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Newby, Tia Michael Sisco, and Beryl Vasick Communication Department Humboldt State University 1 Harpst St. Arcata, CA 95521 April 29, 2002 Rhetorical Criticism Convention Planner California State University, Hayward 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd Hayward, CA 94542 To Whom It May Concern: The following is a copy of our feminist rhetorical criticism, entitled A Battle Cry from the Gender War, regarding the Walt Disney film, Mulan. We hope that you will review our work, and try to accommodate the presentation of our findings in your schedule of events. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,
Tia Newby, Michael Sisco, and Beryl Vasick
A Battle Cry from the Gender War Tia Newby Michael Sisco Beryl Vasick Humboldt State University
April 29, 2002
Battle Cry Abstract
The following paper is a feminist rhetorical criticism of the Disney film, Mulan. The criticism was performed to determine if Mulan breaks away from the traditional gender stereotypes presented in previous Disney films. The paper first examines available literature about Mulan, and other works on Disney films to determine what information is currently available. The paper then proceeds to investigate different styles of feminist rhetorical criticisms in order to determine different methods of applying the unit of analysis, the construction of gender and how that construction helps to better understand or transform the patriarchy. After a brief description of the unit of analysis, the paper applies the unit of analysis to the artifact being studied, Mulan. Upon applying the unit of analysis to the artifact, the male characters of the film were characterized by three primary traits, aggressive, honorable, and un-hygienic. The females of the film were also characterized by three primary traits: obedience, beauty, and worshipful of men. The patriarchy was better understood in the context of gender construction because the traits of men and women created and imbalance of power, and women needed to earn power in the system while the power of men was inherent. Mulan also works to transform the patriarchy through its title character. Mulan has only one of the characteristics of the females in the film, and this helps her to somewhat transform the patriarchal system. However, Mulan conforms to the system in the end of the film because of the sole female characteristic she possesses. While the film works to change the stereotypical gender roles in their previous films, Mulan makes only small improvements on its predecessors.
Battle Cry The story of a young Chinese girl who goes off to war in place of her injured father is not the story line that is usually associated with films made by Walt Disney.
However, this film makes a marked attempt by Disney to break away from their standard story line of girl meets boy, girl gets in trouble with evil, and boy saves girl in the end. This film also works to break away from their standard gender stereotypes seen in movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. These Walt Disney classics all featured timid women who essentially wait in distress for the man of their dreams. At first glance Mulan is a far cry from the past. Its heroine, taking her fathers life into consideration before her own, is intriguing in a Disney plot. Also the fact that Mulan does all of this under the guise of her being a man is yet another aspect of the film that begs its study. Does Mulan break away from traditional gender stereotypes of past Disney films? The intent of this criticism is to answer this question and determine if the movie breaks away from it predecessors. This criticism contains many aspects. The subject of our study will first be examined and justified. Literature reviews and descriptions for the artifact, Mulan, and the unit of analysis for a feminist criticism will be reviewed. The unit of analysis will be applied to the artifact, and finally the conclusions and implications of the work will be stated, forming a more complete picture and understanding of Mulan. Since Mulan is one of many Disney movies that could be analyzed for the presence of new gender stereotypes, it is important to justify why this artifact should be the one under scrutiny.
One cannot be involved with children without hearing something about a Disney movie that child has watched. Everywhere one turns there are clothing apparel, coloring books, toys, spin-off videos, and even web sites that depict a Disney movie theme or character (Buckingham 285). This Disney phenomenon has been integrated into every American childhood. However, Disney has a unique ability to also capture the attention of adults as well as children. It is this dual address which would seem to be crucial to Disneys appeal: Disney both constructs and speaks to elements of childrens lived experiences, while providing adults with opportunities for nostalgic fantasies about their own pasts (Buckingham 286). These movies are also able to capture childrens attention and keep them entertained for hours upon hours. There are essentially three reasons why Mulan should be critically studied. The first reason is because of the universal nature of Disney films and products. Second, the influence that Disney movies have on children warrants its study. Finally, there are virtually no critical studies available about Mulan. All one has to do is look around and theyll notice the abundance of Disneys merchandise. It goes as far back as the 1930s with the Mickey Mouse Club (Buckingham 286). The movement of these Disney movies into the home viewing market has made Disney characters known to millions of children and families. However, this isnt only an American phenomenon. Disneys grasp has been able to reach an island, Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Quintana Roo in southeastern Mexico. On this island, local artists have painted numerous murals that depict, Ariel, the heroine from Disneys The Little Mermaid. These murals of Ariel have been reproduced more often than the historical mermaids that originally gave the island its name. Without
international mass marketing of popular film and television, such a debunking of Maya cultural heritage for images manufactured in the U.S. could not have occurred (Weinbaum 19). This shows how Disney has been able to cover all corners of the earth and have some type of impact on people. According to the World Almanac & Book of Facts, 2000, the movie Mulan alone received $120.6 million at the box office in the United States and Canada. These earnings made Mulan the fifteenth highest grossing movie in 1998 (176). This movie also made approximately $300 million worldwide (Peterson 22). These large sums of money are merely from the patrons to the theaters, and the amount of people who have viewed the video can be left only to speculation. Clearly Mulan has been viewed by many people, worldwide demonstrating that Mulan is a worthy subject of study. Another reason that this subject should be studied is due to the influence that Disney has on childrens construction of gender roles. Two sociologists make the claim that young men identify with distant heroes and accessible mentors when they build a developmental state of life (Cantor and Bernay 137). They also make the statement that women have ambition and career dreams when young, but the desire for love, approval, and connections drives the dreams underground (Cantor and Bernay 137). This means that the stories portrayed in Disney movies are continuing to build and cultivate these gendered roles in children. Some explain these expectations by gender schema theory, which suggests that children learn cultural definitions of gender and its roles in part from cultural myths (Matti and Lisosky 66). Some sociologists suggest children may acquire gender schema from cultural myths portrayed in popular mediated messages, some examples are Disney movies. H.
Battle Cry Giroux, an analyst of Disney, states these films inspire at least as much cultural authority and legitimacy for teaching specific roles, values and ideals than more
traditional sites of learning such as public schools, religious institutions and the family (Giroux 25). It is apparent that Disney has a huge influence on the construction of gender roles in children. A survey concerned with discovering how gender roles are portrayed in the media in USA Today Magazine states that there are six types of media that are primarily used by teenage girls. One of the six types of media is film (Messages 3). Nancy Signorielli, professor of communication at University of Delaware Newark, conducted the study and found that these roles direct women and girls to be more concerned with romance and dating, while men are depicted as more concerned with their occupations (Messages 3). This study shows that films in general, which include Disney films, are teaching young children stereotypical gender roles. These children are taught through movies, that girls should be obsessed with dating, and that a boys only duty is having a job. This sends a message to young girls that they cannot be career orientated and independent; they should only look for a suitable husband. At the same time, young boys are sent the message that they must work and provide for a family. All of these messages perpetuate traditional gender roles. Given the impact that Disney movies have on young children, it is astonishing that there have not been more critical analyses of Mulan. The use of gender stereotyping in Disney movies has been studied extensively. In an analysis done on Pocahantas, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, Matti and Lisosky found that all of the female characters were initially viewed as powerful and autonomous. However, when they made
decisions it often lead to negative consequences and the women viewed themselves as a failure. This same consequence only happened to a male character once. The authors also found that the decisions made by a male character often affected their whole community, where the female characters decisions only affected themselves and sometimes one other person (Matti and Lisosky 66). There are also gender roles at play in The Little Mermaid. Ariel, the heroine, first gives up her voice and undersea home, chasing after a human man. Ursula, the evil sea witch who takes Ariels voice, tells her that giving up her voice is not that bad because men dont like women who talk too much anyway (Robertson 45). Mulan is one of Disneys most well known attempts at breaking away from traditional gender roles. Ortega states in her Advocate article, Cartoon Cross-Dresser, that what is revolutionary about Mulan is that she wears the pants (Ortega 57). It is very important to analyze this work to determine how effective this attempt was, and to give more breadth and depth to this field of study. However, before the artifact can be analyzed, it is important to look at other bodies of work that might help to provide guidance when analyzing the artifact. Literature Review for the Artifact There have been many different critical reviews about Disney films in general, however, there have not been many critical studies performed on our artifact of interest, Mulan. So, this literature review will encompass some of the literature that is available on previous Disney films, such as Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, and others. This material will be beneficial in that it will allow the discovery of techniques and previous
avenues of approach, when studying gender and how it relates to the realm of Disney films. In 1996, Womens Studies in Communication devoted an entire volume of their publication to the role that gender plays in Disney films. Keisha Hoerrner quantitatively studied how different genders are displayed in the eleven most popular full-length Disney films, which include Snow White, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Hoerrner first operationalized behaviors that could be found to be indicative of the different genders. Prosocial and antisocial behavior were the terms used to describe how the characters in the films were coded. These behaviors would be easy to categorize and analyze from the data found in the films. She wrote, These behaviors and their definitions are as follows: Altruism: consists of sharing, helping and cooperation involving human or animals. Control of aggresion impulses: involves nonagressive acts or statements that serve to eliminate or prevent aggression by self or others toward human or animals. (Hoerrner 216) Hoerrner used a set of four students to do the coding on the movies, and provided a training system to ensure the proper coding of the data. Upon completing the data collection, Hoerrner used numerical analysis to draw reasonable conclusions about the ways that Disney constructs gender in their films. Futhermore, these male characters often display physical aggression toward others, thus inviting children to conclude that although females occasionally may be bad, men are aggressive and hurtful much of the time (Hoerrner 225). Hoerrner used this research to compare Disney films with television cartoons, and she found that although Disney does
Battle Cry make improvements in what children are seeing, they are still guilty of not giving
children a fair image of gender to internalize. She states, similarly, this project found that while Disney scripts do perpetuate gender stereotypes in their range of behaviors written for female characters, Disney female characters do not consist solely of passive, timid females like those previous research has found are consistently seen on television (Hoerrner 224). Although this is a quantitative study, it solidifies the basis for further research about gender in Disney films. Lauren Dundes performed a social science analysis of Pocahontas in her article, Disneys Modern Heroine Pocahontas: Revealing Age-Old Gender Stereotypes and Role Discontinuity Under a Faade of Liberation. Dundes writes in her article about the progression of the title character in the Disney film, Pocahontas. The author begins by describing Pocahontas in the beginning of the film as an egocentric character with little regard for others. Yet, she states, despite such an incharacteristic portrayal of a strong female lead, Pocahontas actions are driven by selfish love, rather than a more noble, altruistic cause(Dundes 354). Dundes then describes Lawrence Kohlbergs model of moral development, and judges Pocahontas based on these levels. She concludes that Pocahontas is at a minimal stage of her moral development, and that moral development is based on the gender stereotype that women are only concerned with their own relationships. She explains, the problem which Pocahontas appears determined to solve is one which threatens to interfere with a relationship, not one which affects the core of society, (a portrayal which then provides a marked contrast to illustrate her growth when she later decides to consider the welfare of the group and
Battle Cry stay behind in her village) (Dundes 354). The author admits that Disney makes a
marked attempt at modernizing some aspects of the Pocahontas story, but falls short to eliminate their standard traditional gender stereotypes. Although Pocahontas shows vast improvement over such protagonists as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, we must remain alert to lingering sex stereotypes that send powerful messages to our youth (Dundes 360). This was yet another approach to analyze a different popular Disney film with a new lens. Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine is an article by Jill Birnie Henke, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Nancy Smith written in 1996, focused on the five animated Disney movies which all portray females as the central storyline. These movies included Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas. The authors analyzed the construction of the female self of the main characters using the standpoint feminist theory (Henke, Umble, and Smith 230). They said, standpoint feminism argues that women have been and still are treated as others, and outsiders in patriarchal societies (Henke, Umble, and Smith 232). Henke, Umble, and Smith found that the characters they examined displayed a more positive female self than those depicted in earlier Disney films, such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The Little Mermaids title character, Ariel, is one of the authors first examples. They describe, Ariel is characterized as willful and disobediant. She follows her dreams even though she knows her actions run counter to the wished of her father, King Triton (Henke, Umble, and Smith 236). Pocahontas was yet another character who was found to have a more positive self. The authors claim, indeed, in Pocahontas Disney offers an
adventurous female who develops a sense of self in a culture other than the dominant Anglo culture, and who chooses a destiny other than that of heterosexual romantic fulfillment (Henke, Umble, and Smith 241). Henke, Umble, and Smith conclude that although the women of the newer films have a greater sense of selfhood, they still function to maintain a patriarchal structure, counterproductive to female empowerment. Increasingly, they say, Disneys heroines have acquired the ability to articulate their dreams and to enact changes in their lives as they pursue those dreams. Yet, we suggest that this evolution may well function hegemonically to maintain the patriarchal status quo while tactically acknowledging the changing roles of women in contemporary society. (Henke, Umble, and Smith 246) Sharon Downey also wrote about a popular Disney movie in her 1996 article, Feminine Empowerment in Disneys Beauty and the Beast. Downey analyzed the film using a polysemic viewpoint. She explained, polysemy refers to the degree to which a text creates free space to interpret its message in multiple ways (Downey 188). The author cites Sonja and Karen Fossfemale glance as the primary source with which the movie was analyzed. This female glance refers to interpreting the events of the film through the eyes of a female. In other words, even though this film is told primarily from a male perspective, Downey claims that the film can also be viewed from a female perspective, offering a new, empowering interpretation through both images and words. Together, these discursive and nondiscursive elements contribute to the development of a female glance because they articulate female as well as male experiences (Downey 192).
Downey looks at the film in three different parts, that each function differently to establish this new perspective through which she examines the piece. She describes the beginning of the movie being dominated by the male characters, but notes that through the scenes in which Belle, the works main female, stays in her own world and does not let the men of the movie control her, she creates the opportunity for the movie to be seen from this female perspective. She says, Belles story undermines narrative representations of masculine autonomy and control in several waysIt is this linking of the female with the male stories in a relationship of interdependence that disrupts the male gaze over the hold of the fairy tale (Downey 197). In the middle section of the film, Downey notes that while the narrative maintains the masculine perspective of the film, it is the music and animation that continue to provide the female counter narrative. In the final section of the movie, the author claims that the female and male narratives are combined by both the male and female protagonists blending facets of masculinity and femininity. She explains, this understanding stems from the joint presence of male gaze and female glance which merge in the fairy tales finale to establish a collaborative spectator position enabling subject and object to look at one another in mutual affirmation (Downey 198-206). Downey argues in conclusion that because of the ability to interpret this movie from both viewpoints, it offers an empowering interpretation for viewers (Downey 206). Susan Z. Swan, assistant professor of communication at Hanover College, took a new perspective of Disneys Beauty and the Beast in her article entitled Gothic Drama in Disneys Beauty and the Beast: Subverting Traditional Romance by Transcending the Animal-Human Paradox. Swan takes a feminist approach which she defines as the
Battle Cry human agenda [of] moving toward greater wholeness, recognizing the paradoxes of feminine and masculine energies, understanding the power and value of both, and integrating them personally and culturally (Swan 352).
First, Swan examined the movie under the genre of gothic romance; a genre, which Swan feels ultimately liberates the film from any traditional romance story roles. The author states the characteristics of gothic romance in five parts. A dark castle or mansion, styled with looming arches and towers; (2) a young woman faced with a dark secret to uncover, which requires skills beyond the traditionally feminine-and who at some point flees in terror before she discovers her own power; (3) a flawed romantic lead who must be taught how to love; (4) a rival or alternate lead who turns out to be evil; and (5) a happy ending achieved through a process of redemption. (Swan 353) Swan states the gothic romance genre is important to the feminist movement because it allowed for women to explore realms previously blocked to women in other genres (Swan 353). Upon review of the movie, Swan finds that all the five characteristics true to a gothic romance are indeed present throughout this film. Thus, Swan says, we have in Beauty and the Beast the following key gothic elements: a dark, gloomy castle; a young woman in late adolescence (Belle) who feels isolated from her community because of who she is as a person; a dark secret (the castle and Beast under a magic spell); a romantic lead (Beast) who is, literally as well as figuratively, a beast; a romantic second (Gaston) who turns out to be evil; and a process of transformation which must be worked through in order for the couple to come together in the end. (Swan 355)
Battle Cry This analysis of the film leads Swan to how this genre of romance works to provide
liberation from traditional romance stereotypes. Swan finds that because the spell upon the Beast cannot be broken merely by Belle, this removes emotional responsibility from the traditional position of the womans shoulders. Also, both Belle and Beast have to form themselves from within before they can be together She explains, they each find a balancing of the Animal and Human aspects without losing either masculine or feminine energy (Swan 366). Swan concludes that Belle and Beast model the growth of Self that is required to avoid the trap of mindless tradition (Swan 366). Swan has shown that through equal responsibility and stability within men and women, they can have a flourishing and un-oppressive relationship. These are simply a few of the studies that have been performed on various Disney films over the years. These articles help to provide guidance in how to look at Mulan and possible techniques of examination. Before exploring literature about the unit of analysis that will be used to critique the film, it is important to introduce the artifact itself. Description of the Artifact In 1998, Disney tried many new things in making their animated feature film, Mulan. This film is interesting for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, this film portrays a female lead that is much stronger than the traditional Disney heroine. Second, this film brings not only a strong female heroine to the forefront, but also features this lead as a cross-dresser, never seen in Disney films previous to this. Finally, the film attempts to bring these abnormally un-Disneyesque ideas to the minds of its viewers through the rhetorical context of a different culture, that of first century China.
