The singer-songwriter Stromae, born Paul Van Haver, originates out of Belgium with Rwandan paternal heritage. Much like the previous song in my last blog post, Stromae’s song is in French, one of the official languages of both Belgium and Rwanda. His song “Tous Les Mêmes”, which was released in 2013, has Cabaret influences and calls gender stereotypes into question. Throughout the song, he utilizes the lyrics in order to replicate the stereotypical perspectives of what seems to be a cisgender, straight male and a cisgender, straight female. His utilization of his lyrics to question gender roles and stereotypes is heavily played upon throughout the entire music video, so much so that it cannot be ignored, especially paired together.
The use of colors assigned to a gender is relied on to deliver the two perspectives that Stromae is addressing, and to clarify, “tous les mêmes” means “they are all the same”. In the video, he is styled so that half of his body is considered to be feminine, with his hair and makeup done and only shown under pink lighting. Additionally, when these frames occur his actions reflect the same. For example, in one of the first scenes, he is shown under pink lighting to be checking “herself” in the mirror. On the other hand, he is shown under green lighting in the same mirror to then be making a serious face and picking his nose. The music video continues on and pans to him groping the woman in his apartment, then switching over to Stromae-her and her male partner with him scratching his bum while lounging in his briefs. With the way that gender expectations are criticized, I was very surprised when researching to learn that the song was released in 2013 because I thought that the movement of breaking these expectations was a more recent one.
Through my research, I found that in Rwandan children’s literature, it is common for the fairytales to counter the traditional roles in their society and education and it is generally accepted, as a majority of the population as of 2002 is female (Ruterana). According to a separate case study mentioned by Ruterana, children as young as four years old can begin to identify supremacy and dependency with male and female characters. The researcher then goes on to state, “The exposure to female as well as male characters presented in positive and non-traditional roles is likely to alter children’s perceptions of the roles as males and females in society” (Ruterana). The video for Stromae’s hit song highlights the traditional roles of men and women, however, it does so in a light that is not positive and makes you want to reinforce the respective ideals by stating “they are all the same”. Also, he ensures he highlights that relationships are not always rainbows and butterflies.
Much like the video, the popular fairytale focused on in the study, “Ndabaga”, emphasizes the need to break these expectations because of how harmful it is to individuals and society as a whole. As quoted from one of the Rwandan primary school subjects “Men too who did not have any son were also discriminated: Ndabaga’s father was not considered as a man in the society and he was even going to die in the camp because he was not a man (BU6)” (Ruterana). How is it that only having daughters leads young children to associate it to not being a man, why is being a man defined as having sons? Whenever I read or hear things like this, I question why men were ever put as the superior gender, considering that without both it would be impossible to reproduce. Join me next time to continue to delve into the deeper meaning of “Tous Les Mêmes”. Be sure to check out the music video embedded here on my blog!
Ruterana, Pierre Canisius. “Children’s Reflections on Gender Equality in Fairy Tales: A Rwanda Case Study.” The Journal of Pan African Studies, National University of Rwanda, Jan. 2012.