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I’ll be the first to admit, I give Disney a lot of flack. Disney has a reputation for their princess characters. Princesses make up the majority of their main characters in animated movies directed toward girls, but unfortunately, the princess characters and their movies are full of gender stereotypes, rather harmful messages about relationships, and what a girl’s goal in life should be. But out of all those meek heroines, there is one whom I find to be an inspiring heroine; Mulan. While Disney does consider Mulan a princess (based on their formula (human) Disney main character + female gender = princess), I refuse to pigeonhole her character like that and thus, she will not be in my series “Destroying the Princess Stereotype.” However, I do want to talk about Mulan and her movie. Awhile ago, I made it very clear why I hate Mulan II (or as I call it, the-movie-that-must-not-be-named), but recently, I realized I had yet to write a post on why I like Mulan. So, without further ado, let me tell you why I believe Mulan is the best Disney movie about a female character to date.
  • Mulan avoids major female character stereotypes
For starters, I feel Mulan breaks some stereotypes connected to Disney’s female leads. Take, for instance, the fact that Mulan is one of the few Disney movies about a girl who is not a princess. As regular readers know, I believe princess characters can be very interesting, but if all of Disney’s movies about young women are stories about princesses, it’s limiting. It seems to say that Disney doesn’t think girls would be interested in anything except tales of princesses. In contrast, Mulan is a young woman who becomes a soldier and then the hero of China. That’s fresh and new for Disney and breaks the trend. And luckily, Mulan doesn’t feel like a caricature of any other personality type. In addition, while many of Disney’s earliest princess characters are the “perfect female” (a.k.a. subservient and pretty), Mulan struggles with that. She isn’t the subservient, cookie-cutter beauty who exists only to please others. Sure, she initially thinks she needs to conform to society for her family, but I think many people can understand this. It’s hard to go against what everyone else is doing and I like that her struggle with that is depicted.  

Another thing I like about her character is her strength of will. While uncertain of herself, she ends up going to war disguised as a man for her father’s sake despite the risk of being killed in battle or if her true gender is discovered. Her strength grows, enabling her to take bold actions even after her identity has been revealed and she’s been abandoned by her comrades. I would also point out that Mulan’s intelligence is highlighted as a valuable trait throughout the movie; her clever ideas and quick thinking saves her and others on more than one occasion. It’s always great to see a girl’s intelligence showcased as an asset.

  • Mulan’s story breaks stereotypes
Mulan’s story also breaks numerous stereotypes associated with Disney movies that revolve around young women. First, unlike almost all other Disney stories about a female character, Mulan completely avoids the old plot of the young, innocent girl versus the conniving, evil, older woman. Even outside of Disney, I see so many stories where women are pitted against women so, strange as this sounds, it’s nice to see a girl (Mulan) whose main foe is a guy (Shan Yu). And don’t even get me started on my problems with the evil older woman stereotype.
 
The next big stereotype avoided is that Mulan’s story does not revolve around a romance. Most of Disney’s stories about girls involve a huge romance which becomes the main plot. Mulan actually does the opposite, making romance such a small portion of Mulan’s journey that it’s only hinted at. Instead, Mulan’s story is about her finding herself, her love for her family, and trying to save China. Mulan fulfills herself by finding acceptance with who she is, not by finding a guy. Compared to the sea of Disney movies (and frankly, a lot of fiction) about young women whose stories seem to revolve almost entirely around romance, Mulan is like a breath of fresh air. I would also argue that by finding herself, Mulan is rewarded with the bonus of meeting a guy who ended up liking her for who she is, untraditional aspects and all. And because Mulan is able to take care of herself, her relationship with the guy she likes seems much more equal than traditional Disney stories where the man always has to rescue the woman.

Mulan is about a girl finding acceptance with who she is even when society tells her she should act another way. Granted, her story comes to a fairy tale-like ending in which she not only achieves the confidence to be herself without fear, but also receives acceptance and praise from all of China. However, this gives the message that good will come from being honest with who you are, even if the road is challenging. Does this story do everything right? Probably not, but in a world single-mindedly telling girls to be princesses, Mulan tells them to be whoever they are. There are lots of other things I liked about this movie such as how the girl saves the day instead of the guy and how she has non-romantic relationships with men, but I won’t get into those today. For breaking trends and setting a new goal for girls, I consider Mulan the best of Disney’s movies focused on a young woman to date.
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To ring in the New Year I’m doing something a little different from my normal posts. I thought I’d end the year by shining the spotlight on some movies, books, manga, and anime that I found satisfied both my need for a good story as well as my need for awesome heroines. As I’m sure you all know, it’s not easy finding strong, realistic female characters in fiction all the time and while everything I’ve chosen may not be perfect, I’d like to give some suggestions for those of you looking for some satisfying fiction (and some non-fiction) for the coming year. I’d love to do individual posts on these suggestions in the future to further explain why I found them appealing, but for the sake of quickness, here’s the list:

Fiction Books
  • Abhorsen trilogy (by Garth Nix)
  • Fire (by Kristin Cashore)
  • Graceling (by Kristin Cashore)
  • Harry Potter series (by J.K. Rowling)
  • Moribito series (by  Nahoko Uehashi)
  • Pride & Prejudice (by Jane Austen)
  • Song of the Lioness series (by Tamora Pierce)
  • The Twelve Kingdoms series (by Fuyumi Ono)
Non-Fiction Books
  • America’s Women (by Gail Collins)
  • Elizabeth I (by Anne Somerset)
  • Enlightened Sexism (by  Susan J. Douglas)
  • The Mysterious Life of Private Thompson (by Laura Leedy Gansler)
  • When Everything Changed (by Gail Collins)
Manga
  • Nana
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • Ouran High School Host Club
  • Paradise Kiss
  • Sailor Moon
  • Skip Beat!
  • Usagi Drop

