National Post Barbara Kay: A gender-neutral anthem would ignore logic and history


National Post - Tuesday October 1st, 2013

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
When Canada's anthem was written, our country commanded patriotism only in our sons.

A group of influential Canadian women who are rushing shoulder to shoulder into the cultural breach to remind us that that in our country’s national anthem, someone had blundered! Our anthem contains the words “in all thy sons command.” Sons! Men! Shocking, I know. Take a moment.

Defenders of the national anthem will have to stand on guard once more, as a group of prominent Canadian women launch a new campaign to introduce a more gender-neutral version of O Canada.

A website – restoreouranthem.ca — is set to go live this week, with endorsements from former prime minister Kim Campbell, author Margaret Atwood, Senator Nancy Ruth, former senator Vivienne Poy, and Sally Goddard, mother of Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier to be killed in combat, in Afghanistan in 2006.

Womaning the front lines of the Restore Our Anthem sortie, and flourishing their glittering endorsements are some very high political and cultural brass: former prime minister Kim Campbell, author Margaret Atwood, Senator Nancy Ruth, former senator Vivienne Poy, and – for mockery-chilling backup – Sally Goddard, mother of Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier to be killed in combat, in Afghanistan in 2006. Their objective: to change “in all thy sons command” to the gender-neutral “in all of us command.”

Haven’t we fought this battle before? Yes, we have, in 2002, when a Throne Speech promise by then-governor-general Michaelle Jean to review the wording provoked an angry backlash and a poll indicating that three-quarters of Canadians objected to any such change in the anthem. But since the 100th anniversary of the final version of the anthem is approaching, the timing seemed right to anthem activists for a Surge.

What “materiel” do they bring to their battle? Their warhead: that it is offensive to women to have to sing “in all thy sons command.” Their missile: that some American universities have updated their anthems to reflect the reality that women attend universities in numbers equal (actually more than equal) to men.

Sadly, they’re outgunned by the more powerful weapons of logic and history. Universities are not nations. Nobody is born in them, nobody dies in them, nobody pledges allegiance to them. Universities are not called upon to protect their student bodies from the predations of other universities. So whether university anthems reflect their hallowed halls of ivy, their prowess in football, their panache at partying or their gender neutrality is irrelevant to any discussion of national anthems.

As for history: It is true that when our anthem was written, our country did command patriotism only in our sons. But clearly those words were meant in a military sense – that is, patriotism that did in the past and would in the future demand patriotic action against enemies. Almost all national anthems arise out of the bonding experience of war. “Patriot love” is a call to real vigilance and potential arms as well as an affirmation of emotional attachment. It is a revisionist interpretation to assign merely sentimental value to the words.

Today women take part in almost every phase of military life. But – and it is a huge but – our military today is a volunteer corps. It wasn’t throughout most of our history. And when it wasn’t, only men were conscripted. Remembrance Day reminds us of the sacrifices made by men, many of whom were eager to defend our nation’s interests, and many that weren’t, but had to anyway. A vanishingly small number of women die in combat, and that will always be the case, unless conscription returns as a gender-neutral policy. I will boldly predict that that will never happen in Canada. To cleanse our anthem of this specifically male contribution to our nation’s evolution in order to appease the ruffled sensibilities of feminists who wouldn’t in their wildest dreams ever consider taking up military combat as a career is offensive to me.

If we change one version of the anthem to suit feminists, then we should change the other to suit multiculturalists

And finally, I know it’s hard for ideologues outside of Quebec to remember that we are an officially bilingual country, but if our happy band of sisters will consider the lyrics of the French version of O Canada, they will find much better cause for locutional concern there, in that the words “bear the cross” seem to suggest that only Christians built this country.

If we change one version of the anthem to suit feminists, then we should change the other to suit multiculturalists. Oh, just what we need. A second front opening on the Quebec border, with sovereigntists massed in full armour and guns blazing. Sorry, but “in all thy sons command” is not a semantic hill to die on. Stand down, ladies. Company disssss-missed!!