Gender and Media: ‘Mulan’s’ Songs

I’ve been interested in Mulan for years. Not because of the narrative content strictly, but the themes of gender and Asian-ness as presented in the film. As I’m starting videos up again, I decided to start here. This video and the following video will discuss this themes present in Mulan.

The most obvious message in terms of gender is present in this song. I mean it’s literally in the chorus. I really don’t have much to say about this song as I believe it really speaks for itself. What is truly dynamic about this song is the visual display of coordinated masculinity. It conveys traditional masculine trope of strength, but also very coordinated uniform display of said strength. Like, “Bring Us Honor” gender is taken to be a normative value. Any deviations from this are ridiculed and made to be suppressed through military training.

When I was starting to write this up, I forgot about A Girl Worth Fighting For. The song works with I’ll Make a Man Out of You in that represents masculinity in contrast to feminity. It also parallels Bring Honor to Us All, in that the position of women is as support for men. They are allowed to serve the men in different ways, but only as support. It’s also interesting to note that we learn more about male desire than we do about the actual men themselves. If the prior song has proved anything, identity is suppressed in place of a homogenous masculinity.

The most interesting of the songs from the film is easily “Reflection.” While the prior 2 songs reflected strict gender expectations. The song highlights Mulan’s personal struggle to understand herself. The imagery captures this positioning between the expectations of her social position and her own desires. I believe this highlights her desire to escape normative gender expectations. At the same time, she wants to find new meaning in her gender identity, she struggles with the incapacity of others to respect and understand that.

A big question you might have after hearing talk about these songs is “So What?” And I hear you. I mean, the emphasis of gender difference in the film was wholly embraced in the film’s marketing. So, why then am I bringing this up? Well, I think it does. What I think Mulan and its songs allow us to see is how strongly gender is an act of performance. I don’t mean this as a staged thing, but in a way I do. As Judith Butler points out, gender is something we do.

The songs of Mulan provide a space where gender is constructed through its songs. We understand the tension of the story and Mulan’s relationship between both masculinity and feminity throughout.

Also, Jackie Chan’s contribution is great:


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