You probably already know this, but Mulan is fantastic. Mulan is better than Superman or Hercules, because she’s human- she’s a human girl with a larger-than-average capacity for courage. She doesn’t have any superpowers. Everything she does, she achieves through hard work and personal strength.

One of the things she does is to basically punch gender essentialism in the face. At the beginning of the movie she is forced into performing femininity, which she does very, very badly. It does not come easily to her! She can look the part, but she can’t play the role. Femininity is not a thing which every girl can/should/needs to achieve. And this is a thing we’re learning from a Disney movie. Wow.

Mulan goes on, supported by a seriously awesome song, to succeed at traditionally masculine pursuits- all the arts of war. Which is fantastic, in a fuck-the-patriarchy-I’m-doing-what-I-want kind of way, but if that was all that happened, that would be pretty unsatisfying. Because that would leave us back at square one: masculinity awesome, femininity weak and useless.

But remember that song, that seriously awesome song that underscores the training montage? It comes back, the same song, except this time Our Heroes are dressing up as women in order to sneak into the palace. They try knocking the doors down, but it doesn’t work. Masculinity isn’t the answer to every problem. Femininity is equally valid, and not only that, it’s a useful tool for men just as well as women.

I dressed up as Mulan for Halloween one year, when I was a kid. Everyone dressed up as Mulan that year. My friends all had the pretty dress. I, however, dressed as Mulan in her soldier uniform. That was the Mulan I wanted to be- the one who punched gender essentialism in the face and refused to conform to a femininity she didn’t feel.

That same year, my two best friends were dressed up as Hercules and Superman. They got into an argument over which of them was stronger. I jumped in and said I didn’t know which of them was stronger, but Mulan was definitely the smartest. That was so important to me, that she was smart. I was smart, but- all adults excluded- that seemed to be a terrible thing, a thing that earned me mocking and bullying. Except Mulan was smart, and Mulan was wonderful, so maybe my being smart wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

My friends agreed, by the way. Mulan is better.