The film is essentially the story of a young, Chinese girl who sets off to join the Chinese army and fight invading Huns, in lieu of her ailing father who is drafted by the Emperor. A smart aleck dragon, Mushu, is sent along with Mulan to help and protect her from being detected as a woman, a crime that is punishable by death. Mulan, also known as her male alias, Ping, turns out to be quite an adept soldier, after struggling through rigorous training with other male soldiers. Mulan then saves the lives of her friends and comrades in battle only to be discovered as a woman. After being shunned for her womanhood, Mulan returns to her friends to save the Emperor himself from the sly invaders. Many popular culture reviews of Mulan have offered the idea that this character, Mulan, is much different than Disney heroines of the past in that it offers a much stronger view of women, even in an extremely patriarchal culture, such as first century China. Based on a 2,000-year-old Chinese folktale, Mulan tells of a young woman who chooses to pass as a man and go to war rather than allow her ailing father to be draft. With shorn hair and wearing her fathers armor, Mulan proves to be a formidable warrior (Ortega 57). Mulan is also certainly not represented as the typical Disney heroine. She doesnt look like a Barbie doll, she doesnt dream about a prince and she certainly doesnt hang around waiting to be rescued (Brown and Shapiro 64). Even though this film brings a strong female character to the forefront, the film does not provide a good feminist narrative in that the story is still told through patriarchal eyes. Says Karlyn [assistant professor of English at University of Oregon]: Were beginning to think about heroism in a female way. But we dont have narratives or genres in which we can comfortably fit strong female protagonists (Labi 61). However, Mulan does make a valiant effort at
changing the face of its heroine. When her identity is revealed, she overcomes societys constraints and becomes a great leader and champion of China (Ortega 57). The changing of the strong female lead was not the only change made in Mulan. The lead female in this film was also seen to be a cross-dresser, a first for any Disney female protagonist. Where there have been many other instances in the history of film of women cross-dressing, this first for Disney presents a true validation for the audience. What is revolutionary about Mulan is that she wears her pants in this years Disney summer animated blockbuster, thus joining an elite list of film characters designed to appeal to all families all around the world. Its hard to imagine a more sweeping mainstream validation (Ortega 57). This change in the Disney heroine brings a new set of ideas and values to the viewing audience. Mulan also does another interesting thing in that it offers the movie in the rhetorical context of first century China. The film offers a new look at a new style of woman, but does so in an environment that is very patriarchal. This creates a rhetorical context that is both forgiving, yet still dominated by man. This develops into a blend of ideals that is both entertaining, but also confusing at the same time. Now that the artifact itself has been described, it is crucial to determine what kind of materials have been written that describe the unit of analysis that will be used to study Mulan. Literature Review For Unit of Analysis There are many different perspectives from which the feminist movement can be approached. Liberal feminism, environmental feminism, radical feminism, Marxist/socialist feminism, and lesbian feminism are merely a few of the approaches to the feminist movement. However, there are essentially three main principles with which
all feminists agree. According to Sonja Foss, scholar of rhetorical criticism, the first principle of feminism is that women are oppressed by patriarchy, the system by which womens interests are subordinated to mens. The second principle is that womens experiences are different than mens. Finally, the third principle is that womens perspectives are not currently incorporated into our culture. Although all of these principles are incorporated into the various types of feminism, the numerous authors of feminist rhetorical criticisms have taken varied approaches to performing these criticisms. This literature review will focus on those works whose primary form was described by Sonja Foss. In 1992, Cathy Schwichtenberg, assistant professor of speech communication at the University of Georgia, wrote a criticism entitled Madonnas Postmodern Feminism: Bringing the Margins to the Center. In this article Schwichtenberg describes how Madonna works to destroy the stereotypical view of gender through her postmodern portrayal of gender in her music video, Justify My Love. Through strategies of simulation, she transforms the truth of gender into drag, a dialectical fragmentation between two terms, and then fissures this destabilized sex identity further by means of splitting and displacement to advance a prodigious sexual plurality (Schwichtenberg 129). Schwichtenberg examines this destabilization of gender through a standard unit of analysis in rhetorical feminist criticism as described by Sonja Foss. First, Foss states to examine the rhetorical artifact for how gender is constructed in the artifact (Foss 170). Schwichtenberg describes the various videos that Madonna has made in which she continually portrays women as having both typical male and female characteristics. A
prime example of this behavior is in her Express Yourself video in which Madonna is seen in many scenes as wearing male clothes, such as a blue pinstriped suit, along with female clothes, a visible black lace bra underneath the suit (Schwichtenberg 125). She says, the viewer is compelled to re-read her body as the intersection of converging differences (Schwichtenberg 125). Foss then states that the artifact can be examined to determine if it leads to a transformation of the patriarchy (Foss 172). Schwichtenberg concludes that Madonnas postmodern attempt at blurring gender stereotypes can be a useful tool to re-work the patriarchy. She explains, in more general terms, her disingenuous figuration says much about the political promise of postmodern strategies (Schwichtenberg 129). Schwichtenberg lays down a firm example of how feminist criticism could be performed to better understand the rhetorical artifact in question. Karen Rasmussen, of the California State University, Long Beach, wrote a feminist criticism of the television show China Beach in 1992 entitled China Beach and American Mythology of War. In her article, Rasmussen follows a nearly identical format for feminist criticism as described by Foss, where first the construction of gender is analyzed, then its contribution to understanding the patriarchy is examined (Foss 170171). Rasmussen ties this analysis of China Beach to the American mythology of war, which is a primarily patriarchal construction. Rasmussen states, American mythology of war, then, implies three claims: (1) public concerns are more important than the private world of the relational and interpersonal; (2) absolute, objective principle involving the general good supercedes
subjective, pluralistic concerns arising from the complexities of the human condition; and (3) independent masculine action is more valuable than interdependent feminine supportiveness. (Rasmussen 29) Rasmussen answers the first call of the feminist rhetorical criticism by describing the gender characteristics of the characters of the show. She first describes the three main female characters of the show, one of which is Major Lila Girraeu. Major Lila Girraeu, an officer participating in her third war, resents others disrespect for the military yet is discouraged by her division from others and by gender-related limitations placed on her career (Rasmussen 30). Then Rasmussen proceeds to describe the characteristics of the shows more conventional male characters. She describes, the shows disillusioned combat veteran is Dodger, a blank-faced, haunted, burned-out soldier who struggles to find release in alcohol and drugs, in cautious relationships with others, and finally, in assuming responsibility for his Amerasian son (Rasmussen 30). Rasmussen uses these analyses to determine how these portrayals of gender help to understand the patriarchy with regards to the American mythology of war. She concludes that China Beach works to somewhat change the American mythology of war. She explains, even though China Beach reflects the tendency of patriarchal structures to co-opt aspects of womens domain, it also elevates the feminine over the masculine by affirming the importance of the private and relational, the subjective and the pluralistic, and the interdependent (Rasmussen 41). This criticism is another example of Foss structure for performing a feminist rhetorical criticism. In a more recent 1996 criticism entitled Liberationist Populism in the Chinese Film Tian Xian Pei: A Feminist Critique by Xiaoyu Xiao and D. Ray Heisey, graduate
Battle Cry student and professor, respectively, from Kent State University, perform a feminist
