Rape song for children

I was watching a DVD of French songs karaoke with my son, and came across a song I’ve known ever since I was a child, which every one in France knows and sings: ‘Jeanneton prend sa faucille’ (Jane takes her sickle). It’s a song for big gatherings, and everyone joins in with the chorus. It tells the story of a young woman who goes to work in the field and on her way meets three young men. The lyrics then say: The first is a bit shy and tickles her chin. The second is less shy and lifts her skirts. The third, even less shy, knocks her down on the grass. And what the fourth does is not told in the song. (The second one is not included in the karaoke version.) The end states either that the moral of the story is that men are bad, that women like bad boys, and that out of four there are three fools. In my version it says that women who want to find out what the last man did should go to the fields.

Can things be so bad that such a song is known and sung by all (including me – I hadn’t noticed that it was a rape song until only ten years ago or so) and that it should be included and illustrated in a children’s video?!

12 thoughts on “Rape song for children

  1. Reblogged this on Feminist Students United! and commented:
    Yet another example of how rape culture is perfectly interwoven into the mainstream. A children’s song, folks. It’s so perfectly invisible to so many because it has been normalized and taught as our reality. We have to break this….more critical thinking, media literacy, and anything else we can think of….

  2. Seems like Jane should have used that sickle to defend herself. But then that would be a TOTALLY different song. Of course women aren’t supposed to defend themselves if confronted by a gang of “young and handsome boys” like in the song. Glad this song was not part of my childhood. WOW. Just… WOW.

  3. I am French and I disagree with this interpretation.
    First of all, this is not really a child song, this is more of a (quite gentle) “smutty song” (chanson paillarde). (I say ‘quite gentle’ because there are a lot of smutty songs which are much more hardcore). Sometimes children sing it, but it is only when they want to look a bit older (I didn’t learn it before I was 11 or 12).
    Second, it is never said that Jeanneton didn’t want what happened to her. It is not said that she wanted it either (that’s true) but it seems extremely STRANGE to necessarily infer that she was forced! (I think that almost nobody infer that and if you had to ask to people: “in your opinion, was Jeanneton willing to sleep with the fourth man?”, almost everyone will say yes).
    Third, at least in my version, it is not said that “men are bad boys” (which would imply that they behave in a violent and morally bad manner) but that they are “pigs” (cochons), that is to say, in that context, that they are obsessed with sex (and “cochon” has in French a mere sexual, and not moral, connotation. The french word for “pig” that conveys the idea that the person is morally person is not “cochon” but “porc”). And it is said, after that, that “women love pigs” (of which it is generally infered that women love men who are obsessed with sex, because they are themselves obsessed with sex).
    Fourth: It is possible that this song, originally, related a kind of sexual relation which was in fact a rape or something close to a rape (the kind of things that happened very often in 19th century French countryside, according to most historians and ethnographs), but when people sings it today they don’t have at all a rape in mind.

  4. French person: Though it’s not a children’s song, it’s definitely sang in front of children at family gatherings (I don’t think my family was particularly unusual in that – we’re also French) and the dvd it found its way in is marketed solely for young children.

    I agree that people don’t think of it as a rape song, but that just strengthen my point that there is something very dodgy about a culture that will not notice a rape theme when it stares them in the face. What the cartoon does is make it very clear that the woman is being gang raped: she is ‘pushed’ on the grass.

    I’m aware of the ‘cochon’ version of the song: this is probably why I thought for a long time that it was just a song about people liking sex.
    (I thought the original version used ‘frippon’ which is closer to my translation, but I may be wrong.) To call someone a ‘cochon’ is to call them an endearing or in any case harmless perv. And to suggests that the men in that song are, and that jeanetton, and women in general like men to be that way is to suggest that women should not regard sexual harrassment or rape as a bad thing. This song makes it part of general consciousness that such behaviour is just a bit of harmless fun.

    I like Niccolea’s version.

