Does Mulan Overthrow Oppressive Gender Norms?

Published: 2021-09-11 17:00:08
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During this story, the main character, a girl, joins the Chinese army to fight because she doesn’t want her dad to get hurt. Girls were not allowed in the Chinese army so Mulan had to hide her identity doing a variety of different things. Many people speculate that Gender Trouble played a role in the creation of Mulan. Judith Butler believes that gender parody and bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms are means for overthrowing these oppressive gender norms. I believe that Mulan uses Butler’s theory to overthrow oppressive gender norms during three specific parts of the movie.
The first part in which this occurs is in the beginning when Mulan attempts to impress the women and become an honorable lady. The second part is when Mulan decides to enter the army, and the third part is when she is at the army base and is part of the army. There are numerous examples throughout Mulan that have to do with feminist issues. During the beginning of Mulan, Mulan has to dress up and be ready to visit the matchmaker. The matchmaker grants all Chinese girls “honor” by leading them to their future husbands.
There are plenty of examples of both gender parody and bodily performance in this scene. As Mulan enters to town, she is instantly cleaned up and made ready for the important meeting with the matchmaker. In this scene Mulan’s mother and another women are helping her get ready while they sing a song. A few of the lyrics in this scene are very peculiar. They almost are exaggerating sexism and the role that women play in society. This is the first example of gender parody in this movie. Wait and see, when were through, boys will gladly go to war for you.
A girl can bring her family great honor in one way. By striking a good match, this could be the day. Men want girls with good taste. Calm, obedient, who work fast pace. With good breeding and a tiny waist. We all must serve our Emperor who guards us from the Huns. A man by bearing arms, A girl by bearing sons. (Bancroft 1998). Above are four quotes taken from the song sung during this scene. Gender parody is seen here by these lyrics. These lyrics seem very satirical. They make it seem as if the only possible way for a girl to be successful is to be pretty, get married, and have children.
Also, bodily performance is seen in this part. When Mulan first goes to the town, she isn’t very clean and has to be washed and dressed. The women have to turn Mulan into a “lady” to be able to meet the matchmaker. Also, all the girls that are walking to the matchmaker have very strait posture and are walking in unison while Mulan walks normal which to some people would show she isn’t ladylike. When Mulan’s father is chosen to join the army and fight she becomes extremely upset. Women were forbidden to fight in wars so her father was chosen to go to the war.
Mulan risks everything by taking her father’s gear, dressing as a man, and going to the army. The bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms are very obvious in this scene. Everything that Mulan does in this scene is against the gender norms. First, she cuts off her hair. Men having short hair while women having long hair are age-old gender norms. By cutting off her hair, she is attempting to be a man. Also, Mulan wears all of the gear. The gear and sword are symbols of masculinity and war. The law at this time was that women can’t fight in wars and if so they would be executed.
Mother: You must go after her, she could be killed. Father: If I reveal her, she will be. (Bancroft 1998). Mulan made a very brave decision to join the army and much of what she later has to do is completely opposite of gender norms. The most prominent example seen throughout Mulan that relates to Butler’s theory for overthrowing oppressive gender norms is the time Mulan spends in the army. There are numerous examples of both gender parody and bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms. When Mulan enters the army on the irst day you can see her trying to act like a man in front of everybody else. When she is talking to the captain of the army, in a manly voice, she says You know how it is when you get those manly urges. You just gotta kill something, fix things, cook outdoors…. (Bancroft 1998). While she is telling that to the captain, she has a very manly posture. She hits her chest and her open palm as she is talking to try to seem more masculine. This whole scene has gender parody. Throughout this scene, Mulan pretends to be a man by spitting and fighting as well.
The lyrics to the song during this scene while they are training for battle are also signs of gender parody. The song repeats with the line I’ll make a man out of you. (Bancroft 1998). Another form of gender parody seen throughout this scene is the fact that Mulan is constantly struggling to keep up with the rest of the men, suggesting she is the weakest out of all. Mulan then trains extra hard and eventually is able to keep up with the rest of the men. For many reasons, this portion of the movie display gender parody and bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms.
Throughout Mulan, examples of gender parody and bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms are evident. These ideas originate in Gender Trouble. Butler believes that gender parody and the bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms are ways to break gender norms. What performance where will invert the inner/outer distinction and compel a radical rethinking of the psychological presuppositions or gender identity and sexuality? (Butler 189) Butler means in that quote what will change the paradigms of what is “manly” and what is “womanly” behavior?
It’s hard to know whether or not these ideas will ever be changed or rethought, but the insight Butler has about these topics is provocative. The relationship between Mulan and Gender Trouble is clearly seen when watching and reading each of the two. Both are very feminist and against the gender norms. Judith Butler believes that gender parody and bodily performance of possible alternatives to established gender norms can break age old gender norms. Throughout Mulan, there are many examples of both of these topics.
I believe that Mulan uses Butler’s theory to overthrow oppressive gender norms during three specific parts of the movie. The first part in which this occurs is in the beginning when Mulan attempts to impress the women and become an honorable lady. The second part is when Mulan decides to enter the army, and the third part is when she is at the army base and is part of the army. Bibliography Bancroft, Tony. “Mulan. ” Recorded 1998. Disney. DVD Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

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