Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mulan as a Gender Study - A

This idea came to me as I was walking to work, listening to Dan Savage's terrific podcast, The Savage Lovecast ( I'm often inspired at how quickly Dan can look at a situation and assess what it means sexually, how it pertains to sexual culture amongst vanillas and NVT's, and what an individual can do to change, avoid, or participate in it.

I paused the podcast right as I got to an intersection to cross. I like to be able to hear the traffic, just to be on the safe side. But an idea bubbled up in the back of my brain, and kept me so occupied that for the whole rest of my walk I forgot to start the podcast back up (even though I still had my headphones in).

It had started when Dan began talking about halloween, calling it a "big, commercialized straight-pride parade." I am paraphrasing a little bit, but It got my tangential brain thinking about sexuality and video entertainment somehow. I've given a lot of thought to this, being married and eventually wanting to have a child. I want to minimize showing my child anything that could skew how they view gender, sex, love, or relationships. I can't stop them from viewing EVERYTHING that doesn't portray all these aspects of life how I'd want, and often great cinema revolves around characters that don't have perfect, gender-neutral, sexually open, open-minded values. But I specifically have been giving a lot of thought to entertainment targeted at young children. Disney movies, fairy tale movies, kids programming on TV. Anything that is directly and aggressively pushed towards a young, easily influenced and molded demographic. A target age that is still developing and learning from what they see.

I specifically focus on Disney movies, since they are common, purveying force in children's entertainment. And for all of that influence, the stories and characters they portray aren't always what I would want my child to grow up on.

Wether it is the helpless Sleeping Beauty who is rescued by her prince, poor Cinderella who only got her crush to love her by looking pretty and being surrounded by beautiful clothes and the trappings of opulence, our dear Ariel who learned the valuable lesson that you must conform to your significant other's lifestyle to be with them, Bella, who knew that even though her love was isolating and trapping her in his domain, her love would eventually change him from a nasty beast to a perfect prince, or even the princess of the recent hit "Tangled", who couldn't get out on her own until a man came along, and showed her how to be free from her family while being so arrogant, annoying, and risk-taking that she couldn't help but fall in love with him, Disney doesn't really portray good, healthy relationships in all of their movies. An alarming number of their worst offenders are made for young children, and will probably be some that I save until my child has a good grip on what everyday, healthy relationships look like. 

But Disney seems to have accidentally made a movie with an interesting sexual-relational premise in it, in their 1998 hit "Mulan". In the movie, we are presented with a few situations that aren't in Disney's usual "heterosexual helpless female smitten by proud and dashing heterosexual male" story.

First of all, they start off the movie by giving a big middle finger to societal gender norms. All the women in Mulan's village spout nothing but drivel about being a beautiful, submissive homemaker to please a man. Bu what does Mulan do? Sticks up for herself, says "Fuck that mess", and goes off to do her own thing. Any hardcore feminists would be so wet to be scissor sisters with Mulan at this point that they would be buying airplane tickets to Japan with the last bit of cash they haven't blown on awesome vibrators. I can't think of another Disney movie with this much encouragement to female independence and equality. I mean, when the draft officer tells Mulan that women can't fight, she tells him where to shove that sentiment by stealing priceless family heirlooms, shattering societal pressures about honoring ancestors in the process, and joining the army by posing as a male. No man or woman is stopping this one-woman runaway train!

Once in boot camp, she continues to stroke the proverbial feminist boner by working hard to go from zero to hero. She eventually holds her own against the other (male) soldiers in everything from martial arts, endurance training, and beats them heartily at the great totem-pole-climb-whilst-chained-at-both-wrists-by-priceless-Aztec-ornamental-disks-to-retrieve-an-arrow competition, which I am sad to say is NOT in the olympics.

Mulan continues to demolish the concept of helpless female protagonists by earning her spot as a war hero, braving a debilitating injury in combat, and defeating the big evil bad guy with her wits and band of close supportive friends and fellow soldiers. These same soldiers do find out she is a woman despite her hiding it during their training well before the big final battle, and still follow her. In fact, how do they assist her in defeating big-bad-evil-u-forgot-his-name? BY CROSS DRESSING AND KICKING ASS WHILE DOING IT. This whole movie is constantly taking gender norms and turning them upside down. It also doesn't call attention to them in a big "this is okay but still weird" way, but rather a "look at these gender non-conformists be amazing" way. 

Before all the NVT's reading this cream their pants over how great this is, let's also take a moment to talk about another storyline happening in this movie: Li Shang's story. The gruff leader of Mulan's troop battalion, he starts out viewing Mulan as a clumsy failure of a male soldier (she is not revealed to be a woman until after her injury later). He gradually comes to respect Mulan, and early on is a key helper in her (his) training. Throughout a wonderful training montage, we see their relationship turn from distant to quite close-knit. We see Li Shang stop glowering at Mulan and start smiling at her (him), being nice to her (him), rewarding her, looking deeply into her (his) dreamy eyes... 

He relies on Mulan and helps her during combat. Very quickly after she is injured, he casts her from his troop for deceiving him. But very soon after, he discovers that he has feelings for Mulan. But this love didn't spring up instantly as soon as he knew she was a woman. We see their relationship get close as they are training, relying on one another, learning more about each other, smiling at one another. So we we left with one conclusion: he began falling in love/like/lust/whatever with Mulan as he was getting to know her more... In his camp, when she was a he...

Yes. We have witnessed a full, beautiful homo-hetero love story. Even if the whole story ends with a perfectly boring monogamous heterosexual marriage bond between Li Shang and Mulan, deep down we know that our buddy Li swings both ways and Mulan isn't a demure helpless woman.

And they probably love pegging because of it.

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