Why your daughter should watch Disney cartoons while she’s still four

Published: March 28, 2011

Mulan had to pretend to be a man to do things her way.

Disney films will always hold a special place in the lives of those born in the 90s: we were the ones who would cry and clutch our fathers lest they go jump into a stampede a la Mufasa in The Lion King.

So, recently, some friends and I decided to revisit our favourite Disney film — Mulan.

Mulan is just your average Chinese girl who impersonates a man so she can join the army instead of her father. ‘Two thumbs up!’ promised the back of the DVD cover, and we sat down with popcorn and played the film.

When it finished, there was a moment of silence.

“Wow. Oh my god, wow.”

We had sat down to laugh at the things that made us laugh when we were four. Except now we weren’t four, we were suddenly picking up things that had previously passed us by.

“Their family’s honour rests on Mulan getting married! Why didn’t I see that before?”

“Listen to that lyric again, ‘we all must serve our emperor…The men by bearing arms, a girl by bearing sons.’ A woman’s place is set in society only if she bears sons?!”

“Look at what he just said to Mulan’s father! ‘…teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a man’s presence.’”’

Does all of this sound familiar?

It did to us. There must be something desperately wrong with our society if a few Pakistani girls living in the 21st century could identify with a film set millennia ago in Imperial China. And suddenly it was all pouring out.

“Wear a dupatta, don’t go there it’s not safe (for girls), don’t wear jeans when going out, come home before this time, go to this destination only, take another girl with you…the list is endless.”

“My brother can go to wherever he chooses, spend the night at whichever friend’s place, while my parents act like the ISI when it comes to my friends.”

“And you know what? Boys can go abroad to really good universities, that’s laazmi, but oh no, not daughters, that whole naak kat jaaey gi attitude which means you stay put in Karachi.”

Mulan had to pretend to be a man to do things her way. It’s striking how much this resonates with us, that little prick of ‘if I were a boy I could have done that’ feeling. You listen to these frustrations attentively and feel shocked – until you remind yourself that these are the frustrations of a minority of the 35 per cent of women who are literate in our country, a fact that is even more horrifying.

The chapter on women development in our geography textbook reads like this: ‘Women in Pakistan marry early. They face societal and religious pressures. They should be educated about birth control.’ Next chapter: Mining in Balochistan.

And who were the female leaders we were told to look up to as children? Fatima Jinnah is a neat paragraph assigned in a history textbook; Benazir Bhutto is reduced to a park.

Is it difficult growing up in Pakistan being a girl? Yes. At the macro level, the problems are education, child marriages, and then, at the personal level it is all those little things that we have no choice but to get used to. I wish I could watch this film with the eyes of a child: ‘Mulan broke the rules and saved the day! Yay!’

I wish we could believe the ‘anything is possible’ message of a children’s film. But this particular story was too close to home to enjoy properly and unfortunately, now we’re grown up enough to realise that.

Published in The Express Tribune.


Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    Cartoons like Mulan and Beauty And The Beast may carry good messages, but you should go back and watch all the other girly cartoons as well. The ones in which only the beautiful girls that can sing, dance, weave, sew, cook up feasts, keep the house spotless, etc. always get their prince, because beauty and homely skills will get you happiness, not confidence and standing on your own feet. I wouldn’t let my daughter watch Disney cartoons if I wanted her to grow up empowered confident in herself.Recommend

  • http://wasioabbasi.wordpress.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    Being a boy I would sincerely say that I cannot even begin to feel the level of pressure that is put on girls/women in our society. Being the youngest in my family (the other youngest sibling is a decade older than me), I obviously never saw the upbringing of my sisters and missed out on a lot of things, but I saw my female friends and have a good idea why our society behaves the way it does.
    Education is really vital for everyone, especially for women because they are the greatest influence on children. No matter how macho a guy becomes, it will be his mother he will think about when at his weakest moment in life. Educated mothers are a necessity for raising children the best way.
    In our case, however, there is severe conflict of understanding. For centuries the education deemed necessary was the ability to recite Quran and that’s it. In a lot of parts of Pakistan even today, life is so slow that they barely feel the necessity of using modern gadgets or better education for brighter future.
    Until the 70s and 80s, the need for better education was still not strong enough as everything remained practically the same way as it did. Women took care of home and men dealt with affairs outside home. Just like our Army has hold on our country, the same way men nearly always had hold over major household decisions.
    In 90s and then in 2000s the believes really became conflicted. No longer can education be ignored but neither can tradition be. It’s been violent, but tradition had held firm lives, clans, lands, villages, towns and a whole social structure for centuries, facing off many dangers threatening to wipe them off. Leaving them all behind and taking a whole U-turn is not easy, especially not for males who have been brought up since childhood to be the head decision-maker of the family.
    That’s why a lot of conservative attitude is displayed wherever girls are involved.
    Frankly speaking, it isn’t easy for boys as well. Going for best universities is one thing, managing to stay firm is another. The sword for making a good life is always hanging over our heads. Spending millions on education scares the crap out of us because we have to justify to our parents that we turned out to be the sons they really always wanted. We eventually have to reach to that level where we can actually afford our own marriage expenditures.
    Men and women were made differently and society adjusted the roles accordingly. Men are firm and brittle, women are emotional and caring. Both play a strong role in society. When the need is there, the roles are adjusted but the crux remains the same.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Meriyum, child. We know you would grow out to be a sensible young lady. However, your blog posts are rarely wholesome.

    Still. Better than some last ones.Recommend

  • Nayab

    “My brother can go to wherever he chooses, spend the night at whichever friend’s place, while my parents act like the ISI when it comes to my friends.”
    True!!!.. Happens to every girl :/ why is it that a boy can do whatever he pleases, even if it’s wrong.. But when it comes to a girl, you can’t even ‘think about it’ ? I’m not saying that a girl can do wrong & shouldn’t be questioned, but so should be Boys! this prejudice makes me fume at times. Recommend

  • SS Bajwa

    For the writer i would say there are limitations both for men and women in ISLAM like a man can have four wives at a time if he can do justice with all four but a woman can not have more than one husband.These are the limits given by our religion like a woman is not allowed to go out of her house without any Mehram and then do the five fundamentals of Islam, اس بات کی شہادت دینا کہ اللہ کے سوا کوئی معبود نہیں ہے افر یہ کہ محمد اللہ کے رسوؽ ہیں، نماز پڑھنا،
    زکوۃ دینا، حج کرنا، رمضاؿ کے رفز رکھنا۔
    How good Muslim you are is not difficult to guess just see how much you are following these five fundamentals .
    If still you have doubt and want the independence as women have so called independence in their western society then go and ask about their personal experiences.
    May Allah give haddayat to woman of our society who wants and wishes to where jean and spend night out of her house which already in vogue in few families of Islamabad.Recommend

  • M S

    how ignorant u r. u suggesting young girls to look up to virtual character like mulan, u shud instead advice a girl to lookupto and learn frm the women of Islam. their sacrifice,struggle,persistance in keeping their honor aloof.there cannot be anyother better examples. May Allah give Hidayt to all of us.Recommend

  • Mehreen

    I’ve been to write on this topic myself because I too felt compelled. You chose the perfect example, Mulan. Why are little girls allowed to watch Disney and make wings for themselves when at the end, there really isn’t something like that? I carry my fave Disney collection in my iPod so I can reminded of that little girl any time and anywhere I want. Disney is like a treasure chest of memories. But then, a part of my silently says I shouldn’t have believed so much in them makes a sad face !!Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Disney cartoons are dangerous for young children to watch. You talk about a whole generation of 90’s kids who grew up watching Disney, they all think the same act the same and have been exposed to the same subliminal messaging from Disney. Plenty of evidence is available regarding the harmful and corrupt nature of these so called “innocent” cartoons. Please conduct the necessary research before you comment and defend Disney like your honor rests upon it. Disney should be banned!Recommend

  • AHZ

    I am very surprised to know that the author of the post is a young first year o’level girl of Karachi Grammer School (known through FB).

    It is interesting to know the parents of the KGS students also impose restriction on their children specially girls,, wow….. Normally it is common among all that the parents of KGS student dont have time to impose, as they are so much busy in their respective parties (cocktail), restriction on the children as they themselves involve in all those activities throughout their life.

    The story if written by any person who actually through to all those then it will feel / look great, but the KGS student written these sort of post is actually lool like insulting the middle class and lower class society of Pakistan.

    Therefore I made an humble request to the author that please do not try to insult innocent citizen of Pakistan and concentrate on your studies.Recommend

  • Anousha

    I couldn’t agree more with you. This is the real face of our society even in the 21st century.

    And all those who think the article is wrong and Disney should be banned, well please read the article again, with your glasses on because certainly you missed the whole point of it. The article is about how in the Disney films the little dreams that are shown to girls are far from truth especially when it comes to our society. And that we are still where we were a few centuries ago in terms of equality.
    All those people who can’t appreciate other people’s views and articles and are so eager to spread the knowledge I suggest instead of wasting your precious brain cells under anonymous names why you don’t write an article yourself under your real name. Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    What. The. Bleep. Are you bleeping kidding me? Did it occur to you that maybe, KGS has middle class students too? Did it also occur to you that maybe, just maybe, the only reason you think all elitists are partying hoors is because you’re jealous because you don’t have that much money or social standing?

    @the author you probably don’t need to hear this, but I’m p***ed off at the comments here so I’m going to say it anyway. You’re an adorable, smart, and talented kid. The only reason I never rip you apart for your flighty blogs is because you’re still a schoolgirl, and you write the way a schoolgirl would. Despite that, I get the feeling you’re going to be a decent writer in the future if that’s the field you want to pursue, and a pretty decent human being as well. Even if you are richer than AHZ. Plus, you’re the only person on the ET team that’s under 20, hell, that’s still in school. So buff those nails, pop that collar, and feel superior to all the other people commenting here because you know what? Dude, you so totally are.Recommend

  • IQU

    i m agree with u meriyum..its the orthodox of our society, or assigened by the ppl like us…..why we choose pink colour 4 girls and blue 4 the boys.? most of us consider that scientific subjects can only read by boys instead of a girl…on the other hand we talk about the development on gender basis .do u think we make development ? NO, we r still typicall ppl.In high class this diffrence may be not counted but i observe that in middiocar class men still behave like slaves in every field……………! ahh its only only due to lake of knowledge.most of the parents are illitrate they cann,t guide their childrens in the right way..in the last i can say…….it is the result of
    lack of knowledge

  • Sana

    ‘If I were a boy, I could have done that.”
    Every girl with an iota of spirit can perfectly relate to that. Your style may be a bit on the simple side, but your article sounds so like what the majority of literate women in our country feel.
    I can just hope that when we grow up, maybe we can, in one way or the other, change some thing. Any thing.
    One thing more: in most of the cases, the parents cannot be blamed for the restrictions. Its the general mindset that is at fault.Recommend

  • hammad ali hassan

    u raised the same point that i used to observe sometime…Recommend

  • http://wasioabbasi.wordpress.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    What’s the stuff you’re smoking? Please get off, you’re making non-sense. My own cousins and elder brother/sister of classmates are Grammarian … all of them from middle class. Please don’t insult them just because you’re horizon is pretty limited.Recommend

  • Atif

    Disney is way better than kids watching Indian Soaps. I know so many families where kids watch regularly programs like jyoti, saas bahu etc, They end up talking emotional dialogues from the shows.Recommend

  • xyz

    im just reading at all the comments and they’re horrifying. totally proving your point too. Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/143/taha-kerar/ Taha Kehar

    @AHZ: There is no logic to your comment. Please get over your vague stereotypes. They reflect nothing but your own small-mindedness. And stop stalking people on Facebook. Recommend

  • parvez

    Nice article and I think Disney films are great for kids.
    Try watching with a six year old and a five year old and ask dumb questions and have them explain things to you and trust me you will enjoy it more and most likely learn something. Recommend

  • Disco Molvi

    @some of the above comments:
    What’s this? An onslaught of ‘The Arrivals’ believing crowd?
    Good cartoons shape open up the minds and increase imagination.
    @author: Good job!Recommend

  • KillMeCauseI’mTheGirl

    “And you know what? Boys can go abroad to really good universities, that’s laazmi, but oh no, not daughters, that whole naak kat jaaey gi attitude which means you stay put in Karachi.”

    Believe me I get the feeling of what you’re saying, but the problem is sometimes those boys dont even EARN it..well most of the times.. like a girl getting an offer from London School of Economics wont be allowed to go abroad because of the whole mom being afraid of the society and stuff, whereas a boy is being FORCED to go to abroad even if he has to end up in Nottingham Uni, Malaysia because his grades aint that good? Sucks right. You might as well want to know that girl is me, and that boy is my brother -.- SAD LIFE. Oh btw you should watch TANGLED totally awesome, not like those old disney flicks with morals but still better than many :)Recommend

  • Jeddy

    Disney cartoons have a rotten affect. When I took my kids – they were horrified – for the simple reason that they always thought animals were imaginary things and not real. It took some time for them to settle down then take a ride on the elephant. Recommend

  • Sophia A

    @AHZ: You’re kidding right? Please tell me your kidding because its just sad when people make comments that are THAT callous and blatantly stereotypical.

    @Author: job well done. There is a severe “naak kat jaye gi” attitude among Pakistanis choosing to send only boys to college etc etc and its nice to see it called out as the insanity it is.Recommend

  • atts

    good blog,
    wonder why some of the readers r obligated to bring islam into it…. its more cultural than religious & as far as i remem there r christians, hindus, parsi, jews n various other religious followers living in pakistan, n they get the same treatment …..

    also after some of the comments i wonder why ppl subject authors to personal comments……how good a muslim? (she could well be a christian) n wearing jeans does not make me any less of a muslim than u (who m sure wears pants n jeans) correct me if i m wrong but islam defines that a female should be covered & as far as i know jeans tend to do that
    wondering again how we digressed from the blog about disney films to the author’s personal details…. definitely sad state of affairs, btw not seen mulan but will definitely watch it now ;)Recommend

  • http://www.noor-ul-ainhanif.blogspot.com Noor-ul-ain Hanif

    well-written. Disney cartoons are very good!Recommend

  • U. Khan

    I do find it bizarre about the relaxation for boys because if there is anyone who is going to get corrupted its them. It’s not like the boys who are allowed to stay out till late are going out for tableegh are they? It’s almost poetic justice when the boys going abroad bring back a nice foreign wife. Then the parents wonder what went wrong. Recommend

  • aaly

    @AHZ: How ignorant are you? As a grammarian myself I can gurantee that not all parents/students our ‘fast’ or ‘forward’ as suggested by your comment. Just because we go to one of best educational institution in Pakistan, does not mean we lack morals, it only suggests that we have brains, which people like you are clearly lacking. Recommend

  • Firas Jamal

    Meiryum Ali rocks my socks. <3Recommend