Offensive message at Stratford’s Canada Day ceremony

Last week I went to Stratford, Ontario to celebrate Canada Day with my family in my hometown. The weather was beautiful and I got to see a bunch of old friends.

Behind City Hall, there were food vendors, booths from various organisations around Stratford, and live music and dancing. Some were done by actors from the Festival, and other acts were done by fiddlers and tap-dancers from around Perth County. I understand that they were recruited from a festival that was going on nearby.

Partway through the event, one of the groups of dancers came on stage, and there were two boys in the dancing troupe. After they finished, the person who was emceeing the dancers made a comment that still bothers me. She said in a very tongue-in-cheek way, “Look at that—those two boys are pretty smart, aren’t they? Learning to dance with all those girls.”

The audience laughed, while I looked around in horror.

What’s offensive about this comment is the suggestion that it’s not okay for boys to learn to dance because they like dancing. That would be beneath a man’s pride. That would be womanly. There are some things that men don’t do, and dancing is one of them, and if a boy enjoys that, he should be ashamed of himself.

But learning to dance in order to pursue sexual congress—that’s another story. You can still be a man if you’re dancing in order to get in a woman’s pants. It just means you’re really shrewd about it, that’s all.

Two things immediately come to mind that are really problematic about this:

  1. This sort of thinking is fantastically demeaning to women. It puts women in the place of being a sexual object to be pursued by men. Not only that, but these girls were about ten years old! Why on earth is this even being hinted at?
  2. Having attitudes like the one I outlined puts boys in a position where they have to rationalise all their actions, preferences and their own identity through the lens of manhood. Not only that, but it emphasises how fragile someone’s manhood actually is: If just the act of dancing publicly is enough to threaten it so much that it needs to be rationalised by appeal to the subjugation of women, then you are sending the message that a person’s manhood is a very fragile thing indeed, and that it’s okay to turn a few ten-year-old girls into sex objects in order to preserve it.

I would actually be interested in knowing if there’s a way to quantify how much violence can be shown to be directly causally related in a non-controversial way to some guy trying to defend his own manhood. These comments are not benign.

Canada Day grammar help

It’s the 144th birthday of our country, and to celebrate, here’s some grammar!

The word “oh” is an interjection. One often uses it to express surprise. For example, “Oh! Hello there! I didn’t hear you come in!”

The word “O” is not the same word. This will be easier to understand if you know a language that has cases, like Latin or Greek.

In Greek, nouns, adjectives etc. can take one of five cases, although sometimes there’s ambiguity among them. The nominative case is used for the subject of a sentence. The genitive is used to express possession. The dative is used for indirect object. The accusative is used for direct objects. Finally (and most importantly for understanding the word “O”) the vocative case is used for directly addressing someone or something.

“O” is a particle for introducing a classically styled address in the vocative case. You sometimes see this in religious texts in English: “Praise the Lord, O my soul!” So in this case the author is directly addressing his soul and telling it to praise the Lord.

You might also use “O” if you’re trying to be pompous or overly formal: “O great registrar! Hear my plea and grant me special permission to take Philosophy 601.”

You should not use “O” to express surprise. Saying, “O hi there” would be incorrect. You should also not use “oh” as an address, which brings me to why this is important for all Canadians.

If you write “Oh Canada” in reference to our national anthem, you are actually getting the lyrics wrong. It looks like you were surprised by Canada or something. “Oh, Canada, it’s you! I … I didn’t expect to see you here!”

The two words are homophones, like “you” vs “ewe”—different words, different spellings, same pronunciation. It’s “O Canada,” not “Oh Canada,” and there is a difference in meaning between them.