Canada’s gender neutral national anthem

Justin Trudeau has proven to be a radically reformist Canadian Prime Minister, especially on issues of gender.
The self-identified feminist’s government has recently pushed to change the wording of the Canadian national anthem to be gender-neutral.

Two of our contributors, Simon Green and Matthew Spivey, debate whether this is truly going to mean anything for gender equality in Canada, or whether it is a distraction from his Liberal government’s shortcomings in other areas.


‘This is a trivial issue’

By Simon Green

Canadian Senate’s decision to pass a bill replacing the lyric, ‘In all thy sons command,’ with ‘In all of us command’ in ‘O, Canada’. Social media took a typically insightful and nuanced response to the issue, in creating a range of memes in which Justin Trudeau reacts angrily if the word ‘man’ appears anywhere.
Obviously, sexism and gender discrimination are issues that continue to haunt Western society, but is a word in a song the reason for this in Canada?

It looks like window-dressing

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, “An estimated 10-15% of the wage gap is attributed to gender-based wage discrimination”. Seriously? It’s the 21st century and there is still a section of Canadian society which feels women are less valuable in the workplace, purely on the grounds of gender?

Surely this is the issue that Trudeau’s Liberal Party should be addressing, and not taking a stand on such a trivial issue as a word in the national anthem. I don’t believe for one second that Canadian women will really feel any more or less valued after this change takes place; do the government think that this will magically make sexist discrimination disappear overnight?
Frankly, making such a song-and-dance about it looks like window-dressing, pure and simple.


‘No, it’s long overdue’

By Matthew Spivey

Senator Frances Lankin passed the bill to amend the National Anthem, ‘O Canada’, with the profound message that this change “may be small… but it’s huge in terms of one of our major national symbols”. The patriarchal gendering of the line, ‘in all thy sons command’, is an exclusion of women from societal prevalence. Contentions to this decision suggested that the change defies the sacred nature of Canada’s history. The ‘sacred’ nature of a lyric representing gender exclusivity holds no place in modern day society, patriarchal or gendered terms should be removed from all displays of national identity.

Gender exclusivity holds no place in the modern day

The struggle to amend the lyrics of the National Anthem began way back in the 1950s, then resurged in the 1980s with prominent writer Margaret Atwood battling for change. Whilst a poll taken in 2013 found that 65% of Canadians were opposed to changing the anthem, it is a long-awaited but aptly timed amendment, as Canada’s arguably most liberal-minded Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is in power.
In a television debate last week Trudeau claimed that ‘we like to say “peoplekind”, not necessarily “mankind”, because it is more inclusive’. It would seem then that to continue presenting this gendered National Anthem as a mark of National Identity would be to undermine this very inclusivity.

Photograph: John McCallum via Flickr

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