When I heard about the campaign to Restore Our National Anthem, my first thought was: Margaret Atwood, what can’t she do? Then, after I crept around on her Twitter for confirmation that the answer to that question is “nothing” my second thought was: This is going to get a lot of backlash. A lot of people making asinine comments about feminists “going too far” or that they must “have nothing better to do” or the typical “if we change that, ANOTHER group is going to get offended and is NOTHING SACRED?” – all the regular stuff. And, looking at the comments section on the National Post, Globe and Mail and other news outlets, it wasn’t a risky prediction to make.
If you haven’t heard, the campaign to Restore Our National Anthem is calling for the government to change the line “in all our sons command” to “in all of us command” in order to create a more inclusive, gender-neutral balance that recognizes the hard work of Canadian women (and particularly Canadian women soldiers). Oddly, apparently back in 1913, “for no documented reason” someone decided to change that line – which was originally “thou dost in us command.” So – if the original wasn’t sexist, and now it is, why would there be an issue changing it back to being gender neutral again?
Well, the campaign organizers clearly anticipated that question, and a slew of others as well. Their website (restoreournationalanthem.ca) includes an incredibly informative Q&A section, where they answer questions such as “Doesn’t our government have better things to do?” “Where do you stop when it comes to change?” and “Gender equality has already been achieved, why stir the pot?” The answers they provide are thoughtful, intelligent and well-articulated. They are able to take these issues and properly explain why these seemingly small changes matter so much. The way they’re able to explain that “Every small win for equality contributes to a larger goal to fully establish women as equals in Canada” is so important – and I’m so glad that they have this platform – and this high level of publicity – to help accomplish their goals.
The one question they do not bring up, however, is “Why stop there?” Why should we change just two words to the anthem, when we could do so much more?
I completely support the initiative to change the lyrics to be gender-neutral, but I think the campaign should use this publicity and opportunity to bring up some other issues as well. How about the line Our home and native land? We are a country of immigrants, a country who prides itself on multiculturalism, diversity, and welcoming others. Why are we excluding Canadians who weren’t born here?
And then there’s the religious aspect. Does the line “God keep our land glorious and free” represent all Canadians? Or, the French reference to “bearing the cross“?
If we’re going to represent all of us, let’s really represent all of us.
Maybe those issues are goals for the future, who knows? Maybe the future also holds some plans for changing the generally forgotten lyrics to the anthem – which include such progressive lines as “May Stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise” and the weird prayer of “Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion, in thy loving care.” However, I think we can bet not. While we can dream of amending the anthem to equally represent Canadians of all genders, races and religions, is it too much to ask? The current campaign is taking a smartly calculated route – framing the issue as only changing two tiny little words, and achieving so much by that.
The problem is that arguing for these changes is almost like arguing against a brick wall. Most of our politicians haven’t even responded to the call for change, and while NDP leader Thomas Mulcair at least gave an answer, his was that the anthem is “wonderful” as is, and shouldn’t be changed because he thinks that “when you start tinkering with an institution like a national anthem, that you’re looking for problems.” It’s definitely the easier position to take, especially if you are hoping to become the leader of this country.
It’s hard to fight with institution. Under Harper, we’ve even been resorting further back, rather than moving forward – restoring the word “Royal” in front of our navy and air force and just having a love affair with colonialism in general. It isn’t an easy sell to argue for change against tradition – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a necessary one. When politicians like Mulcair take the position that by fighting for gender equality in the song that most represents who we are as a country we’re “looking for problems” it has a huge effect. Rather than standing by the women of this country and claiming that we too deserve to be represented, he’s painting the campaigners as a petty and insignificant group that has nothing better to do than try to cause fights.
Well, I hate to tell Mulcair, and all the others who have been predictably defiant to this proposed change, but just because this change is small, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
What do you think? Should we amend the anthem? How far should we take it? Are you going to head to restoreouranthem.ca and join the campaign?
You may also want to check out: