Disney's Mulan is all the princess you need!
Updated: Sep 17
Let’s do a quick poll ladies! What have you learnt from Disney princesses?
Snow White: you’ve gotta be fair and pretty to get a good husband.
Cinderella: The one way you can get a good life is by marrying a very very rich man.
Sleeping Beauty: Go to sleep and your problems will solve themselves.
The Little Mermaid: Society’s depiction of the perfect woman - silent, pretty, perfect.
Beauty and the Beast: Beauty on the inside begins with beauty on the outside. Yep, I said it.
Aladdin – Jasmine: Yes, marriage is the answer to your problems. (If you have a magic carpet, that could help too, but mostly marriage).
Growing up, I adored these characters. Disney princesses were my favourite. I wanted to have flowing beautiful hair like Rapunzel, a pair of glass heels like Cinderella and when I looked in the mirror, I wanted it to say nice things back to me. But I was not alone. As little girls, we all were so ourselves. That’s because who doesn’t like porcelain perfection - and that’s the problem with society. It conditions you to love things that are perfect and shun things that aren’t. Which is why, as I grew up, I made my switch to comic books, superheroes, burying this perfect insecurity in some dark corner of my soul. That was until I recently stumbled upon Mulan. A Disney princess, who perhaps, was somewhere, lost in time.
Where is she now?
Mulan recently made her appearance on the big screen and with that smashed all those tiny boxes of conditioning we subjected ourselves to while growing up. To start off, the movie begins with a young girl chasing a chicken with a little stick, trying to get it to go back to its coup. She runs across the courtyard with no care in the world. A little too free, a little too much like the wind and a lot like what equality should look like. Fast forward to the years she turns into a young woman. Mulan tries suppressing her innate sense of being a leader, being smart and definitely being better than anyone in that town. She is not happy about it but tries to fall well within those lines because that’s what her parents tell her would make them happy. This is all until one day the king summons all the men in the village to join the army and Mulan decides to go as a boy in disguise so that her father doesn’t have to.
So let’s take a moment here. Isn’t this what absolute courage is about? Not waiting for someone to stand up for you, but choosing to make that decision for yourself.
I saw a video recently that argued about how Mulan teaches the audience that masculinity is defined by physical strength. Yes, physical strength is important. I get that, but isn’t that the point of a soldier? Isn’t that the point of ‘limiting’ a woman of her potential because you think she isn’t physically strong enough?
So let’s stop for a moment and talk about how progressive this actually is.
With girls who are repeatedly told that the things they do are less important than the work that men pick up. Or how a woman’s finances are less significant, so the financial world will cater to men only.
Mulan demonstrates that conventionally feminine skills are indeed in a lot of ways, more useful. Like for example, since women already manage a crisis well, even under pressure we are able to think and come up with better solutions than men.
Managing the household automatically gives us, women an advantage over men when it comes to handling situations.
So essentially, saying that we should play to our strengths rather than looking at it as a weakness. What’s more? The movie teaches little girls and boys that you don’t have to wear a dress or shoot an arrow, but it’s okay if you want to, and nobody should judge you for that.
Blurring gender roles
Isn’t that what we’re working towards? Mulan was there before us all. With a girl packing her bags and walking off to war, characters who show vulnerability, boys who cry - it’s all there. There is an important scene where Mulan’s friend (and later love interest) says that he doesn’t know how to talk to a girl because he doesn’t know what to say - to which she replies - “talk to her like you would talk to me.” - and this is when she’s in disguise as a boy. It shows how men can be vulnerable and women can be strong. This is without belittling, and that’s an important step forward.
Intelligence over anything
Why do I keep saying this? That’s probably because we are all stuck at some point on the way we look. With the media talking about how someone is prettier than others, or how someone is fairer than another - this seems to stop at just that. Looks. The ability to see someone beyond looks is not something that we as a society are past yet. - And Mulan, showcases this with such elegance. Mulan uses sheer wit to defeat the oncoming forces without the help of magic elves, swarfs, a fairy godmother or magic portions. Just herself and her brilliant mind. I absolutely loved the scene when she confesses to the army chief about her disguise. She could have walked away and nobody would have ever known.
This. This is what we need. This is what we need to teach our children. This is what we need to teach ourselves. A woman is as strong as her will. She can indeed achieve anything she wants. So when a woman is amazing at her job, she is not just enabling herself but is influencing all the young women in her life. When a woman is financially independent, she isn’t so just for herself. She is a ray of hope for all the women in her life to become financially independent too. And in fact, that’s all that matters.
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