  5. Axiothea:
    -The thing is, I don’t understand why you assume that this relates a rape. The fact that she is “pusehd” on the grass is not supposed to show that she is about to be forced to have a sexual relation; in my mind, it has always been a kind of “clumsy” and a bit aggressive quite of “pull” (a bit like when little boys draw little girl’s hair). You can perfectly say that this is a sexist way of doing thing, but this is neverhteless far from indicating a rape! And, again, it is never said that Jeanneton is forced, or that she is not willing to have sex with the fourth (oh, and “gang raped” seems any way misguided because the only has intercourse with the fourth, isn’t it?)
    -By the way, even if “fripon” could, a long time ago, refer to someone morally mean (like “rascal”), today it means mainly “mischievous” or “cheeky” ; not really the kind of word which describe someone of which we have to think that he is a raper.
    -Your point about ” that there is something very dodgy about a culture that will not notice a rape theme when it stares them in the face” only holds if in fact this is patently a rape song, but I don’t understand at all what allows you to say that. Moreover, it seems to me that we have to take the beliefs of the community which sings this song if we want to assess the meaning of the song; and if, as I believe (and I think you would agree with that), 99% of the French people would disagree when asked if Jeanneton was forced to have sex in this song, this constitues a justification to think that this is not a rape song.

  6. Axiothea: Of course, why listen to the interpretation of someone whose perspective is coming from within the situation when you can objectify it from your own point of view.

  7. Third person: I thought it was clear from my post and my comments that I do come from ‘within the situation’ insofar as I was brought up with this tradition and have been passing it on to my children. French Person seems aware of this and our disagreement, I think, is about what the significance of that tradition is. French Person says that although the song may have been originally alluding to the practice of rape, the fact that we (the French) don’t think of it in this way when we sing it means that it no longer means that. I argue that on the contrary, it might mean that rape is still somehow regarded as acceptable, in the sense that we may be more likely to discount certain instances of rape (date rape?) or sexual harassment as ‘just a bit of fun’. In any case – and here I feel that French Person agrees (apologies if you don’t) – there is something very creepy about the cartoon that accompanies the song, and about the song being included in a dvd for young children.

  8. In Hungarian folk tradition there are children’s songs, usually enacted during child play, where with some interpretive effort you can identify subtle sexual symbolism. For example, in (my translation): “Crawl, crawl green branch, green leaf/ The golden gate is open/ You all, just get through it!/ Come on, come on, the shed has come off/ The cat has been caught inside”. Indeed, in the last years, several Hungarian cultural commentators interpreted this as the sexual ripeness and readiness for defloration of a young virgin woman. Here is a video from a Hungarian DVD for children, whose images would not imply anything like the above interpretation: http://youtu.be/ogJbc_Mtl2I

    However, in the case presented by Axiothea, to me it looks that you don’t need hyper developed interpretive skills to recognize it as a rape scenario, especially given the image in the video of the girl being pushed to the ground, and the fourth boy’s hand rubbing and evil look. It’s not subtle at all.

  9. Axiothea & Third Person: I wasn’t accusing Axiothea of a kind of exterior objectification (indeed, it would be quite strange because she said she was French herself). We merely disagree about the correct interpretation of the song; I say that the correct interpretation of the song is the interpretation that is given by the community (which is also our community), whereas she says that the correct interpretation can be ignored by the vast majority of the member of the community.
    1/ it really seems strange to me to say that, because the song can have described what was originally a rape, then it is definitely a rape song. It is a quite common phenomenon that a song (or a poem, a text) looses its original meaning. In fact, almost all French childish song have in fact a violent or sexual meaning (here is a blog post about that, in French http://www.lafeuillecharbinoise.com/?p=1404; by the way, it also gives older version of “Jeanneton” which clearly describe a rape, given that Jeanneton is said to be asleep when the fourth boys arrive). Nevertheless, 99% of the people don’t know this meaning ; it is not anymore part of the “correct meaning” of the song, even if it is its original or first meaning. Songs, texts, as words, can change meaning; this seems quite obvious to me.

    Axiothea & Istvan: I agree with both you that the cartoon is very creepy and that it indeed gives a “rape” interpretation of the song. I wouldn’t like my (hypothetical) children to watch it.

  10. I am learning French and I thought children songs is a fun way to do that but I have to agree with french person that most of this songs are kind of mean for small children. So far I have one where they are plucking feathers from a bird, someone killed a cat and for punishment was kissed by the priest and this one is clearly about rape. I am finding it very strange.

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