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Must You Make a Man Outta Me?

Mulan is probably one of my favorite childhood Disney films and the reason for that isn’t surprising for anyone who’s seen it.


At the time it came out, the general Disney film landscape looked something like this:

In comparison, Mulan was a stark and rather progressive move away from the “damsel in distress” trope and a break from the hyper-feminine, always dressed-up princesses that had started to annoy me even back then.


For a ‘princess’ to be able to look like this...



And do stuff like this...



...was something new and something that I could, and can still appreciate.


Looking back on the movie now though, it bothers me how despite everything, Mulan did have to disguise herself as a man to do all that she did; reproducing the male hegemonic narrative in the process.


Even the title track of this film, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (which is a banger btw 10/10 pls listen) is a 3 minute long reinforcement of the same idea that men are stronger than women, and it is desirable to be a man.



In particular, the line “Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?” stings me the most, especially considering the cultural relevance of this practice and how so many people desire to have sons over daughters. Given the platform Disney has, they could have challenged this idea or removed it altogether but instead they chose to reinforce it.


Despite the problematic aspects of the film and the song, part of me still likes it because it showed me that you can still:


Get ahead of men:


Fight them:


And win!


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9 Comments


I haven't seen Mulan (I Know, I'm disappointed in myself too) but reading your article really has made me see a different perspective on the movie, which I don't think I would have otherwise seen. Reading the line “Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?” in your blog really hit right in the heart because I think its so unfair that as women, we already are ridiculed and belittled in real life so much, that to see it again in tv and films, which are 'supposedly' meant to be a form 0f escape, is just disappointing.

Thank you for bringing this up. Loved reading your article!

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Aisha Aamir
Aisha Aamir
Jun 22, 2023

I loved this blog especially because I just saw this and couldn't stop laughing:

But on a more related note, I agree with you on the fact that they basically ended up reinforcing the same narrative they were trying to destroy. Similar to how one of the course readings showed us how Dreamworks' Shrek 2 ended up reiterating the same concept they were trying to negate, I think Mulan just reinforced male hegemony but in a different font. However, I do give it credit where credit is due. For the time it was released, I do think it did a good job subverting the norm of the Princess movies that were being released. It may even have been the…

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Hahaha loved the meme!

I agree w your comment too, especially how you linked it back to the reading we did. I think in one of our class discussions, the same issue of subverting stereotypes while simultaneously reinforcing them was brought up, and we concluded that such portrayals aren’t TOO harmful if we’re aware and critical of what narratives they’re pushing. At the same time, its also important to consider multiple perspectives to this practice of dressing up as men in particular, especially taking into account the fact that many women would not have access to certain platforms if they didn’t do that- so this might be the only way they can exert their agency.

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Rania Bakhtiari
Rania Bakhtiari
Jun 22, 2023

This was a great read!

Growing up, Mulan was always one of my favorite movies, and I always portrayed it as watching a rather empowering movie, which led me to sing a lot to the song you mentioned, "I'll Make A Man Out Of You." While Mulan is seen to be a strong female character who is not solely reduced to a man's love interest and defies social expectations.

However, the fact that Mulaan has to dress up as a man in order to accomplish her goals suggests that women can only gain success if they have male attributes and can also be seen to perpetuate discrimination, putting masculinity superior to feminity

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Exactly my point!

Although now that I reconsider it, this also might be because she couldn’t have access to entering the army otherwise and prove her strength in comparison to men. There’s countless examples of women adopting masculine traits to achieve something society would not allow them to, and then also end up being good at it, so I guess if taken with a pinch of salt, it can still be considered empowering in a way.

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Mulan is and forever will be one of my favorite movies - mostly because of how different a narrative it portrays from the typical princess story, as you've so aptly pointed out. And yes, I, too felt rather weird when listening to the song "I'll Make A Man Out of You" with a present mind for the first time. But seeing how well the movie handled breaking stereotypes, I started to look at the song in a more ironic way, which is perhaps how it was intended. Throughout the song, Li Shang points out all the traits necessary to "be a man" (swift as a coursing river, force of a great typhoon, strength of a raging fire, etc.) However, to…

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Now that you mention the song might be meant ironically it makes so much more sense! Looking at it from that lens I also noticed that its not just directly aimed at Mulan and the fact that she’s a girl, but also the other men in training who lack the same traits, which might not make it a 100% okay still, but at least its not just targetting women alone- and for that reason I suppose I could give them the benefit of doubt.

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This was such a fun read! I grew up on Mulan, singing along to ‘I’ll Make A Man Out Of You’ as a kid so it has always held a special place in my heart. I’ve always loved how unlike most Disney princesses, Mulan is not solely defined by romance or beauty and does not wait for a prince charming to change her life. She defies all odds, breaking gender roles as she joins the army disguised as a man. Also love how in quite a few instances, she even surpasses their wits with her intelligence and outsmarts the enemy in unexpected ways. I think Mulan was a film way ahead of its time as it proved that strength and…

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I completely agree! I think around the start of the movie even Mulan has to give into the ideals of beauty enforced on her by her family, just so she can get married but the fact she actively raises her voice and takes control of the situation to turn it around is another thing we can appreciate given how rare it was for the female voice to be heard at the time, that too in a Princess movie.

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