I read with interest Brendon Johnson’s letter of June 23rd (National anthem was fine as it was). While the writer makes valid historical and grammatical points regarding the use of masculine words with a general reference in the English language, his argument fails to take into account the fact that living languages constantly change to reflect the realities of the day – old English was unrecognizable after 300 years of rule by the Norman French. For most of its history the English language was the product of a society where women were explicitly unequal to men, considered legal chattels of their fathers and husbands, unable to vote or own property. The fact that in O Canada we have “sung the offensive phrase for a century with no thought of excluding women” only underlines just how deeply-rooted gender bias remains in our language and culture.
Like Brendan Johnson, I place great value on heritage and tradition, and I further agree with him that our choice of words is very important. Some traditions are best relinquished however (slavery and trial by torture come to mind). As we evolve into an ever more equal and inclusive society, so too must our language, precisely because of the power words hold. In closing, I offer for consideration a quote recently posted on Facebook: “For those who have always known privilege, equality feels like oppression.”