Monday, 28 July 2014

Women in Film Blogathon



The latest blogathon being hosted by John over at Hitchcock's World takes on the topic of women in film. 

A subject rife with fruit for cultural studies nerds, like myself, everywhere. After three years of studying a cultural studies major, you'd think this blogathon would be piss easy. Truth is, it isn't. Sadly, strong female characters in film are few and far between, and those that stand out (Ripley, Sarah Connor, the Bride) have been done to death.

The rules for John's blogathon are as follows;
  1. The female character in question should have qualities that make her strong. That doesn't necessarily mean better than the guys, just well-written; we're trying to promote equality here, not reverse misogyny.
  2. Unlike my previous blogathon, I'm going to be a bit stricter here and say that each entry should only focus on one character. However, if you like you can write multiple entries examining different characters.
  3. If you can, do try to find less obvious choices. There are a few that I can expect are likely to get picked: Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, etc. If you decide to write about any the "obvious" choices, I encourage you to at least try and find something new to say about them.
  4. You are allowed to pick characters from any film from genre or time period you like.

So, for my entry, I went out of my comfort zone and picked Mulan from...Mulan.

Now, for those of you who don't know the story of Mulan, it's about a young Chinese peasant girl who must save her father from death in the army by secretly taking his place amongst the men. As you can already tell, the story is teeming with different readings on gender, gender roles and defying archetypes.

So, what is it about Mulan that makes her a strong female character akin to Ripley, Sarah Connor or the Bride?

For starters, Mulan side-steps major female character stereotypes found in Disney movies. She's just a girl, and not a princess. She may stand alongside Snow White in the great pantheon of Disney 'princesses', but her story differs greatly to what we would consider a stereotypical 'Disney princess' film. Given that almost every other Disney film that centres on a female character are at some point a princess (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), the format can be very limiting. 

It tells children that they can only aspire to be anything when you're born or marry into something (I'm speaking very generally here). Meanwhile, Mulan's story focuses on her strength, predominantly physically (she's a soldier after all) but her mental strength also. Mulan proves that her gender has nothing to do with her ability to be a powerful fighter and save all of Imperial China from the Hun invasion. She also draws strength from her ability to think on her feet and outsmart her opponents, which is a great message to give to young kids, especially girls. She is courageous, independent and intelligent.  If ever there was an antidote for the archetypical 'pretty pink princess', this is it.

Mulan is a character that is, generally speaking, disinterested with the existing template of how a woman is 'supposed' to act and her character challenges the notion of what it means to 'make a man'. At the beginning of the film, this contrast between genders is clearly defined through the following dialogue;

"We all must serve our Emperor, who guards us from the Huns. A man by bearing arms, a girl by bearing sons."

Mulan battles against existing expectations of her gender to pursue her own dreams and ambitions. She may struggle with this at first, but the way in which her character arc is handled shows that she can depend on herself and own strength of will to break away from limiting gender roles. Her story is also rooted in cultural meaning, with her desire to uphold her families honour and respecting her parents.

She finds strength in defending her family, her country and learning self-discipline. Her story isn't defined by her desire or dependence on a male character (even if she must spend time pretending to be one to 'fit in' with what is expected at first). Her story isn't centred on romance, there is no Prince Charming to save the day. Whilst technically there is a male romantic interest in the form of Li Shang, Mulan isn't the prize for him to claim. She saves the day. At the end of the film, the central male characters see her as an equal. 

What the film boils down to is this: Mulan is about a girl finding acceptance with who she is even when society tells her she should act another way. If that doesn't depict her as a strong female character, I don't know what does.

A quick thank you to John at Hitchcock's World for putting forward such an interesting topic for his blogathon, and I hope you all enjoyed my entry! 

4 comments:

  1. Very nice entry. I've not watched it in its entirety, but have seen bits and bits of it over the years. From what I saw, and the way you described her, she is a great fit for this blogathon.

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    1. Thanks Wendell :) Disney isn't my specialised subject but I'm glad I was able to make this one work.

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  2. Oh wow, this is an unexpected turn, but a very good one nonetheless, not to mention it adds a bit of racial diversity and that's always good.

    I honestly have no idea how Mulan became one of the "Disney Princesses" because she really doesn't fit in at all. Then again considering Alice also gets wedged in sometimes I'm not sure how many of the marketers involved with that franchise actually saw the movies they're drawing from.

    Thanks for participating in my blogathon. I think this will be a good addition to the list.

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    1. I'm not sure either, she certainly isn't the Snow White type. I think there are some grey areas to the term princess over at Disney ;) Thanks for hosting John, glad I could join in! :)

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