secondary wives. These women had lower social status and rights, thus, another depiction of woman as a secondary class to men.
concubines in mulan
In lecture five we discussed the novels “50 Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” and examined common qualities between the two. Mulan also follows these characteristics. For example, characteristics of the males are dominance, competitiveness, and physical prowess. In contrast, Mulan is self-sacrificing, clumsy, empathetic, and has anxiety about her beauty. Overall, Mulan, like the books analyzed in lecture, ends with a happy marriage and peace.
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Celebrating Beauty…the POND’S way

“At POND’S we believe the world would be a better place if we stopped idealizing beauty…and started celebrating it instead.”

What does it mean to be beautiful? While definitions on paper would explain beauty to be something aesthetically appealing, society often holds the definition of beautiful to other standards. More specifically, the media portrays beauty as white, skinny, and flawless. Thankfully, more awareness has been recently raised with regards to the way we should view what is beautiful. The new realization is that beauty falls on a continuum that expresses our human diversity. The company PONDS, which produces face cream products has the above quote as their website motto. Although at face value this quote seems to support the beauty in diversity, the messages of their ads convey messages quite opposite to this. In fact, the moral of their ads reinforce negatively focused ideologies of beauty instead of “celebrating” it.

One ad in particular is a commercial for POND’S lightening cream. To begin, the product itself goes against the concept of celebrating beauty. The fact that the company produces a face cream whose purpose is to lighten skin explicitly implies that there is an issue with the colour of your skin the way it is naturally. Furthermore, this reinforces the ideal that white is the ultimate form of beauty, supporting the idea of whites being superior. The commercial begins in an airport with a couple saying goodbye as the male leaves to embark on a new journey. As the male leaves, he rips half of a heart necklace, symbolizing him breaking the heart of the female character. The scene zooms out, showing the woman stranded and alone in a crowd of people, feeling heartbroken and lost as a result of her loves departure. The commercial then flashes three years into the future where the female character sees the male character on a magazine cover in the arms of a new lover. In the next scene, the female character is shown walking past the male and his new lover. The male recognizes the female as his old lover and takes off his sunglasses to take a second look at her. However, his current lover soon draws him back. This ad is problematic as it reinforces convoluted ideologies involving gender, whiteness, and class.

The gender messages conveyed from this commercial portray women to be powerless and dependent on their male counterpart. The opening break up scene is shown to have little to no effect on the male. The female, however, is detrimentally impacted and is shown to appear lost and heartbroken in the crowd of people. This shows women to be dependent and in constant need of a male to provide a source of strength. In addition, when she sees the picture of him on the cover three years later, she is shown to still be pinning over him. While the male has been shown to be strong and independent, the female character has only been viewed as weak and dependent. It also appears that the only focus this woman has is the male. In contrast, he moves on and continues his life, being successful in other things. Another factor to consider is the music chosen. The music is another way to reflect the woman’s mood and convey a somber tone.

Whiteness is the key message of this commercial. The conceptualization that white is the ultimate form of beauty and anything other than this is not good enough can be seen many different ways in the advertisement of this product. The white male is linked to power and success. He is seen getting out of an expensive car, with an expensive suit and sunglasses on. He also has an equally white and beautiful woman on his arm. All of these things equate to power the male has in contrast to his prior female lover who is seen as powerless. Although his second glance of recognition towards his old lover does depict some longing, it is clear that something is missing, as his attention is quickly redirected back to his current love. Another interesting factor contributing to whiteness is the wardrobe choices in this commercial. The main female character’s darker skin is emphasized by the white dress with light pink sweater they dress her in, which also cleverly links her to the product colours. In contrast, the new white lover is dressed in a stunning black dress, which accents her skin, making it appear a purer ivory colour.

Lastly, instances of class can be seen in this advertisement. This is intersectionally linked with the gender roles previously discussed. The male character is shown to have moved up the socio-economic ladder, now associated with only expensive things. This indirectly infers that while he was with the other girl, she was what was holding him back. Now he is successful and rich with a new white lover by his side. However, by also applying gender to this concept it is noticeable that the male defines the female’s status. Even with his new lover, although she appears to be of the same economic background, she is still depicted as an addition to the male character, hanging off of his arm as an attachment rather than an independent. Overall, the portrayal is that there is a gender distinction within classes.

The commercial ends with the two females walking past each other. This once again contrasts their skin colour, reinforcing the different lives they live as a result. The caption on this final scene is “to be continued…” which gives the opportunity for more commercials to be made following the same story line. This line alongside the image of the two women walking past each other is symbolic of the constant war between diversity and the flawless white individual. It implies that this will constantly be a struggle faced by women and further sells the product by making it something to help any non-white woman become partially equivalent to the white woman in society.