Compare The Representation of women in Disney’s Snow White and Mulan

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Disney is a worldwide organisation that dominates the world. Since its first known character born on 18th November 1928, Disney has made an impact the entire world with magic at the core of its success. Disney’s first feature length film, “Snow White” hit the nation by a storm. It achieved this not only by the ingenious and magical ways in which they portrayed fascinating stories, but also by impressing their audiences with the fantastic technology new to the time.

It was an amazing experience to be able to watch a feature length film that used the newly introduced multi-plain mechanism throughout, in this version of such a heart-touching fairy tail. Debuting with Snow White as such an immense hit, Disney continued appealing to a huge range of audiences, even today. With this in mind, it can be said that it is very unlikely that the magic of Disney will come to an end any time soon.

In this essay, I will compare the representation of women in Disney’s “Snow White” and “Mulan”. These two films each include Disney’s original themes, which include the magical characters and the “happy” endings etc, yet both movies are incredibly different in their individual ways. Snow White was released in 1937, 73 years previous to Mulan coming to the screens. The difference in the worlds’ society in 1937 and that of 2000 when Mulan was released is extremely great. The role of females is one of their differences.

In the time that Snow White was released it was common for the majority of women to be seen as stereotypical housewives and there would be no other way of looking at them aside from them being quiet and only speaking when spoken to etc. They were expected to keep the household clean, wear pretty dresses, be kind and gentle and not go out to work. Today this determined life-style for a woman is seen as “old-fashioned” and any person who still stereotypes women in this way is classed as sexist. Read why do people tend to cup their hands around listeners’ ears when whispering to them?

Nowadays, women are encouraged to speak up for what they believe, work hard for an education and then go on to find a job just as any male might do. During the 1930’s, it was standard for females to stay without a job their whole life, even if they wanted to work. However, today the amount of available jobs for men and women are equal; it is recognised that there isn’t much that females aren’t capable of doing that males are. It is now permitted that women wear what clothes they please, choose whether or not to marry and have a definite decision upon child bearing.

When we compare society’s view on women at the time of each film’s release, we can see it has developed tremendously. The female characters in both Mulan and in Snow white are portrayed in individual ways, each depending on their time of release, both reflecting the stereotypical female that each contemporary society constructed. Snow White is a beauteous character from the moment that she is introduced into the film. It is not only by the way in which she behaves that gives the audience this impression, but also by the style of her dress and her physical appearance.

Snow White remains in one outfit throughout the film. It is a stereotypical “girlie” dress that is big and colourful with pretty decoration- this gives the perception of her not ever wearing anything other than this style of clothing. Her hair is simply perfect, without any mess during the film, in a cute little bob. When Snow White’s physicality is compared to that of Mulan, an immense difference is seen. In Mulan’s opening scene, she is wearing a shabby outfit with her hair hung loose.

She is a good example of females not always having the desire to dress to impress others, or to wear a constant mask of make-up, and yet she is still beautiful in herself. This idea is similar to the attitudes of the women today. Mulan is a very attractive girl just like Snow White, however they each have different aspects that make them lovely-looking in their own ways. Snow White was the ideal beautiful woman in 1937. Her pale skin, crimson lips, her raven hair and soft, baby voice were Disney’s representation of how a “proper” woman should be.

This reflects the time that the film was released, as it was seen that all women should care for their appearance and present themselves correctly. In Mulan this idea is shown to be silly and outmoded when for example, she is taken to the match-maker and she obviously is not enthusiastic about getting made-over. She did not have an interest in the make-up she had to wear and did not want to look like everyone else. There is an example of this when the stylists put her hair up a lock of hair fall out of place- this represents her individuality and reflect how women would like to be looked upon in today’s society.

We see the opposite in Snow White as it appears that she constantly cares about her appearance and wants to look like the stereotypical woman of that day. The small things show this, like when she settles her hair before knocking on the door of the cottage and so on. Unlike to Mulan she always seems to look graceful and hold herself correctly. Through their actions and body language different images of women are presented in each film. Mulan is quite independent and does things not only for her, but for others too. She feeds the animals and fetches her father tea etc.

Snow White however, does very little for herself. She only supervises the cleaning of the cottage, the animals do the majority of the work. These reflect the periods in which the films were released. An element of motherly love and care for others in both characters. We see an example of this when Mulan gives a cup of tea to her father; it represents her kindness and love. We see Snow White baking a pie for the men, and telling the males to clean their hands. This is strength in female nature and it is positive to see this is each film.

Mulan and Snow White tend to blush when they are in the presence of the male they desire. It is a stereotypical feminine thing to do and perhaps this innocence and coyness in women hasn’t changed at all since Snow White’s release. Through the entire movie, Snow White carries traditional feminine characteristics for instance when she screams, fears her own shadow, gracefully picks flowers and rescues birds. We see Mulan do less traditional things. She plays chess well and she is clearly intelligent. She can also ride a horse with great skill.

