Tuesday, September 27, 2005

God save the royal person

A happy little story in The Times today comes from Austria, where the minister for women's affairs has demanded wholesale changes to her country's national anthem to purge it of sexist references.

Mentions of the "fatherland", "great sons" and "brotherly choruses" should be replaced by gender-neutral terms such as "homeland" and "joyful chorus", says Maria Rauch-Kallat. And, it is a sign of the times that her quest is considered to stand a fair chance of success.

Whatever, Frau (or is it Mz) Rauch-Kallat, of the centre-right People's Party, has declared the anthem "discriminatory". "The federal hymn should be part of every Austrian's identity... Women's politics are also the politics of language and of shaping consciousness," she says.

If she gets her way, says The Times, national anthems across Europe could be in for a shake-up, because all too often they celebrate male heroism hand in hand with national identity.

The Italian anthem opens: "Brothers of Italy...". The French Marseillaise, the most blood-soaked of national anthems, begins: "Children of the fatherland..." and complains about soldiers who "come to slaughter our children, our wives".

Germany's Deutschland über Alles is unthinkable without the fatherland, and in its second verse makes women seem like a quaint tourist attraction: "German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song/ Shall retain in the world/ Their lovely old ring."

Perhaps the least sexist of all national anthems is Britain's God Save the Queen, ventures the newspaper. Since 1745 it has swapped King for Queen, depending on the monarch of the day. But that is to reckon without the little-used fourth verse, which offers the sentiment: "That men should brothers be/ And form one family/ The wide world ov'er." And then there is that bit, "Rebellious Scots to crush" in the sixth.

But then, surely the term "Queen" is sexist? In a degenderised land of "chairs", "firefighters" and "police officers", it is high time that the distinction between king and queen was abolished. Clearly, "royal person" would be more appropriate.

And, by the way, Austria apparently has the only national anthem in Europe written by a woman. Sung to the tune of a 1791 Mozart cantata, was written by the late Paula von Preradovic in 1947, two years after the modern Austrian state was formed.

One trusts that the next, degenderised version is written by a multi-gender, multi-ethnic team, with full representation from cultural minorities, the disabled and the gay and lesbian communities. Perhaps this time, instead of Mozart, it might be based on a tune by Beethoven? The title "Ode to joy" springs to mind.


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