This year’s culture section has been heavy with feminist ideas and arguments. I don’t always agree with them, but it’s important to have an open dialogue in this kind of media. Therefore, consider this my counter-argument.
Last week’s throne speech brought up, among the usual economic imperatives, the perceived need to gender-neutralize the national anthem. Whether or not the inclusion of this proposal in the throne speech was simply a political move meant to distract news editors from the budget, by inserting some media-friendly controversy in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable speech, this has been the wholly undeserved effect.
The following day, editorials and their corresponding comment pages were jammed with the support or disdain of what seemed like every man, woman and (especially) child in Canada hoping to have his or her voice heard amid all the screeching.
Having constructed an opinion on the matter, however, I now feel only slightly hypocritical in proceeding to share it.
A national anthem is not meant to be an up-to-date, progressive song, but a traditional representation of the country’s roots. Consider England’s “God Save the Queen,” with its infamous line about the “Rebellious Scots to crush,” the song has roots that go back hundreds of years, and is worth more in its original social context than adulterated by contemporary political correctness.
In 1880 when “O Canada” was first sung, feminism was at best a loose aspiration of a few progressive-minded second class citizens. In this context, it would have been ridiculous to gender-neutralize a line that implies leadership: “In all thy sons command.”
Of course, if it were written today, feminists would have every right to cry out against the neglect of recognition of their equal place in society, but the fact remains that it was written over a hundred years ago, when feminism was just a gleam in its mothers’ eyes.
This difference between the modern and traditional views of women’s rights should stand for feminists as a sign of their progress and the work of their mothers, rather than as a continued national shame. It reflects positively on the progress of women in Canada that they have moved beyond what was just over a hundred years ago considered to be normal. If it hadn’t been for the women before them who fought their brothers, fathers and husbands for equal rights, then it would have been laughable in the first place for this speech to have been given by a woman.
The backlash against “the feminists” for this proposal is indicative of the current view on feminism held by many young men and women; that feminism is about pointless arguments over semantics, resulting in nothing more productive than changes in name badges. After steadily eliminating from my lexicon such terms as “waitress,” “actress,” “mailman,” and “policeman” over the last decade, I’ve realized that this is not a move towards equality, but a reduction of specificity in the name of political correctness.
This, however, is not what feminism is usually about. There are feminists who believe in this kind of literal approach to equality, but changing the words of our anthem is not often high on the agenda. This was certainly not the work of a strong core of feminists, but a political blunder that completely distracted Canadian attention from the underwhelming budget.