The 2015 Godiva Hymn Contest: Time to leave a sexist, non-inclusive past behind

Say goodbye to Godiva’s Hymn as you know it. The beloved and revered Skule™ anthem is in the process of receiving a revamp, thanks to the Engineering Society-hosted “2015 Godiva Hymn Contest.” Over the past month, students and alumni of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering had the opportunity to create and submit new verses to be added to the hymn. The submission period ended on Tuesday, and it is now a matter of waiting until ten shortlisted entries are selected by the panel of judges and the voting period begins.

In an age that is increasingly sensitive and socially conscious, the hymn’s fate almost seems inevitable. The song that has been belted out by engineering students across Frosh-filled sidewalks and campus lawns for decades is, according to the contest website, “reminiscent of a culture that has become increasingly outdated, and does not reflect the values and principles of the engineering community of the twenty-first century.” And it doesn’t take a very deep reading of the hymn to realize that this statement is regrettably true.

For starters, the hymn is narrated almost entirely from a male point of view. The verses are, in their essence, tongue-in-cheek, testosterone-fuelled accounts of an engineer’s misadventures with alcohol and women. Any mention of a woman in her own right seems inextricably linked to her “physical endowments.” The legend of Lady Godiva – the hymn’s namesake, who was a symbol of selflessness and social responsibility in her quest to liberate the people of Coventry from her husband’s oppressive taxation – is reduced to a trivialized image: of a naked woman on a horse, offering to sleep with any man who’ll buy her a beer.

In short, the hymn is blatantly sexist, and perpetuates an antiquated view of women as inferior to men, and existing solely as objects of male lust.  And perhaps what is more troubling than the hymn itself is the fact that we have enabled its survival into the twenty-first century – something which could be interpreted as tacit approval on our part. It’s a no-brainer that the hymn is long overdue for an update.

This contest is not so much about being politically correct as it is about being inclusive and respectful. Gone are the days when the Faculty of Engineering was overwhelmingly populated by white, cis-gendered, and (ostensibly) heterosexual men. It only takes a look around to realize that our student body has become splendidly diverse in its cultural background; that there are more women in the Faculty now than ever before (although as of January of this year, they only constituted 25.8% of the undergraduate population – reminding us that we still have quite a ways to go.) To say that the hymn is not a positive reflection of engineering in the twenty-first century would be a gross understatement.

What we require now is a fundamental cultural shift away from the image of the perpetually inebriated and aggressively heterosexual male engineer and towards one which encompasses the rich diversity of our profession. The new version of the hymn should be able to encourage school spirit and simultaneously hold personal meaning for anyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, walk of life, or capacity to “demolish” forty beers.

If there’s anything this contest ought to achieve beyond the revisions and additions to the hymn, it’s to serve as a catalyst for substantive discussions about the aspects of engineering culture which have no place in the twenty-first century.

We cannot expect to make genuine progress in the areas of gender equality and cultural inclusivity whilst clinging onto the relics of our misogynistic and non-inclusive past. Traditions are vital, yes, but no tradition – no matter how beloved or revered – deserves to be exempt from change.


The voting period for the 10 shortlisted entries begins on January 4th, 2016 at 9:00am (EST) and closes on January 8th at 12:00pm (EST). The winner will be announced at Cannonball on January 9th. For more information about the 2015 Godiva Hymn Contest, please visit hymn.skule.ca.

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