criticism of a popular Chinese opera film. The authors used a modified version of Foss approach to feminist criticism in writing their critical essay. Their modification to Fosss approach came in their second step of analysis where Xiao and Heisey assessed the effects of the artifacts conception of gender on the audience, and the audiences conception of gender on the artifact (Xiao and Heisey 313-314). The authors analyzed the artifact to determine the effects of different cultural ideologies on gender construction. Xiao and Heisey analyzed the characters of the film first to determine the how they are constructed with regards to the two cultural perspectives concerned, Taoism and Confucionism. They described that although the Fairy Princess, the heroine, was a good woman her virtues were in conflict with the standards of the government of the time. They state, while the Fairy Princess is a good woman, her unwillingness to obey her father would have branded her as a failure by the government officials at the time (Xiao and Heisey 323). The authors also described the primary male character in the piece, Dong Yong, according to these cultural principles. It is not surprising then that Dong Yong was deemed a good model of filial piety by the dyanistic elite. In marrying Dong, the princess was merely fulfilling the duty assigned to her by the Emperor of Heaven: to reward Dong for his filial behavior (Xiao and Heisey 322). Xiao and Heisey found that the artifact worked to elevate the lives of both men and women, according to Foss criteria of determining how the artifact affects the established patriarchy. The film, they said,
develops an ideological context for this affirmation of women in four ways: (1) through the dominance of the theme of love as initiated by a woman; (2) through the Huangmei Opera form which is close to the everyday life of the common people and dominated by women; (3) through the life of actress Yan Fengying who played the role of the Fairy Princess in the film; and (4) through the films political statement which reflected the voices of the Chinese people. (Xiao and Heisey 324) Although modifying Foss original approach to feminist rhetorical criticism, Xiao and Heisey analyzed the artifact using essentially the same tools. Bonnie J. Dow examined femininity and gender on television in 1992 with the criticism, Femininity and Feminism in Murphy Brown. Dow first examines the ways in which the show is similar to older shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was one of the first television programs to portray a liberal, feminist professional woman (Dow 144-145). Dow then proceeds to describe how the title character, Murphy Brown, is portrayed according to her gender. She says, Murphys lack of traditional feminine qualities, particularly domestic and interpersonal skills, are a consistent source of humor. She has no skills and no interests in such traditional tasks as cooking or childcareMurphy also has none of the nurturing qualities so common in televisions female characters (Dow 149). The article goes into great detail to examine how this strongly portrayed female character is actually used as a comic scapegoat to essentially negate any forward progress for the liberal feminine movement. Dow states that,
By sacrificing Murphy through humiliation, embarrassment, or ridicule, Murphy Brown turns the tables on the basic project of liberal feminism, which is to critique how the public sphere excludes women. Instead, Murphys dysfunctionality as an excessive representation of liberal feminism becomes the focus, and Murphy Brown is about how she fails to adjust adequately to the demands placed upon her, even though those demands are inherently contradictory. (Dow 152) Dow also analyzes the other characters on the show, including the other female character, Corky Sherwood (Forest), which is Murphys bitter rival with regards to gender as well as professionally. The article describes an episode in which the two rivals are pitted against each other on a Good Morning America-like parody. The irony lies in the fact that Murphy is portrayed as the typical liberal feminist, with nearly no feminine qualities, and Corky is portrayed as the ultra-feminine woman, who happens to be perfect for this assignment. Once again, this example demonstrates how the show pits the ultra-feminine character as the one who is ultimately successful, while the liberal feminist a failure (Dow 151-152). Dow concludes in the article that Murphy Brown is essentially another attempt by television to give liberal feminists the false sense of security that they are being given an equal footing, yet through their comic scapegoating of Murphy Brown, ultimately undermine the movement. She says, Murphy Brown illustrates a variation on televisions general rhetorical strategy of co-opting feminist content to serve patriarchal interests, a tactic also visible in other forms of cultural discourse (Dow 153). The overall structure for analysis of this artifact is found in Sonja Foss general description of
feminist criticism, which entails describing how gender is constructed, then describing how it helps to understand the patriarchy. Sharon D. Downey and Karen Rasmussen, both of California State University, Long Beach, wrote, in 1991, a feminist criticism entitled The Irony of Sophies Choice. The authors of this criticism used basically the same method for feminist rhetorical criticism as designed by Sonja Foss, as well. Their artifact was an emotional movie entitled Sophies Choice about a woman, Sophie, who lived a troubled life, including a period of time in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, only to lead up to a bittersweet suicide. Upon performing their criticism, Downey and Rasmussen broke the movie into three different parts based on time sequences in the movie to show the contrasts in character that lead to Sophies empowerment. The authors analyzed the gender construction of the characters in each section of the movie to show the change that took place in them during the course of the movie. The first character examined by the authors was the title character Sophie, who began the film in a very submissive role, and yet she was an educated woman. They say, in sum, she is a vibrant, interesting woman who nevertheless accepts the vilification of her lover (Downey and Rasmussen 4). Downey and Rasmussen also examine the main male character, Nathan, who is portrayed as a controlling male and is very imposing and abusive to his lover, Sophie. Nathan, they describe, is an imposing figure clearly in control of Sophie: he diagnosed her illness; he defines her as beautiful; he brushes aside her misgivings about herself; he has the book of poetry she went to the library to find; he initiates intimacy (Downey and Rasmussen 5 emphasis in original).
The movie consists of a series of past/present sequences that the authors regard as doing a good job of establishing the male/female power struggle inherent throughout the movie. In other words, present and past compliment each other by enacting a pattern of female subservience to male dominance (Downey and Rasmussen 5). Overall, Downey and Rasmussen found in the movie its essential definition of the roles that females play in the lives of male, that of subservience. They state, the films definition of the basis for a womans positive identity, then, is one contingent on service to males (Downey and Rasmussen 18). In conclusion, the authors made their own assessment of how the film acts to understand the patriarchy through Nathans domination of Sophie. They conclude, the film, then, is a cultural commentary on womens dilemma: choice stems from power but womens power in a male-centered reality is paradoxical because it does not confer legitimacy (Downey and Rasmussen 19). Downey and Rasmussen provide a clear example of feminist rhetorical criticism that serves well to analyze a troubled womans experience in a mans world. The Lady, the Whore, and the Spinster: The Rhetorical Use of Victorian Images of Women is a feminist rhetorical criticism written in 1990 by Cheryl R. JorgensenEarp. This criticism focuses on speeches made Emmeline Pankhurst during the early 1900s. Pankhurst was the founder of the Womens Social and Political Union in England. Jorgensen-Earp analyzes Pankhursts speeches to determine how the speaker constructs gender, then focuses on how those gender constructions help to understand the patriarchy of the period, an approach to feminist criticism as described by Sonja Foss.
Battle Cry The author described three typical visions of women that were present in
Pankhursts speeches. The first is that of the Perfect Lady, who, was willing to be dependent on men and submissive to them, and she would have a preference for a life restricted to the confines of homeshe would be free of any trace of anger or hostility. More emotional than man, she was also more capable of self-renunciation (JorgensenEarp 84). The second image of women that was described by Jorgensen-Earp was that of the fallen woman, who, was to be ostracized for the woman who broke the family circle, be she prostitute, adulterer or divorcee, threatened societys very fabric (Jorgensen-Earp 85). The final image of women described by Jorgensen-Earp was the Redundant Woman, who, in place of completing, sweetening, and embellishing the existence of others [is] compelled to lead an independent and incomplete existence of [her] own (Jorgensen-Earp 85). Through the discussion of the Victorian patriarchy, Jorgensen-Earp described the role of men and women in this system of power. She states, life in Victorian England was divided into two domains: the public sphere, the arena of business, politics, and the professions, was the exclusive domain of men; the private sphere, the domain of love, the home, and family, was the world of women (Jorgensen-Earp 83-84). Men of the Victorian era were essentially allowed all of the freedoms that life had to offer, whereas the women of the time were not only lumped into three categories, but were also restricted to a life of domesticity. This criticism included the two necessary characteristics of Sonja Foss feminist criticism, construction of both gender and patriarchy. With this background from some of the materials available using our unit of analysis, it is now an appropriate time to describe the unit of analysis.
