This year’s KSU Students Fest will relate to Disney’s Mulan. Today I will write a short psychological perspective on Mulan, mostly based on female empowerment. For those few who aren’t familiar with the story;

“A young woman named Fa Mulan disguises herself as a male heir to her family in order to prevent her ailing father from being drafted into a potential war against invaders. She grows from precocious teenager to a brave fighter for China, impressing her fellow soldiers with her determination and ingenuity. When her real identity is discovered, she chooses to follow through with her duty despite anger and discrimination from her peers. In the end, she honours her family through her courage, and returns to her home a celebrated hero.”

“Her story symbolically represented the path girls had to take to self- acceptance, and her struggles mirrored the realities of these girls.”

The original animated Mulan highlighted many of the issues of young Asian Americans girls growing up. Her story symbolically represented the path girls had to take to self- acceptance, and her struggles mirrored the realities of these girls. Both she and such girls dealt with the traditional expectations of what a woman’s role was in Chinese society, with parents who both encouraged independence and intelligence while imposing old fashioned thinking. They also faced the fear of shaming their family if they were not to live up to the standards that were set for them, and struggled to understand why they were so different from those around them. While Mulan disguised herself as a man to fit in with the troops, these girls wore the mask of Western ideals to feel included in their peer group. Nonetheless, as Mulan struggled with coming to terms with her own identity while trapped between two worlds, so did other girls deal with the same in real life. They were not Asian enough to be the obedient and ultra-feminine girls that society expected them to be, but they were not white enough because of their appearance and cultural heritage. In this young woman they saw themselves, and when they watched her triumph over her obstacles to come into her own, these girls found inspiration to do the same. These are the reasons why Mulan has been so important to many girls not just Asian Americans even to this day, because Mulan challenged many stereotypes and gender roles imposed on females.

Females need the Mulan we grew up with – the strong willed, smart, and courageous young woman who defied tradition and the odds to become one of the most beloved and recognised figures in Chinese history. They need to see that there is a way to balance the old and the new, respect and independence, and loyalty to self and family. Males can learn from the example of Shang and his men (Shang is the Emperor’s son who will lead the battle against Shan Yu; the leader of the Huns), not only because of their ability to fight for what they believe in and stand up for each other, but also for their willingness to acknowledge Mulan as not just a girl but a friend and fellow warrior. Mental health professionals can use Mulan as an example to open channels of communication with their patients’ parents about the importance of family and tradition, but also provide ideas on how to adapt to life in society and support the children in healthy development of self-esteem and self-image, being one of the biggest issues concerned in psychological counselling and therapy.

In the live-action version of Disney’s Mulan we see the inventory of all the issues when talking about diversity in Hollywood: accurate representation of historical figures, Asian female and male stereotypes, whitewashing of central characters, minimisation of cultural heritage, and under-representation of Asians in media. However, in my opinion, for me it is not just an opportunity to bring diversity to the forefront, but a giant leap forward in giving males, but mostly females, a way to express their struggles and start the conversation to understanding.

Kurt Clews

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