All of these qualities that Mulan holds could be thought of as representing the change in the role of women. Females are no longer just angelic objects; they are able to operate in society on an equal footing with men. In both of the films, other character’s attitudes towards Mulan and Snow White can be observed. It seems that none of Mulan’s friends or family has faith in her. She has a reputation of being a failure even to her loved-ones. The way the ancestors feel that they need to send her proves that they feel she cannot succeed alone.

The connotation of this might be that all females need some form of help if they are to prosper. Mushu however, causes mayhem and Mulan shows that she is more than able to sort out problems he causes. There are times that Snow White is also represented in this way. The huntsman that is ordered to kill her refers to her as “the little princess” and he saves her by putting his own life at risk. This is an example of her not being able to fend for herself, as is where the prince saves her with a kiss. The dwarves react to snow White initially with fear, but quickly come to love her and are ready to do what she requests.

She is respected because of her beautiful ways. Mulan is also respected, although this doesn’t happen until the end of the film. They recognise what she is able to achieve and so is rewarded for this. Both Mulan and Snow White sing a song describing their feelings. Desperate to be rescued, Snow White sings about wanting to be found. This is a traditional portray of women in the 1930’s. She will be rescued because of her good looks and submissive nature. Mulan’s song describes how she craves to be seen for who she truly is. “When will my reflection show who I am inside”

This quote from her song is a desire for independence. It is an example of women wanting to be respected for their ability not for what they look like or whether they behave according to gender stereotypes. The dwarves describe Snow white as “pretty” and “like and angel”. Hence, the stereotypical female. However, Mulan is described differently, “Too skinny- not good for bearing sons”. This demonstrates that Mulan is an individual who does not fit into the traditional gender stereotype. Snow white seems to be extremely polite and well mannered. “How do you do? ”

She doesn’t speak out of turn and the only time she issues a command is when she says: “Aren’t you going to wash? ” She phrases her command as a question to seem polite and not too pushy. Mulan’s character is considered as quite impolite and she speaks openly of her opinions. “Teach your daughter to be silence in a man’s presence” This is a quote taken from a male in the film. It shows what males thought of females in the past. It also shows that women are standing up for their rights and in Mulan’s case speaking her mind. In the film, it seems as though it is not appreciated for women to have a mind of her own.

This way of thinking in men is repeated at the dinner table when her father tells her to learn her place after speaking up to him. Snow White’s behavior would have been attractive to the audience of the 1030’s. Today, Mulan’s outspoken nature is attractive to the contemporary audience. Each character shares some form of relationship with animals, which in a way reflects their personality. Snow White is continually surrounded by gentle animals, deer, rabbits, birds etc. It brings out Snow White’s gentle side and seeing these cute and soft animals remind the audience of Snow White’s gentle and pleasant ways.

It is the same with Mulan; Her animal relations include a small and quirky dragon and a hyperactive cricket. These animals often cause chaos for Mulan whilst the animals in Snow White help her with various tasks, the chores etc. Crikee the cricket and Mushu the dragon create situations that allow Mulan to show what she’s capable of. This encourages the audience to understand that females can handle situations alone rather than always needing assistance from others. At the end of the films, we see Disney’s trademark “happy ending”.

Snow White is taken away by her love, the Prince, on his horse. The words, “and they lived happily ever after” appear on the screen. At the end of Mulan she refuses the offer of being head soldier. She decides to go home to her family and live the “stereotypical” female life and do the so-called “proper” thing. She can finally be with her love, Shang, and she is now happy. It is likely that the audience will find Mulan an inspiration for making such an important decision independently. This is a definite positive when considering what the viewers should be taking away with them.

However, Mulan choosing to leave what seemed an independent lifestyle as a soldier is slightly disappointing for those who admired what Disney showed as this respectable, self-reliant woman. The story could have ended with her continuing to be a free and unconstrained female, being a soldier. This would have persevered the “independent” theme carried through the film. Children are the majority of Disney’s audience and if Disney had Mulan remaining in her career away from a loving home, it is unlikely that a young child would be able to relate to the happiness that was in this.

Young children focus on love and being care for as being true happiness and are not fully aware of the roles of women in society. Most children believe that marriage is happy and for this reason, it is likely that Disney chose to end Mulan marrying Shang. The majority of the young children that watched Mulan are unlikely to consider Mulan leaving home, leaving her family, and continuing on her own as being a happy ending to the story. This would destroy Disney’s trademark of happy endings.

Disney’s reflects its attitude towards women depending on the time that the films are made. Their opinion of women still seems to consist of the general stereotype. Even though their films today are progressing from this idea of housewives and cooks, having the Mulan film end in the way it does proves that the representation of women in their films needs to improve. Disney should be aware that it is not children alone that watch their films and they should consider this fact when deciding on such a vital story ending.

The media has a huge influence on its audience and Disney is apart of this predominance whether their films encourage progression or regression in the role of women. Their films provoke the nation to consider themselves and those around them as being the perfect role model. Taking this into consideration, it is rather irresponsible of Disney to create such a stereotypical ending as their films are distributed about the world. The development in gender roles will be hindered if companies continue to have such stereotypical ideas in their films.

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