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Gender Block: the National Anthem is safe

Hillary Di Menna

A new advocacy group for a not-so-new cause (This has been discussed in federal government for at least ten years) has formed to push for gender neutral language in the current version of O Canada. Together, Margaret Atwood Kim Campbell, Vivienne Roy, Sally Goddard and Nancy Ruth have launched Restore Our Anthem.  The group got plenty of media attention last week and the internet, as it so often does, got mad. Criticism of the group went something like this: Canada’s history is at stake, there are better things to care about, and feminists be crazy.

Restore Our Anthem’s website has a FAQ section that addresses all of this, including this popular sentiment: “The National Anthem isn’t supposed to be taken literally. Ex. ‘Mankind’ represents everyone.”

Restore Our Anthem’s response: “We have a feeling if the word was ‘daughters’ it would be taken literally.”

I imagine that before 1918—the year when almost all Canadian women (aboriginal women had to wait until 1960) finally were allowed to vote in a federal election—they were probably told there were better things to think about (and probably after 1918 too). Speaking of history, was there such hostility when the lyrics “From far and wide” and “God keep our land” were added in 1968? We’ve changed anthems before, our kids aren’t singing “God Save the Queen” or “The Maple Leaf Forever” every morning. There were French versions and 40 English versions before the Stanley Weir’s 1908 lyrics, which were changed only five years later—“thou dost in us command” became “in all thy sons command,” So Restore Our Anthem is respecting history, right? They want a lyric changed, not the whole song. We’ve done this before, Canada. And we’re still here.

“If you want to get upset about tradition,” writes Times Colonist Jack Knox. “Consider this: In 146 years, Canada has had a female prime minister for just 133 days.”

Now that we know “In all of us command” won’t disgrace our nation’s history, we can calm down. After all, if words don’t matter, let our young country continue to evolve.

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna writes Gender Block every week and maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.

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