Battle Cry Description of Unit of Analysis The unit of analysis is perhaps the most important aspect of any rhetorical criticism. Therefore, it is important to accurately identify and describe the unit of
analysis for a feminist rhetorical criticism before performing the analysis. The unit of analysis in feminist criticism is those aspects of the artifact that depict a particular construction of gender (Foss 169). Foss continues to explain that there are essentially two steps that go hand in hand with using this unit of analysis. First, to analyze the artifact for how gender is constructed. Second, to explain how the artifact suggests that the patriarchy is constructed or maintained, or how it can be challenged or transformed (Foss 169-170). Foss describes many aspects that come along with analyzing an artifact to discover how gender is constructed. The first step is to essentially discover what the artifact deems as desirable for both genders. She states, the critics concern is with discovering what the artifact presents as standard, normal, desirable, and appropriate behavior for women and men (Foss 170). However, this is not the only method to examine how gender is constructed in the artifact. The artifact can also be examined to determine the viewpoint from which to story is being told. Foss describes this as audience positioning (Foss 170). She says, this position requires a particular cultural experience in order to make sense of the artifact and is the result of the structures of characters, meanings, aesthetic codes, attitudes, norms, and values the rhetor projects into the text 170). (Foss Typically, most artifacts are presented from the male viewpoint, forcing the audience to view women typically as objects of men (Foss 170). After discerning how gender is constructed in the artifact the critic can then discuss how the
artifact helps to understand the patriarchy, or how the artifact challenges or transforms the patriarchy (Foss 171). The second dimension to the unit of analysis for the feminist rhetorical critic is to explain how the rhetoric can help to under how the patriarchy is constructed, or how the patriarchy can transformed through rhetoric (Foss 171). When a critic analyzes an artifact to determine how the patriarchy can be better understood, there are definite benefits for this analysis in that it could provide a better light under which to examine gender relationships. Foss explains, such an analysis provides a critical distance on existing gender relations, clearing a space in which existing gender relations can be evaluated (Foss 171). There is also the aspect that deals with rhetoric that helped to contribute to the transforming of the patriarchy. The artifact may present women resisting the patriarchy, or it may present womens experiences as positive and valuable (Foss 172). Regardless, analysis leading to these discoveries can be beneficial for critics to determine how rhetoric can be used to transform the patriarchy. She states that, By describing the experiences of women, ways in which their subordinate position is resisted, and ways in which their communication and values can serve as models for alternatives to patriarchy, artifacts can contribute to an understanding of how the description or transformation of patriarchy and occur through rhetorical means. (Foss 173) Through this thorough description and literature review of the unit of analysis, Mulan can now be critically examined using the techniques explored above, first discovering how the male characters of the film were constructed. Applying Unit of Analysis to Artifact
Battle Cry Construction of Male Gender
Upon applying the unit of analysis to the artifact, various different factors of Mulan were found to contribute to the construction of gender. In Mulan the construction of masculine gender is characterized by three primary traits: aggression, honor, and a lack of hygiene. The first example of the aggressive tendencies of male characters in Mulan is seen as the Hun army is conquering Chinese villages on the way to the Imperial palace. Shan-Yu, commander of the Hun army, is talking to two captured Imperial scouts when he says, Stop me? He [the Emperor] invited me. By building his wall, he challenged my strength. Well Im here to play his game. Go! Tell your emperor to send his strongest armies. Im ready. This quote characterizes the trait of aggressiveness that is complementary of the male characters. The quote demonstrates how without necessity Shan Yu feels the urge to challenge the Chinese Empire so that he can prove his strength. Shan-Yu then boasts that the Emperor should send his strongest warriors so that there cannot be any doubt of his own superior might. Aggression in the male characters of the movie is also captured in one of the most prominent songs of the film. Ill Make a Man Out of You states exactly what kind of aggressive characteristics are required for being a man. The song is performed while the illustrations of the film depict soldiers, including Mulan, training for battle. The song states that men, must be as swift as the coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, and with all the strength of a raging fire. These traits are the requirement for the Captain, Shang, to make the soldiers into men.
Battle Cry Another example of the aggressive nature of men as depicted by the movie is when
Mulan is bathing in the river, and is confronted with three of her male friends. Yao, fearlessly aggressive, climbs atop a rock in the water and proclaims, And I am Yao, king of the rock. And theres othing you girls can do about it. Ling, another soldier friend of Mulan (Ping), then states that he and Ping (Mulan) would take him on. After refusing the offer to fight, Ling says to Ping, Ping, we have to fight! This is an example of the aggressive nature of men because this is not imposed by anyone but the men of the film. It is assumed that since Ping is a man, although she is not, he is willing to fight. The scene goes against this stereotype however, by the fight not taking place. Yet another example of the aggressive nature of men in the film is evident when Ping first reports to the camp of soldier trainees. Upon arriving at the camp, Ping is told by Mushu that the correct way to introduce yourself to another man is by punching him. This act in itself is aggressive, but after Ping punches Yao, Yao retaliates by punching Ling, another soldier at the camp, in the stomach mistakenly. After being hit in the stomach mistakenly, Ling proceeds to start a camp size brawl, involving everybody in the melee. This scene functions to characterize the aggressive tendencies of the men by not only showing men greeting with punching each other, but proceeding to create a camp wide melee over a simple misunderstanding that could have been resolved if cooler heads would have prevailed. Another trait that was embodied by the male characters of the movie was that of honor. The honor that was characterized as masculine can be seen in many different forms in the film. The first instance in the film which displays the importance of honor to male characters is in the song, Honor to us all. The song is performed as the women of
the village that Mulan lives in are being prepared to meet with the village matchmaker, or marriage arranger. Near the end of the song, Mulan sings that she must, keep her father standing tall. This is ironic because this male character trait of honor is one that is so ingrained that the women of the film feel the importance of masculine honor. One of the most memorable scenes in which honor is depicted in the film takes place as Fa Zhou, father of Mulan, is informed that he must serve in the Chinese army against the invading Huns. Upon hearing the name of his family called by the Imperial Counselor, Chi Fu, Fa Zhou shows his honor physically. First, Fa Zhou hands his wife his cane, which he needs because of an old war injury. Fa Zhou then straightens his back, and proceeds to march, in a very dignified manner, to retrieve his conscription notice. Upon receiving the notice, Fa Zhou marches back into the house proudly without retrieving his cane from his wife. This display of honor is very moving in that the earlier scenes with Fa Zhou clearly present him as an older man, who has difficultly moving around. Then to show this injured man, who had already served his country once, march proudly to receive the notice that states he must serve in the military again, is a very honorable scene, which sets the tone for this characteristic of masculine behavior. While eating dinner that night, Fa Zhou tells Mulan that, It is an honor to protect my country and my family. Mulan responds, So youll die for honor! And Fa Zhou, reaffirms the importance of honor by stating that, I will die doing whats right. This example is prime in that it displays the fact that honor is even more sacred than life itself. It is more important to maintain ones honor, and the honor of the family, than it is to continue living for the sake of the family members.
