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It's time to change the words of the national anthem

Tradition doesn't trump equality

There’s been plenty of talk lately about gender equality.

We’ve spilled a lot of ink in Canadian HR Reporter about pay equity and equal pay for equal work. Turn on any television and you’ll see talking heads spouting all kinds of baffling venom about which washroom a transgendered person should be using.

On my drive in this morning, the conversation centred on gender-neutral prices for haircuts — a salon in Halifax is making headlines for no longer having different prices for men and women.

“If I’m doing a pixie haircut on a woman or a short haircut on a man, it takes me the same amount of time to do it,” Kevyn Martell of Kara’s Urban Day Spa told the CBC. “If it’s a woman who has the same length of hair as a man, why are we charging her $20 more because she’s a woman.”

Instead, the salon will bill on the length of hair and how much time it takes. Such a simple, practical and obvious solution.

Today in Ottawa, a debate is raging on Parliament Hill about changing the lyrics of the national anthem to make it more gender neutral. The House is debating a private member’s bill from Liberal MP Mauril Belanger to change “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.”

Think what you want of national anthems, but why the fight to keep that line? The reasoning from opponents seems to focus on tradition. Conservative MP Erin O’Toole even argued that keeping the words intact could be a “teaching issue... on how the anthem is frozen in time and how we can learn from that, to show how far we’ve come.”

Nonsense.

We don’t need to keep the lyrics to O Canada! intact to show progress. That’s what history books are for (and yes, I see the irony of calling it history in the context of this column.) But actually changing the lyrics does a much better job of illustrating how far we’ve come than continuing to sing the line and saying, “See? That’s not gender neutral. Aren’t you glad we’re past that?”

Plus, those lyrics aren’t even original — they were added in 1913. It used to be “thou dost in us command.”

One of my favourite initiatives in the gender inequality fight are stores popping up that charge women less for purchases than men — usually about 77 cents on the dollar. It’s a clever way to put the spotlight on wage disparity that still sees women earning only about three-quarters as much as men.

The workplace remains one of the front lines in this battle. In the pages ofCanadian Employment Law Todaywe still see countless stories of women being treated poorly. Kevin MacNeill, a partner at Emond Harnden LLP, recently wroteabout a case of sexual harassment at a company-sponsored event in Dunnville, Ont., that resulted in the termination of a worker.

In that case, the worker grabbed and swatted a female co-worker in the buttocks. He then kissed and restrained the hand of another female worker. Then he upped the ante by posing naked on her car.

“In my view, we have reached a turning point in the wake of cases like Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby,” wrote MacNeill. “The public’s tolerance for workplace sexual harassment is very low in the current climate.”

I couldn’t agree more. And don’t discount the links between inequality and more sinister things like violence and objectification of women. Anything that suggests a woman is somehow worth less opens a door for mistreatment.

Whether it’s lyrics in misogynistic music or the all-too prevalent headlines about violence towards women — such as last week’s gang rape of a teenage girl in Brazil that was filmed and uploaded to the Internet — there are far too many recent examples of mistreatment of women.

It’s time to pull our national anthem off that shameful pile. Cynics can call it a symbolic gesture, but it’s an important one. Every step helps in the fight to change attitudes.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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