Mulan: A Tomboy Princess?

Most little girls grow up watching Disney movies, particularly Princess movies. When you think of princesses most people would probably think of, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Belle. Mulan is often overlooked, and she is different than most of the other princesses. She doesn’t have a big finale scene in a big ball gown, she defies the princess norms, by being more “boy-like.”. In the clip below, this depicts the scene in which Mulan chooses to disguise herself as a man in order to go to war instead of her father, who is old and ill.

This is a big change for her family, who wanted her to be a wife and a mother, and somebody who is feminine, which is seen in the song, “Honor to Us All.” When Mulan goes to fight for her father, she has to conform to act like a man. In the song, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” there are many lyrics that suggest that you must be a man to be strong. For example, he says “with all the strength of a raging fire.” It also repeatedly says, “Be a Man.” Throughout the song, the singer, Li Shang, is giving instructions on how to be a man, and if you are a man, you will be a good fighter in the war. After her identity is exposed, she is expelled from fighting in the war. But when Mulan ends up being there when they come to fight the Huns. She fights the leader in a solo combat and defeats him.

Mulan, defies the gender norms possessed by the majority of the beloved Disney Princesses, she possesses, “tomboy” qualities. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, “tomboy” is defined as, “a girl who behaves like a spirited or boisterous boy; a wild romping girl” (220). Mulan can be compared to Jo March in Little Women. Both characters have tomboy qualities, and are not like their peers. Jo is furious that she can’t go fight along side her father in the Civil War and Mulan goes and disguises herself as a male to fight in the war. These characteristics set themselves apart from their peers.

Often in Disney Princess movies, the protagonist of the princess is very feminine and obedient. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Michelle Ann Abate, discusses that now in the twenty-first century, more and more girls are possessing tomboy qualities, like playing sports, wearing pants, and having short hair (224). But yet, the majority of young girl’s role models, and the princesses they grow up watching don’t possess many tomboy qualities. Mulan is a great example for young girls, who might not see the other princesses as relatable. She is strong, bold, and courageous.

6 thoughts on “Mulan: A Tomboy Princess?”

  1. I completely agree with your post! When we think of the Disney princesses, Mulan is usually not one of them to pop into our heads. She often is not considered a classic Disney princess, such as Snow White or Cinderella, mainly because she doesn’t wear a fancy ball gown or act proper and ladylike like she is supposed to. Excellent point!

  2. I think this brings up great points about gender roles and how even though people are making efforts to reduce them they are still brought up in popular culture through this need to hide ones identity to do something ‘masculine’ even though they are equally capable. I also think the idea that Mulan is a “tomboy” princess is interesting. When I thought about the Disney princesses one thing that came to mind is that the only princess that I can think of who ever wears pants is Mulan when she is dressed as a male.

  3. I think what’s also very important when thinking about Mulans story, is just how much it means for Mulans parents to have their daughter run away to join the all male army. She is their only child. In their culture it would be expected that Mulan would care for them in their elderly years and tend to their spirits in the after life just as she is already practicing to do in the scene where she prays for her ancestors. For them to have the risk of losing their only child, especially in a dishonorable (tomboy) way, would have been absolutely horrifying to them. If this had been real life and not just another Disney movie, I wonder how accepting they would have been of her once she returned. I suppose that it did help that she saved the entire country and all but still.

  4. You make an awesome point with this. I never think of Mulan first when asked to name a Disney princess, and I love that you call everyone out on that. I definitely see Jo and Mulan possessing similar personality traits, but Jo ends up falling to gender norms, as she slowly stops acting as such a “tomboy.” After seeing how well Mulan matures, while still being a “tomboy”, do you wish that Jo had done the same? Reading this, and comparing the characters, definitely made me wish Jo had stuck to her “tomboy” roots.

  5. I completely agree with your post as well! It really got me thinking about all the other disney movies, and one that popped in my head is Frozen. Even though Elsa dresses very girly, she breaks down stereotypes in a different way by being a really independent and strong female character that doesn’t have a love interest.

  6. This brings up the very controversial topic around the world of women fighting in wars. Many countries do not allow females to fight in the war, or if they do, the women are not allowed to fight in combat but are only allowed to do things behind the scenes, out of harms way. Women are often seen as defenseless and weak, needing to be protected from physic danger. I believe this sense of extra protection of girls and toughening up of boys is where this begins in society. Being a “tom-boy” and fighting in the war are seen as extremely dangerous and dishonorable solely due to her gender.

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