Another example of honor in the film occurs when Shang, head of the Imperial troops that Mulan is a part of, tries to rally his troops courageously when they are preparing for battle with the Hun army. The position of the Imperial troops was sacrificed when Mushu accidentally fired a canon from the wagon carrying them. After the canon was fired, the Imperial troops began to take arrow fire from the Huns. After retreating to a more secure spot, the Imperial troops had only one canon left, and Shang told his troops, Prepare to fight. If we die, we die with honor. This phrase is intriguing because it essentially says that any man who fights in the name of the Emperor has honor, and this essentially includes every man in China, since the Emperor drafted all available males to fight the Hun army. The trait of honor was one that was characterized often throughout the film, and proved itself to be important in the construction of the male gender. The final trait that characterized the males in Mulan was that of lack of hygiene. The masculine gender in Mulan had some serious issues with cleanliness. Not only were some of the men in the movie simply rude, but many of the males were depicted as crude also. Where the film portrays men in a mostly positive light, both applauding male aggression and honor, the movie seemingly never stops reminding the audience of how nice it would be for men to be a little less disgusting with regards to hygiene. The first example of these un-hygienic depictions is seen when Ping (Mulan) first enters the military training camp. As she walks through the camp she first sees a man picking his nose. This man was not just picking his nose, but doing the act with such intent and pleasure transcribed on his face, the act was truly made to look foul. The next man she sees in the camp is using chopsticks to pick dirt out from between his toes. This is yet
another example of how foul the hygienic behavior of the men is in this section of the film. After leaving these two examples Mulan says to Mushu, Theyre disgusting. Mushu replies, No, theyre men. And you are going to have to act just like them, so pay attention. This is a blatant portrayal of the men in the film having little or no hygienic knowledge or regard. Another example of how men are portrayed as un-hygienic comes later after the majority of the soldiers training is completed and Mulan wants to bath in a nearby lake. When Mushu asks Mulan if the idea is a good one because of her secret, her being a woman, Mulan tells Mushu, Just because I look like a man doesnt mean I have to smell like one. Mushu replies that he, kinda likes that corn chips smell. After Mulan tells Mushu that if he is so worried, he should go stand watch, Mushu makes the comment, Stand watch Mushu while I blow our secret with my stupid girly habits. Humph, hygiene. This scene is fairly explicit in the way that it describes men as being smelly, and without regard for their hygiene. It is also a good indicator of how men in the movie are constructed with regard to their own desires, in this case the desire to stay clean, which is depicted as non-existent. The construction of male gender is not well developed within the film. However, the characteristics that are assigned to men are stereotypically male. Men are depicted as aggressive, honorable, and uncleanly. All of these traits are very liberating within the patriarchy as opposed to those assigned to the females. Construction of Female Gender The construction of the feminine gender in Mulan was much more developed than that of the male characters. Females in the movie were found to be characterized by the
following traits: obedient, aesthetically pleasing, and worshipful of men. These traits were found commonplace in songs of the movie, the illustrations of the film, along with the text of the movie itself. Obedience was the easiest trait to find in the women of Mulan. The first example of this is seen in the first scene with Mulan. She is drawing notes on her arm for her appointment with the village Matchmaker. She is making the notes based on Chinese scriptures of what characteristics a woman should possess. Quiet, polite, and punctual were only some of the characteristics of the woman according to the scriptures, but these characteristics demonstrate, in the very first scene with a woman, how obedient a woman must be according to the film. Another example of female obedience comes in the first the song of the movie. While Mulan is being prepared to meet with the Matchmaker, the many characters helping to prepare the protagonist sing, Honor to Us All. Mulans mother, Fa Li, sings that, men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient who work fast paced. This line is one of many that precisely describe the role of women in the movie. Another line from the song that describes more the role of the obedient woman says, we all must serve our emperor/who guards us from the Huns/a man by bearing arms/a girl by bearing sons. This song is quite instructive in the role that women should play in the world, with obedience clearly spelled out through the lyrics. The next example of the need for female obedience comes from Mulans meeting with the Matchmaker. This meeting was built up through a majority of the first section of the film. All of Mulans family was concerned with a good meeting between Mulan and the Matchmaker to ensure that their family would be honored. After the matchmaker
asks if Mulan is present, Mulan jumps up and replies, present. The matchmaker then makes a note in her book and growls, speaking without permission. This displays the old saying dont speak without being spoken to, and women are forced to be silent to appear obedient. The next example of the necessity for female obedience comes when Fa Zhou is meeting the Imperial Counselor to receive his conscription notice. While marching out to retrieve the notice, Mulan runs out to tell the counselor that her father has already served the Emperor, and the counselor scolds, Silence! [to Fa Zhou] You would do well to teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a mans presence. This relates back to the last example in which it is shown that women speaking out of turn are disobedient, and this is not a desirable trait in women. After the disobedient event with the conscription notice, Mulan is again scolded for disobedience by her father while he is eating dinner later that night. Mulan tells her father that she is upset that he must go to war because there are many other men in China that are available to fight, and he has already served the country once before and was injured during his prior service. Fa Zhou responds forcefully, I know my place, it is time you learned yours. This statement by her father was very hurtful to Mulan, and it was very forceful in assuring that Mulan knew that women should be obedient, and know their place in life. The final example of obedience in women comes near the end of the film when Mulan is trying to warn her fellow soldiers that the Hun army is still alive. The other soldiers believed that they had defeated the army at a battle in the Tung Shao Pass, however they did not, and Mulan was the only person who saw the remnants of the Hun
army alive. Mulan makes many efforts to warn both civilians around the area and her former soldier friends. However, no one will listen to Mulans warnings. Mulan complains about this to Mushu and he replies, Huh? Oh, Im sorry, did you say something? Mulan says, Mushu! and he replies, Hey, youre a girl again, remember? This example is interesting because it demonstrates that not only the soldiers, but also random men in China do not respond to a woman who is being disobedient. In order for women to be desirable, according to the movie, they must be obedient. Another trait that was essential in constructing gender in Mulan was that women must be beautiful. This is evident in the female characteristics earlier mentioned. Along with being obedient, a girl must also be demure, graceful delicate, refined, [and] poised. These requirements apply to a girls aesthetic behavior. As well as behaving properly, a girl must also posses physical aesthetic qualities. In the song Honor to Us All, there are numerous examples of how it is necessary for a girl to be beautiful. When Mulan arrives into town she must be fixed up to be presented to the Matchmaker. The Bath Lady begins the song with This is what you give me to work with? /Well, honey, Ive seen worse. /Were gonna turn this sows ear/ Into a silk purse. All the while that the Bath Lady is singing Mulan looks beautiful already with the exception of a piece of straw in her hair. The women attending to Mulans appearance are altering her natural beauty drastically by painting her face white and applying heavy makeup. The second Hairdresser sings that Boys will gladly go to war for you in reference to the elaborate bun that the hairdresser is adorning Mulan with. The entire scene paints the image of how the bun is going to recreate Mulan into someone so beautiful that boys will now
want to fight over her and or to protect her. The women who are helping to dress Mulan in robes in order for her to appear in front of the Matchmaker rattle off a short list of things that Men want one of which is a tiny waist. Towards the end of the song when Mulan and some other girls are properly done up their beauty is commented upon with such remarks as Like a lotus blossom soft and pale, cultured pearls, and Each a perfect porcelain doll. Now that each girl is presentable enough and armed with beauty they must visit the Matchmaker. The Matchmaker, after looking at Mulan initially, criticizes Too skinny, not good for bearing sons. The criticism of the Matchmaker demonstrates how a girls beauty is attractive also in the promise of being able to produce male offspring, which is more desired. After being a horrible failure with the Matchmaker Mulan goes home and sits in the garden with the cherry tree blossoms. Her father joins her and attempts to cheer her up by pointing to a bud and saying, This ones late, but Ill bet when it blooms it will be the most beautiful of all. Although her father had good intentions in cheering up his daughter he gives the impression that becoming beautiful is all that Mulan or any woman could want and that being beautiful is what will cheer her up. In the song A Girl Worth Fighting For, Ling, one of the main soldiers in Mulans troop, has no qualms stating exactly what he wants his girl to look like I want her paler than the moon with eyes that shine like stars. Being beautiful is the most important female trait next to obedience that is shown throughout the film. Along with being beautiful, women are also worshipful of their unhygienic counterparts. In the song A Girl Worth Fighting For, Ling sings a line about how women should be in awe of him because he is a soldier And Ill bet the ladies love a
