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Gender Roles, Culture and Conflict Theory in Mulan

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Thousand of years ago in China, there was a young woman named Mulan. Mulan’s family went to a matchmaker, the matchmaker observed Mulan’s appearance and commented that she is too skinny and not good for marriage, the matchmaker said, “Men wants girls with good taste, obedient and tiny waist”. Mulan failed to impress the matchmaker, the matchmaker said she is a disgrace as she goes against the traditional ways of womanhood, such as being poised and dignified bride. Mulan is lost as she struggles to find her true self. Later Mulan goes to war disguised as a mean in place of her injured veteran father. Mulan struggled to fit in and train with the soldiers first. During a battle with the Huns, Mulan is clever enough to cause an avalanche to stop the enemies, but she is wounded. Mulan is discovered to be a woman and is kicked out of the army and is sent back home. On her way home she discovers that the Huns have survived the avalanche and are on their way to the imperial city. She goes to imperial city to warn them, but no one listens. Mulan manages to save the emperor and is forgiven for her deception and lead back home while being seen as a hero and falls in love with the captain.

Mulan is a Disney animated film that takes place in Ancient China. It follows a young woman named Mulan, who disguises herself as a boy in order to take place of her injured veteran father in the war. The story is about her struggle to find her true identity and meaning in society. The film demonstrates sociological concepts such as gender roles, culture and conflict theory.

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The first concept seen in the film is gender role. Gender roles are the way men and women are perceived in society, how they are supposed to act, think and behave.

Gender socialization is widely present in this film, a form of social control. In the scene when Mulan goes to visit the matchmaker, the first thing said to her when she steps through the door is that she is too skinny to give birth to sons and reads to Mulan the requirements to make a good bride. In ancient times the duty of women was to bear children. Women were only expected to become brides and do households works and serve their husbands. In the Movie, on their way to battle, Mulan and her fellow soldiers talk about what they think is ideal woman. When Mulan says she would like a woman with brain that speaks her mind, the other troops disagree. It shows that even back then women were judged based on their appearance, not their inner beauty. This gives growing young viewers the wrong idea, who thinks that only the outer beauty is what counts rather than inner beauty.

In Mulan, Men are perceived as the dominant gender and are expected to uphold and provide for the family. When Mulan spoke in front of the general to not let her father fight in the war the general speaks “Teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a man’s presence”. Women were not allowed to speak in front of men. Men were inferior to women, clearly gender inequality was present in the society long ago. Men’s superiority is shown in the movie when the general makes this idea clear and allows only men to fight in the war. Women, on the other hand are perceived as weaker sex. This is shown when Mulan attempts to take her father’s place in the war, but she is not allowed because she is a woman. Sexism in the Chinese culture is what gave Mulan the idea to disguise herself as a man and make it to the war.

The second concept see in the film is culture, with the setting in ancient china, a lot of Chinese culture is presented throughout the movie. There are two types of culture shown in the film, non-material and material. Nonmaterial culture is intangibles produced by intellectual or spiritual development and is represented through the belief within the society. While material culture is physical things that people give meaning to and can be represented in the Chinese culture though the way people dress up in Kimonos (traditional Chinese clothing) and wood slippers and the way they ate with bowls and chopsticks. In the movie, one of the ways nonmaterial culture was shown when Mulan’s father prays to the ancestors for good luck and protection.

Furthermore, the movie also demonstrated conflict theory, the unequal distribution of power in society. In conflict theory, religion creates hierarchies that supports the status quo. In other words, setting label on people based on their appearance and status in society. In the beginning, nobody cared what Mulan had to say because she was labeled as weakling woman. Specially in the scene where Mulan discovered that the Huns were on their way harm the Emperor. She was trying to warn the people but the no one paid any attention to her even the general. She asked Fushu the dragon why no one was listening to her, Fushu replied “remember you are a woman again”. This label changed the in the end when Mulan decided to take matters in her own hand and was able to sav China. Then automatically people’s perspective towards her changed and she was respected. This change in perspective is shown when the Emperor acknowledges Mulan and bows down to her at the end of the movie.

Overall, Mulan represents feminine power, when Mulan manages to gain respect despite being labeled as an inferior and weak woman. Mulan also demonstrates the effects of culture on individual and how it can change and shape the individual’s perspective towards other. Through it all, Mulan changes and discovers her identity to earn respectable status in the society.

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