I wrote this for The Guardian almost a month ago, and it still hasn’t happened. Get a move on, guys!
This week, Margaret Atwood became the biggest name to back a campaign calling for Canada’s national anthem to be made gender neutral.
She wants just two words of O Canada changed: to stop people singing, “True patriot love in all thy sons command”, and instead belt out “in all of us command”.
It’s an obvious and good thing to do, right? Er, apparently not. According to a worryingly large number of commentators, changing anything in the anthem would be worse than Québec becoming independent.
Just take this op-ed piece as an example. Apparently more men have died fighting for Canada than women, so, y’know, women can’t really say they’ve expressed “true patriot love” yet. Er, what?
I’d like to say the change will happen. Traditionalists should back it: the original English version of the anthem didn’t single out men, and nor does the French version. A change would also bring Canada in line with other countries. Last year, Austria changed its anthem to mention “daughters” as well as “sons”.
Unfortunately, Canada seems a stubborn place – people have been calling for this change for over 20 years without success – so please, if you are Canadian, head to the campaign’s website and use it to harass your local politicians into supporting it.
When you’ve finished with that, could you also harass Margaret Atwood and get her to write an entirely new anthem?
This is the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin we’re talking about. Imagine – just imagine! – what she could do if she gave it a go. Canada could end up with the world’s first dystopian anthem, or the first from a woman’s point of view. She might even get experimental and write an anthem featuring an anthem within an anthem within an anthem!
Ok, that might be pushing it, but surely she’d be able to conjure a few sentences that better express the love of Canadians for their country than, “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. God keep our land glorious and free!”
Maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe simplicity is all that’s needed rather than originality. Whatever, I’m off to harass David Mitchell to rewrite God Save the Queen.