Gender-neutral O Canada

Canadian flag


A group called Restore Our Anthem has launched a campaign to make the lyrics to the Canadian national anthem, O Canada,  gender neutral.   Although, I live in Star Spangled Banner territory, I was intrigued by the Canadian effort. The campaign is backed by some of Canada’s most influential women, including former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood.  They just want to change  two words.

True patriot love in all thy sons command

True patriot love in all of us command.

A recent on-the-street poll of Canadian attitudes toward the change revealed mixed results.  Some thought it was about time, while others weren’t so sure.  One woman suggested, “Some things should just be left as is.”  Perhaps she was referring to the centuries of male dominance.   We wouldn’t want to touch that type of tradition.

Male dominance is so widely accepted, that sometimes overt sexism doesn’t seem so bad – even to a feminist.  One easy way to perceive the sexism in a situation is to substitute racism.   If the anthem lyrics included, “True patriot love in all thy white people command, “  would the reaction be the same?   Some things should just be left as is?  It would obviously be deemed too racist.

So why is it so difficult to understand that the term “sons” is sexist?  Male dominance is so embedded in our culture that often it’s tough to notice even when it’s right in front of us.  If the race example didn’t convince you, imagine explaining to a four-year-old girl just learning the anthem, why the lyrics contain the word “sons” instead of “daughters.”    Your explanation might go something like this – “They say sons, but they mean sons and daughters.”  Or, “People use boy words to mean both genders.”    And what message do you think that sends to the four-year-old girl?  It sends the message that boys are more important to Canada than girls.

Still hanging on to the tradition argument?  According to a youtube video posted by Retore Our Anthem, the original lyrics to O Canada were gender neutral, and “in all of us” was changed to “in all thy sons” in 1913.

And what about the line in question in the French version of the anthem?  That line translates to “Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.”  Not even close to the words in the English version of the anthem.

The campaign for change is encouraging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Canadian government to act on this issue.  Canadians, they claim,  “sing [O Canada] proudly without pause.  But perhaps a pause is exactly what we need.  A pause to consider the power of words.”   I’m happy our neighbors to the north are pointing out this injustice.  Starting a dialog is the first step toward change.

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