A friend recently posted a question on Facebook asking people’s opinions on the changes happening to the national anthem. By the time I saw it there were already half a dozen answers. All but one suggested that this change is, “pure bull-shit” and people are being “too sensitive” or the grand leap to, “where will it end.” The last is perhaps the most amusing and frustrating to read because it suggests that changing a single word in the National Anthem will lead to anarchy.
The bill to create a gender-neutral national anthem was passed in the House of Commons 225 to 74. Instead of singing “all thy sons” the line has been changed to “all of us”; this shouldn’t strike much controversy, two words have changed. However, it has. One argument was that history should be preserved through the national anthem. But what it seems many who argued this were unaware that the anthem has changed many times in the past. Most recently, and when “thy sons” was added, before WW I. This tidbit of history sparked another argument, that we should be thankful to all those who served in the war (of course we should), and that by changing these words we will forget about them. I would be willing to wager that most people do not know that those words were added before the war. And most people do not think about “thy sons” as in reference to veterans. But also on that point, there were many women who served as well. Their contribution to the war efforts were also important, but they are not spoken of to the same extent as the men’s. Yes, there were fewer women involved in those efforts, but that does not make their contribution non-existent. By changing these words the veterans will not be forgotten. Though, the one who argued this also suggested we ought to be more like the United States, so logic seems to be lost.
When I watched the live stream of AU’s 2015 convocation I heard the national anthem sung in gender neutral terms. Hearing this had more of an impact on me than I would have previously thought. It was something that stuck with me and made me wonder why the anthem hadn’t been changed yet. It has been changed numerous times in the past, and it is something which should evolve with the society in which it represents. In my opinion I think it is about time the anthem has changed to better reflect the current times. Removing “sons” is not going to create anarchy; rather, I argue that most people will forget about it and move on after the topic falls off of social media. But for those who it affects, for the other half of the population, every time the national anthem is sung and we are no longer hearing the words suggesting we “obey” the “men” it will have meaning.
I am grateful that changes are happening, that Canada for once has a gender balanced cabinet, and that the words of the anthem are changed. Are there bigger social issues? Yes. There will always be something bigger. But with every small change, with every adjustment to something which permeates society, we will be one step closer to resolving the bigger issues. By showing women in government, by showing respect in the national anthem, it will contribute to paving the way to addressing these issues with more support from the general public. These changes will boost the confidence in those who were perhaps too afraid to speak up due to fears of retaliation from the general public. I commend the change in the anthem as one more step forward.
I would also like to add, for all those that prefer the anthem the way it is: lucky for you, you do live in Canada. If you prefer to sing in “all thy sons command” there will be no repercussions for singing it as such. You are free to sing whichever (of the numerous) version of the anthem you wish to prescribe to. But for everyone else, at least we no longer hear that we are secondary in the eyes of the nation every time the anthem is sung.
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature