Sexism in Tintin Part IV

I’ve gotten hundreds of comments on Tintin at Reel Girl and SFGate, two I find really interesting. One is an interview with Herge I can’t find right now, but when I have time to sort through the comments, I’ll post for you (Or if you come across it, resend!) The one below is kind of fascinating about how extremely male Tintin’s world truly is– the part about Tintin “graduating from housekeeper to a male butler.” Wow. But the point Lucas makes about “going even further” with my argument into exploring heteronormativity in Tintin as more interesting than “Tintin is sexist” is funny to me. That’s not a more interesting argument to me, Lucas.

Hey there –

Yeah, the early Tintin is amazingly racist. (But at the same time, “The Blue Lotus,” despite its structural racism and the racist/colonial project that drove Hergé to do albums in Africa, in India, in South America, in China, etc., actually allowed Hergé to work through his racist bias and produce what has been describe as a – for its time – very culturally-sensitive and even subversive piece of work.)

More importantly, the entire Tintin opus is intensely homosocial: all men and boys. Tintin even “graduates” from his female housekeeper to sharing a male butler with Captain Haddock when they move in together. The entire economy of the books is male-centered enough to become a little queer, actually. A more interesting argument than “Tintin is sexist” might be “Tintin is sexist to the point that it subverts itself, and starts to push heteronormativity into different patterns of gender and sexuality.” You don’t have to make that argument, of course, but it would be more surprising.

One of the key exceptions to the rule of Tintin’s masculine universe is Bianca Castafiore. Catherine Clément gives a wonderful reading of Castafiore in her famous and important feminist text “Opera, or the Undoing of Women.” In the comics, Castafiore is portrayed as an almost entirely negative figure. Her signature aria, which she performs at every opportunity, is presented as shrill and unpleasant; Captain Haddock, in particular, is constantly pained by her singing.

It’s a shame you were in the bathroom during the Castafiore scene in Spielberg’s movie. That’s where you get to see the adaptation really, well, adapting. The new film actually portrays Castafiore as a magnetic, powerful, and happy woman – not a “beautiful” one, not a “thin” one, not even an accessible one, but as a talented woman whose voice (and the film gives itself fully over to her aria, allowing Renée Fleming to sing without interruption) charms and enchants all who hear it. It’s quite a turn-around from the albums, and portrays her character as something that, according to the sexist logic surrounding the diva, should not exist – an ambitious, successful, and self-defined woman.

Without any consideration of this scene, your argument about the movie and its relationship to its source-text is undeveloped. You don’t have to agree with me, but it’s worth thinking about a moment like this because it would make your overall argument more complex and powerful. There’s also a worthwhile recent volume on the political/social implications of Tintin published last year (“Tintin aux pays des philosophes”), which includes several surprising essays about race and gender in Tintin. This all by way of suggestion, if you would like to make your arguments about this subject more nuanced or compelling.

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4 thoughts on “Sexism in Tintin Part IV

  1. “I got bored with it because there were no females. ”
    Shouldn’t the lack of females not be a problem for you if you’d considered men and women really equal? if you could really identify yourself to a man, and a man to a woman?
    So maybe the problem is that men will not identify to women, not the other way around. My point is: the lack of female character is not the problem, the problem is the abundance of women in stupid roles

    • Magnum,

      No, the lack off females is a problem for me. I identified with females as a child and I do now. Women and girls should get more options to choose from besides lack of females or females in stupid roles. If I had to choose? Actually, it’s almost better to be hated than ignored. At least the former recognizes that you exist at all.

      Margot.

  2. Just out of curiosity, have you ever read a Tintin book? Or are you just judging from the movie and from random articles? A lot of people tend to read to much into Tintin as far as sex and women are concerned. Hergé was sexist the way his time was sexist, but still the Tintin serie is less sexist than many popular books like “Sherlock Holmes” or even let’s say “Spiderman” where the girl’s only purpose is to be pretty so that Peter Parker can fall in love with her. Still when they did the Spiderman movie, they did not give the girl a bigger role, did they?
    Look I’m really interested in gender’s equality too, and for me Tintin is not the enemy. Now Hello Kitty, your Lego girls and pretty much all Disney’s princesses are definitely something to battle against.

    • Hi Magnum,

      I read Tintin when I was a kid. I got bored with it because there were no females. The sexism in Tintin is different than the sexism in Spiderman. Women are not degraded, they are just not there. That type of sexism is pretty consistent with modern day animation movies where male characters far outnumber female characters.

      Margot

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