Anime

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Beast Player Erin (streaming legally on Crunchyroll.com)
  • Cross Game
  • Library Wars
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena
  • The Rose of Versailles
  • Usagi Drop

Movies

  • Elizabeth (2008)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • The Heiress (1949)
  • Disney’s Mulan
  • Offside
  • Persepolis
  • True Grit (2010)
  • The Young Victoria

This list will be posted as a page labeled “Recommendations” from now on. Some of these I chose based on the thought-provoking messages dealing with gender while others simply presented strong female characters. I enjoyed (or am enjoying in the case of a couple of those on-going manga) all of the stories in the fiction I have on this list. As for the non-fiction, I listed a couple of books dealing directly with feminism and a number of books about women in history that I found inspiring. If I have done a more thorough review of something on the list, I will put a link to that review on the page (there aren’t many right now). Finally, because I’m always looking for more stories of strong women, this list will certainly grow (I’m positive I’m forgetting a ton as well). On that note, if you have any suggestions for me to look into, I’d love to hear them and will try to read/watch it when I can. I wish everyone luck in the coming year and hope you’ll continue to support Gagging on Sexism! See you in 2012!

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T-shirt and jeans? I guess Ree had enough substance that they didnt have to sex her up.

If aliens used fiction to collect data on the human race, they would think women are either creepily saintly, unintelligent creatures straight from a Disney princess movie or extremely shallow, vindictive vixens. That’s why, whenever I see even a hint of possibility for a hopeful female heroine in fiction, I leap to my feet screaming “Hallelujah!” (ok, maybe I don’t actually do that, but you know what I mean). It’s like I am drowning in a sea of sex kittens when someone finally throws me a desperately needed lifesaver and I receive an epiphany; the world hasn’t forsaken me to a slow and dreadful death by stereotypes!

Luckily for me and the rest of you drowning out there, we have been given some great examples of this in movies this year; True Grit‘s Mattie, The King’s Speech’s Queen Elizabeth, and Ree from Winter’s Bone just to name some.  Unfortunately, society must have realized somewhere out there, someone was being deprived of one more movie of boob shots, paper-thin characterizations, and damsels in distress. Once again, the movie trailers seem bursting with too many Bellas and Britney Spears.

Tell me they do not look like strippers w/ guns.

Sucker Punch just hit the big screen last week. The basic story line is about a young woman who is sent to an insane asylum by her “wicked” stepfather (always have to have an evil step-something). Unable to accept this horrible reality she and several other girls at the institution use the dream world to (physically?) escape. From the trailers, it’s obvious the female characters in this movie are not waiting on their butts, dreaming of a prince charming to save them and promotions for it on TV insist that you’ve never had a dream like this. Wow, they’re right! I can’t remember the last time I dreamed I was platinum blonde!

I can make no comment (yet) on the content of the story, but the more I look at the photos, trailers, and promotions I am unable to shake the idea of strippers and porn stars. Even the names screech sex kittens! Alone, the names are nails-on-the-chalkboard cutesy, but together Babydoll, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber make a perfect showgirl troupe! One would have been O.K., but giving them all odd, show-type names, the creator had to know what kind of image that would give the characters. I would be quite contented with a Jill or Sarah in there.

Here we have a naughty schoolgirl and wicked militant(?).

Naturally, sexy Japanese school girl uniforms, visible garters, and cleavage help amplify this showgirl image ten-fold. Yes, the messed up, sexed up military uniforms only come out of the dank sea of deranged getups in the dream world, but is that not just a reflection of reality? If these dreaming girls were real, they would have some serious image issues.

Wow. I never want to see a sexy samuri again.

The clothing and the names are not the only thing that make me double check that this movie has nothing to do with porn stars. The girls in this movie are littered with fake eyelashes that may as well be brush bristles glued onto their eyelids. Also, why do they have their hair in pretty ponytails, their cheeks peachy-pink with blush, and their skin almost radiating if they’re supposed to be in an insane asylum?  Is this a special place just for cases of young girls and women pushed to the brink by the pressure to be beautiful 24/7?

Id really like to know the justification in the plot for this lovely number.

Reading through the reviews for this movie, it’s definitely attracted some guys who want to waste their lives staring at fake, photo brushed girls in skimpy outfits. On Metacritic.com, the average Joe is allowed to leave a review as well as the critics. Whether they liked the movie or not, the word that kept on popping up like some kind of slogan for the movie was “hot girls.” Yeah, I think we got that. As you can see from the mishmash of pictures, that fact is the clearest part of the movie. Before you know Babyboll is trying to escape a horrible reality, you know she’s one hot girl! The girls from Sucker Punch may be a far cry from damsels in distress from the looks of it, but the sexualization has gone rampant and slobbered all over the movie.  Whether these girls are trapped in a mental institute or dodging bullets, they look like they could move to Los Vegas that instant. And that’s why Sucker Punch is one punch I think I’ll be able to avoid. Their photo brushed, much exposed skin radiates so brilliantly, I’ll be able to see it coming from a mile away.

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