Friday, August 20, 2010

Be a Man (Mulan, Halo)

So, HBO (that’s linked to a music video made by Cortana4ever, who put the Mulan song “Be a Man” to Halo clips. I like Mulan too. I like the song, and I like Halo, so this should be a good mix; however, I think taking the song out of the context of the movie makes the video come across as sexist.
In Mulan, the song “Be a Man” is used in the context of a woman fighting against a ubiquitous sexist culture. She’s in the army with the men, dressed as a man, and having to meet the standards of men. It’s in this context that Shang sings the song as an expression of sexism, where he perceives femininity to be inherently weaker than masculinity, and being anything other than a man is a grave insult. What keeps the movie scene from being sexist is that Mulan is in there having to cope with the sexism, which we sympathize with because she’s the protagonist, and she ultimately meets Shang’s standards first. Because of this context with Mulan, the scene is given a feminist slant like the rest of the movie, plus there is a callback later on when the men need to dress as women to put the song in perspective.
The problem with this video is that there’s none of that context to make the song feminist or even just not sexist. The singer says “Did they send me daughters / when I asked for sons?” and we get a shot of a female Spartan. Bungie has tried to make Halo good with gender equality, especially in Reach, so we’ve got some female characters in the military. As the song in and of itself is sexist, it remains sexist as it plays over the Halo shots, imposing its anti-woman ideas over Halo. Suddenly, Kat can’t be just a strong female soldier; she has to “be a man”. Female soldiers who are ‘out’ now have to take blatantly sexist ranting (singing) as they try to prove themselves worthy by turning into men.
Now, Cortana4ever could put in a fanfiction backstory, like saying this is an alternate reality where Kat’s doing the Mulan thing, but that seems a little pushing it. I would argue instead that one can’t use the song “Be a Man” out of a feminist context without it being sexist. If Halo was about a similar thing where women dress up as men and join the army, it could work, but as it is now I can’t see how this video can’t come across as sexist.

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