Gender Roles in Movie Mulan

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Updated: Mar 07, 2023
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Production company Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Feature Animation in their movie Mulan, provide entertainment while also inspiring young children that strength is inside of everyone. Mulan aims to provide a humorous movie that empowers the audience to work hard and believe in themselves. It adopts a jovial and sanguineous tone with solemn parts in order to show children that determination and optimism are strong enough to conquer any obstacle, even the Hun Dynasty. In Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Feature Animation’s movie Mulan they contrast the society’s low expectations of women to the strong character Mulan who breaks arbitrary gender roles through the use of insightful metaphors, dramatic irony, empowering symbolism, and emotional appeal.

The integration of perceptive metaphors aid in providing a perspective that gender roles for both men and women are unmeetable standards. Li Shang uses many metaphors to describe what makes a man. In the song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, the characteristics and obligations are what people in their society believe and expect of men. One such metaphor is “with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon”, men are expected to be mighty and enigmatic, concealing their emotions and having both physical and mental strength. The metaphor brings insight into the standards that are forced upon men. This song is to show how the expectation of men were paradoxes but just as unrelenting as the ones that women faced. The song “Honor to Us All” is riddled with traditional views on women. The metaphor “Each a perfect porcelain doll” is insinuating that women are expected to be flawless beautiful creatures. Throughout the song, they entail how women can bring honor as men do through fighting, by bearing children and being obedient. There are clear standards and social norms stated in both songs for each gender. Women are expected to be docile and pretty housewives while men are supposed to be strong and emotionless protectors. Mulan projects these ideas in a way to show how ridiculous and unobtainable it is to insist on perfection and claiming anything less is unmanly or not lady-like. The movie uses eye-opening metaphors to criticize the irrational social standards of what is masculine and feminine.

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Mulan exhibits a major distinction in society’s low expectations of women versus Mulan’s value in order to prove that gender roles are not written in stone, with dramatic irony. The greatest dramatic irony is how little importance women are believed to have at the start of the film and then, in the end, had a female save their country in a way that they only thought men could. Most of the irony shown in the film is based around how women are expected to be inferior to men’s strength but Mulan, a woman was able to fight like them and be a major contributor in defeating the Hun Dynasty. A specific example of irony is in the song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” when Captain Li mocks his soldiers for acting feminine when saying “Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?” The irony of this is clear to the audience who know that Mulan is a woman. The fact that Captain Li, as well as many in that society, believed women incapable and expected men to be stronger and superior is comical when one of their warriors who ends up being very skilled and playing a key role in the war, is in fact a woman. The movie is based around the rhetorical device of irony in contradicting the way the society in the movie views women against how Mulan is as a way to prove that gender roles are inaccurate.

Symbolism is crucial in showing the audience the inner strength that Mulan has in a culture where women are seen as feeble and pliable. The scene where Mulan is contemplating what to do and finally decides to go to war in place of her father as she sits under the Great Stone Dragon holds heavy symbolism. Mulan lights a candle for protection for her family and awakens the statue when Mushu could not; the reason for this is because the Great Stone Dragon resides within Mulan as she is the protector of her family. It is implied by the dragon not waking up when Mushu bangs the gong, that it already lives on inside of Mulan. Mulan holds many scenes with hidden meanings that are impactful in portraying that men and women are not held to the standards society has placed upon them. When Mulan cuts her hair, she is “cutting” herself off from society and their outdated views. In Chinese culture and tradition, women are expected to keep their hair long as it is a feminine trait. She cuts it with a sword which is something men are expected to wield as a way of breaking the shackles of perception that men and women should act and look a certain way. Symbolism is presented throughout the film as a way to characterize Mulan in a different light then is expected of women.

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Mulan’s inner struggle along with the severity of the situation is an emotional appeal to the audience. The movie is made for children and the overall mood is comical and upbeat, however in order to illustrate the main theme of being true to oneself, they exhibit serious scenes to help the audience relate to Mulan. Not many children can connect to the actual struggles Mulan faces such as going to war, but they can relate to putting on a mask whether literal or figurative to hide who they are. The scene where Mulan sings the song “Reflection” about being confused as to who she truly is, is something many can relate to. Children can have an easier time putting themselves in the shoes of a person who is confused and emotional about acting like a different person and thus invoking a powerful connection. By allowing the audience to identify with Mulan it creates a more significant impact on how they feel about the rest of her journey. There will be more devotion to her success and make the movie more eventful for the viewer. The somber scenes that cause Mulan to contemplate who she is utilizes a strategic rhetorical device of emotional appeal in order to have the audience form an attachment to her.

Mulan is able to overcome her difficulties through determination and optimism as they are a strong force to battle with. Her upbringing drilled into her and those around her that men should be strong and courageous while women should be frail and docile. Even with this mindset, Mulan broke social norms and proved those standards to be foolish. Mulan did what their culture thought only a man could do and showed the ignorance of believing any person is born under strict and outdated. This movie is empowering for young impressionable children as Mulan characterizes gender roles as irrelevant while valuing hard work and intelligence above all else.

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Gender Roles in Movie Mulan. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from