man in armor. Yao, another one of the main soldiers in Mulans troop, said, My girl will think I have no faults. Women are not supposed to find faults with their men. Chien-Po, a very large soldier in the same troop chimes in that his girl will think That Im a major find. This line from the song means that Chien-Pos wife should think that hes a great man because he is a large, strong man, who served in the Imperial Army. Then Mulan pipes in with the line How about a girls whos got a brain/who always speaks her mind? to which the men reply Nah! This illustrates the idea that the men in this movie do not want a woman who is strong, smart and independent. The men just want a girl who will be beautiful and obedient. The idea of an intelligent girl who is vocal and who would not simply allow her husband to think for her is not desirable in women. The men want a woman who will agree with everything that he says, who will worship his power. Mulan worships her father in particular. When Mulan brings her father the crest of the Emperor and the sword of Shan-Yu. She bows to him and lays the gifts at his feet, even though she was presented with those gifts from the Emperor, who bowed to Mulan. The act shows that all though all of China is indebted to Mulan she still worships her father. The female characteristics found within the movie: obedience, beauty, and worshiping of males, are clearly inhibiting to the women in the film. The traits are also stereotypically female. Even Mulan, the most liberated character in the film falls pray to being reverential of her father. There are numerous examples of how women are oppressed in the patriarchal system within the movie. Understanding the Patriarchy
Battle Cry Through analysis of gender construction in Mulan, two facets of how the
patriarchal system of the film functions have been recognized. First, the construction of gender in Mulan causes an imbalance of power between men and women. Second, men are inherently powerful in the system, while women are forced to earn any power they have. The construction of gender in Mulan is an essential tool for the construction of the patriarchal system. The power struggle that exists between men and women in the film has a direct relation to the ways in which the genders are constructed. Men are depicted as beings that are not only acceptably aggressive, but honorable, and unhygienic. All of these traits are empowering. Aggression is an empowering trait because it allows for the domination of others. For example, when Fa Zhou is at the dinner table and he tells Mulan, I know my place, it is time you learned yours! he is showing his dominance over his daughter through an aggressive statement. The honorable trait is very empowering in that it allows women to think that they are less than men because they are not allowed to serve in the military, and unable to achieve honor unless married. The unhygienic trait is the most curious in the way it is empowering. This trait is empowering because it creates a large difference between what a women is allowed to do and what a man is allowed. For example, when Mulan is preparing to meet the Matchmaker a whole group of women are there to bath and prepare Mulan for her meeting. However, when Mulan first enters the mens camp to see the disgusting acts they are performing, such as picking dirt out from their toes and picking their nose, this is a completely acceptable habit. This is empowering because it
shows that their culture will accept a man no matter what they do, and the women must maintain a high level of hygiene in order to please their male counterparts. Just as the males in the film are empowered by their traits, the females of the film are very much un-empowered with theirs. Obedience is the first trait that characterizes the women of the film. This trait takes away any power that women may hope to inherently have. When Mulan rushes out to ask the Imperial Counselor to spare her father from the draft, she is scolded by the counselor and forced to back into her house for her disobedience. The second trait of being beautiful is also extremely un-empowering. This trait is not empowering because if a woman is not attractive then she will have no hope of ever marrying a man, hence losing her only way to gain any honor in the system. Examples of this are scattered throughout the song, Honor to Us All. The bath lady sings, This is what you give me to work with? /well, honey, Ive seen worse/were gonna turn this sows ear/into a silk purse. This is an example of how an unattractive woman is unable to achieve any honor through marriage. The final trait of women in the movie was that of being worshipful of men. This trait has two different purposes, the first is to empower men further, and the second is to take power from women by desiring them to worship men. It is obvious how this trait empowers men further. This trait also takes power from the women by requiring them to think more of the men than they do of themselves. This can be seen most explicitly in the song, A Girl Worth Fighting For. When Mulan sings, How about a girl whos got a brain/who always speaks her mind? The other soldiers reply, Nah! Mulan in this example tries to say that women can be good if they think for themselves, and yet the
men reclaim their power by saying, Nah! that is not what we really want. All of these female traits are helping to take power from the women in the film creating the imbalance seen in patriarchal systems. The patriarchy is best understood by the inherent placement of power. When a man has power he has honor. A man is born having power simply because he is a man. Even if the man does not have power over other men he still has power over women. Men have power over women because the social gender roles include womens obedience to men as well as their silence and worship. The power that men are born having over women automatically allows them to have honor. A man can acquire more honor with more power. For example, the soldiers who go to war are considered more honorable because by being soldiers they have moved up the hierarchy from being civilians. The male trait of aggressiveness permits men to have the want and ability to achieve more power. Through this gain in power there is a gain in honor, however it is a gain because the men are born having honor by being men. Women are not born having power and therefore do not have honor. A woman cannot have or gain power within the hierarchy. However a woman can gain honor. According to the song Honor to Us All, the chorus explains, A girl can bring her family/ Great honor in one way/By striking a good match/And this could be the day. A girl can only achieve honor by being beautiful, obedient, and worshiping men, because that is what will allow her to strike a good match. As the song states, a girl can bring her family honor, she does not actually posses the honor alone but can bring honor to her family and share the honor with the family she marries into. Before Mulans visit to the Matchmaker, Fa Zhou, her father, reminds Mulan that they are counting on her and
before he can finish his sentence Mulan finishes it for him. They are counting on her to uphold the family honor, as she has obviously been told enough times that she is more than aware. Although women are responsible for gaining honor as their most important duty, they can still effect the honor of their family negatively quite easily. Mulan is told on at least a couple of occasions that she has been dishonored, and therefore brought dishonor to the Fa family. After the disastrous incident with the Matchmaker, the Matchmaker publicly humiliates Mulan by screaming You may look like a bride but you will never bring your family honor! Mulan looked as beautiful and primped as all of the other marriage hopefuls however, she lacked the necessary characteristics of being a woman, such as obedience and silence. Mulan was even reprimanded by her father whom she worships as a male idol. When Fa Zhou is speaking with the Emperors counselor, Chi Fu, in regards to how he is honored to accept the conscription notice, Mulan interrupts. Mulan attempts to reason with Chi Fu explaining how her father has already served the Emperor valiantly, but now is injured and old. Chi Fu silences her and her father, then ashamed with her, looks away and says, You dishonor me. Because Mulan has dishonored her family and cannot bring them honor in the appropriate female manner she then decides to take her fathers place in the Imperial Army, an act punishable by death. When Mulan is inevitably caught Chi Fu cries Ultimate dishonor, high treason! Mulan has only made matters worse for her and the Fa family. Mushu, her family guardian, whom was the ancestors last hope to keep the family from dishonor, reasons with her Who knew you would end up shaming him [her father], disgracing all your ancestors, and losing all your friends? Mulan had not yet gained honor for her family and yet was still able to remove any it had possessed by not
Battle Cry sticking to the female characteristics in their patriarchal society. However, Mulan,
although somewhat bound by patriarchal rules, still manages to transform the patriarchy, to a certain extent, during the course of the film. Transforming The Patriarchy There are five ways in which Mulan transforms the patriarchy by becoming more successful than other male characters in the film. Mulan surpasses men by: (1) becoming a soldier, (2) completing her training, (3) defeating the Hun Army, (4) conquering Shan Yu, and (5) having the Emperor offer her power. Mulans characteristics do not include all of the traditional female traits that are expected within the patriarchal society. The lack of compliance with the traditional gender roles is what gets Mulan into trouble but it is also what gets her out of trouble. For example it is her lack of obedience/silence that brings dishonor to herself and her family, but it is the same disobedience that allows her to disguise herself as a man. When Mulan disguises herself as a man she becomes more empowered and confident than she had been as a woman. The empowerment and confidence enable Mulan to accomplish something that her father cannot, she becomes a soldier. In order for Mulan to become a soldier she has to cut her hair and wear her fathers heavy armor, which is quite different from the dress robes she is used to. When Mulan dons armor and leaves to join the army she is surpassing her father, and the inherent patriarchy of her family life, which is the first step in her transformation of the imbalance of power in the patriarchy. The next step in Mulans transformation of the patriarchy comes in her training as a soldier for the Imperial army. When she begins her training for the army, she is very
weak in comparison to the other trainees. For example, when the trainees are made to run uphill with buckets of water balanced on each end of a pole carried on their shoulders, Mulan is unable to make the run, and collapses. Shang, captain of the trainees, comes back and picks up her burden, adding it to his own. Mulan watches Shang run off with her burden in shame. Mulan is then told by Shang to leave the camp because he would never be able to make a man out of her. This pushes Mulan to once again stubbornly disobey, and conquer a pole, which holds an arrow atop it. At the beginning of their training, Shang shot an arrow atop this pole, and told the trainees that it would take strength and discipline, represented by two large gold weights to be worn on both arms, to retrieve the arrow. When Mulan retrieves the arrow, with both weights, she symbolically overcomes the patriarchy. However, this is not the end of this stage in her transformation. After retrieving the arrow, the training sequence continues, and shows how Mulan not only surpasses her peers, but also surpasses Shang in all physical aspects of the training. This stage in Mulans transformation of the patriarchy is quite significant. It is significant because it shows that a woman can not only be as talented as a man physically, but can surpass a man. Another example of Mulan surpassing the males of the movie comes in an intense war sequence between the remaining forces of the Imperial army and the invading Hun army. In this sequence, the remnants of the Imperial army are left, outnumbered, to fight the oncoming Hun army with only one cannon left. Shang, commander of the Imperial army, orders the cannon to be fired at the Hun commander, Shan-Yu. However, before cannon can be fired, Mulan takes the cannon and charges to a forward position. Once Mulan travels to that destination, she aims the cannon at a high snow covered mountain
and fires the cannon. When the cannon strikes the mountain, the falling snow causes an avalanche. The ensuing avalanche quickly overcomes the advancing Hun army, while the Imperial army was protected by a wall of rock. This brave act leads to the defeat of a majority of the Hun army. During the avalanche, Mulan also bravely saves the life of her captain, Shang. For her courageous acts during the battle, her fellow soldiers say, Lets her it for Ping [Mulan]! The bravest of us all. This sequence and quote show the degree to which Mulan has transformed the patriarchy to this point. Not only did she defeat the oncoming army, but also her own male counterparts declare her the bravest of them all. This is indeed a transformation from the patriarchy that declares a woman to be merely deserving of marriage. This example carries forward to transform the patriarchy further when the soldiers find out that Ping is a woman because of a wound suffered in the battle. Ping is taken into a tent where a doctor finds out that Ping is really a woman. When Shang finds out that Ping is a woman, he contemplates carrying out the penalty of death on her. However, the other soldiers move to protect Mulan from the ensuing penalty. After giving the action thought, even Shang cannot carry out the death sentence because of the brave acts that Mulan performed. This is a major transformation of the patriarchy in that the actions of Mulan worked to change the minds of the males with regards to their own regulations, a marked change in their system. After Mulan is left behind with her life intact while the troops leave her, she witnesses Shan-Yu and some of his strongest warriors have survived the avalanche, Mushu refers to them as Popping out of the snow like daisies! Mulan follows the Huns back to the Emperors palace where she finds a parade for the Heroes of China. She attempts to alert her former captain Shang but he will not listen to her. At the end of the
Battle Cry parade Shang and the other soldiers are standing before the Emperor when the Hun
soldiers leap from the parade dragon and seize the Emperor dragging him into the palace. Shang and the other soldiers attempt to save the Emperor by banging in the massive doors to the palace with a large statue. Mulan knows that Shangs plan will take too long and the Emperors life is at risk. She tells the men she has a plan and they all follow her, even Shang. Mulan sneaks the men, except for Shang, in by dressing them as concubines, this time the men have to disguise themselves as women to be successful. The soldiers with the help of Mulan and her ideas take the Emperor to a safer location, inside the crowd gathered for the parade. Mulan and Shang are left with a very angry Shan-Yu. Shang cannot defeat Shan-Yu. Shan-Yu tries to go after the Emperor but Mulan cuts the rope they escaped from the tower on. Shan-Yu does not recognize Mulan as being responsible for this, but becomes more furious with Shang whom he declares was the man responsible for his defeat in the mountains. Mulan then pulls her hair back claiming her role in Shan-Yus loss. Finally she is recognized as a force to be reckoned with. Mulan leads Shan-Yu away from Shang who was close to being killed. She ends up on the roof of the palace cornered by her archenemy. He attacks her and she outwits him by using her fan to trap his sword. She then used the sword to nail his cape to the roof so that Mushu can deliver the final blow to her plan by hitting him with a large firework. Once again Mulan has completed dangerous tasks that the men could not accomplish. She created the plan that saved the Emperor, and therefore all of China, as well as putting an end to Chinas greatest threat, Shan-Yu, with a womens fan. The fan is symbolic of the patriarchy being transformed by women through a womens tool. Mulan not only
surpasses what a woman can achieve but what the men also were not able to achieve, and this time she did the task as a woman. The final example of Mulan surpassing the abilities thought only to belong to men, and thereby transforming the patriarchy, comes directly from the Emperor. After her defeat of Shan-Yu, Mulan exits the palace to the front steps where she rejoins the soldiers from her troop and her captain. Chi Fu wants her put to death, but all of the men stand in front of her to protect her. Chi Fu insists that she is not worth protecting, and this time Shang comes to her defense arguing that Shes a hero. The Emperor then appears and requests to talk to Mulan, the men do not defy the Emperor. Mulan bows before him and the Emperor begins angrily You stole your fathers armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, lied to your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese army, destroyed my palace! And you have saved us all! The Emperor then bows to Mulan and all must follow suit! The Emperor then says to Chi Fu See to it that this woman is made a member of my council. Mulan declines the position. As parting gifts the Emperor graces Mulan with his crest pendant stating, So your family will know what you have done for me, he then hands Shan-Yus sword to her continuing, And this so the world will know what you have done for China. In being honored by the Emperor Mulan has transformed the patriarchy the most of all. She was not punished for any of her crimes. Shang finally respected her even as a woman after many times of proving her equality and in many cases superior abilities to him. Most important of all she was not only bowed to by the Emperor and the entire Chinese population within sight, but she was also offered a very considerable position of power. The patriarchy literally bowed at her feet. As a woman she had gained for herself an offer of power and great honor
Battle Cry without the traditional marriage. Mulan transformed the patriarchy and transformed
Ultimate dishonor into ultimate honor. Now that the patriarchy constructed in the film and the transformation of the patriarchy has been examined, does the critical analysis of the film answer the question: does Mulan break away from traditional gender stereotypes? Conclusions Upon examining all of the data that was collected through the course of the examination, the answer to the research question, does Mulan break away from traditional gender stereotypes, was answered. There were essentially three concepts that help to support the answer to our research question. First, the male characters of the film in no way break away from the traditional male characters of previous Disney films. Also, the female characters of the movie do not break away, with the exception of Mulans character, who ironically reverts back to the same stereotypes by the end of the film. Thirdly, Disney made a valiant effort to change some of its previous gender stereotypes, but eventually fails with the denouement of the film. The male characters of this film were fairly interesting in one respect. Although there was a much different leading lady in this film as compared with previous Disney films, the males essentially stayed the same. By analyzing the fashion with which gender was constructed, we found that the characteristics common to all the men in this film were essentially that, male. Aggression, honor, and lack of hygiene are all common to most males of Disney movies past. The only exception to this list might be the lack of hygiene present in this film. However, there is some precedence to this character trait in the film Aladdin. The hero of that film was nothing more than a common street rat,
and would most definitely hold to the trait of uncleanly. Nevertheless, the film maintains all of the standard male traits seen in past movies with only one exception, their eventual respect for Mulan, a woman. Yet, this attempt at changing male stereotypes was not significant enough throughout the film to make an impact on the overall development of the male characters. Mulan was, by far, the most intriguing aspect of the movie. Her characters was deemed everything from a treacherous snake, to a cross-dresser, to a hero. However, it was the failure of her character to accept the power offered to her that led to downfall of the film with regards to the research question. Mulans downfall was, as mentioned before, the one female characteristic that she possessed. Mulan was disobedient and she was not concerned with her own beauty, which enabled her to take on the guise of a man, and allowed her to save the nation. However, Mulan did possess a reverence for her father, which led to her downfall. When offered a position of power as the Emperors counselor, Mulan replied, I think Ive been away from home long enough. This rejection of power, on Mulans behalf, was symbolic for the fact that even though a woman was presented as strong, the film did not eventually break all of its ties to the stereotypes of old. Upon returning to her family, Mulan bowed at her fathers feet and presented him her symbols of honor and accomplishment, the sword of the Hun leader, Shan-Yu, and the pendant of the Emperor. Her father cast aside the gifts and reassured her, the greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter. This shows the extent to which Mulan worshipped her father. She not only put her own life at risk by joining the army, but she later defeated great villains to bring honor to her father, when in actuality, her father simply loved her for who she was. The grandmother was also
unimpressed with the items Mulan returned with when she said, Great! She brought home a sword, if you ask me she should have brought home a man. This line is interesting because it shows the depth of the patriarchy. Even after Mulan returns home to her family, the grandmother is only concerned with whether or not Mulan is fulfilling her womanly duties for her father, quite a patriarchal notion. At that moment, Shang comes to the Fa family house to give Mulan what she needs throughout the film, a man to rescue her romantically, like all Disney heroines. Overall, Mulan was a near valiant attempt by Disney at breaking away from their traditional gender roles, however there were some fatal flaws to this attempt. First, the men of the film do not change; they are still portrayed as the Prince Charming of old. Second, Mulan renounces the power offered to her by the patriarchy. After all of the hard work that Mulan puts into becoming a soldier, proving herself, and saving her country from invading Huns, she simply quits by not taking advantage of the power offered her by the Emperor. When Mulan renounced this offer of power, all of the work that she had accomplished at transforming the patriarchy was essentially nullified. The film ends in typical Disney fashion. The man, Shang, comes to save the poor girl in need, Mulan, and the audience assumes that they live happily ever after. The ending of the film sounds the alarm that the patriarchy is engrained in even the most resourceful of Disney characters, and the escape from the system could be far from near. In the immortal words of the Imperial counselor, Chi Fu, Tis a woman, shell never be worth anything.
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