New Feminist Books Offer Multifaceted Critique of Culture Wars

Sarah Seltzer

A bumper crop of feminist books that came out this spring and summer reveal that women's bodies remain battlegrounds for ideological struggles all over the world.

This spring and summer have been remarkable ones
for books about sex, gender and reproduction — the avid women’s issues
reader has been up to her ears in provocative feminist tomes.  

What’s amazing about the books discussed
below is not just the powerful arguments they make individually, but
the way they together paint a complete picture of our culture wars at
home and abroad. That broad picture reveals the ugly truth that women’s
bodies remain battlegrounds for ideological struggles all over the world.

But there is something heartening in
the lifting of voices both within the books and by the authors themselves.
Robust, articulate, and multifaceted critique of patriarchy in its many
forms storming bookshelves all at once has to be a good sign.  

The Purity Myth (Seal Press)  

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Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth addresses
the virgin-whore dichotomy as it manifests itself in our modern lives.
Anyone who knows their basic feminist theory is aware that what are
purportedly opposite ends of the spectrum of women’s behavior – the
slut and the virgin – are actually two sides of the same coin. Both
the over-sexualization of girls and the obsession with their purity
reduces women to their bodies and sexuality. Whether – as Valenti relates
– we’re equating them to used gum in abstinence-only classes, urging
them to join the "modesty movement," or buying high heels
for "prostitots," we’re participating in the Purity Myth. 
Valenti goes even further by reminding us that the losing-your-virginity/giving-it-up
terminology we use to describe first sexual encounters is dated and
demeaning, implying that being sexually untouched is something of great

What’s amazing about the publicity surrounding
Valenti’s book is how controversial her thesis remains. Today Show hosts
Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotbe responded to Valenti’s well-reasoned
with trite platitudes
about the "consequences" of sex while "Observe and Report" demonstrated how far the rape culture Valenti describes has
permeated the mainstream. The American psyche seems unable to conceive
of a culture in which rejecting degrading objectification of women does
not mean corralling them into a chaste corner. Valenti argues powerfully
for a middle ground where women are "more than the sum of their
sexual parts."  

Quiverfull (Beacon Press)  

If Valenti’s book explores the pervasive
myths and rotten information that dogs most American girls, Kathryn
Joyce’s Quiverfull examines the extreme margins of that spectrum,
in the midst of a home-schooling, housewife-centric culture of fundamentalist
Christianity. We know the Quiverfull advocates through their websites,
which advocate an extreme anti-abortion, anti-birth control mentality
and lifestyle. But Joyce goes far deeper. These aren’t just the tongue-speaking
evangelicals mocked by Borat and the culture at large, but also a growing
movement within the "reformed" Calvinist church (i.e some
mainline Protestant denominations unhappy with the egalitarianism in
their faiths). This movement emphasizes the ideals of "male headship"
and "wifely submission" claiming the belief that man is to
woman as Jesus is to his worshippers, a guide to be followed and a voice
to be heeded. Liberation through submission is the gospel for womanly
duty within this paradigm.  

Quiverfull in some ways is reminiscent
of Jon Krakauer’s incredible Under the Banner of Heaven, in that
it spends time amongst the devotees of the Quiverfull doctrine and its
spiritual kin, depicting a different kind of "life on the edge."
Joyce documents the rivalries, feuds, excommunications, and sometimes
extreme poverty which families experience when they embrace Christian
Patriarchy, all evidence that makes its cult-like properties apparent.  

But Joyce is not merely telling a story
that affects one group – her message is one of concern for all of us.
The Quiverfull movement is more than a cult on the sidelines. Its members
see their flocks of children as armies, crusaders against feminism,
secularism and hedonism. And perhaps more ominously, their numbers are
potent enough to effect political change. Some of those public policy
echoes are seen in Valenti’s book and Michelle Goldberg’s work, discussed
below. Joyce’s meticulously-researched, densely-packed book, then, is
not just an exploration but also a warning signal that this movement
should be ignored at our own peril.  

more from Kathryn Joyce on the Quiverfull movement

The Means of Reproduction (Penguin

In The Means of Reproduction, Michelle
Goldberg’s takes the domestic ideological tussle Valenti and Joyce describe
and reveals how it affects policy abroad. This phenomenon is most obvious
in the flip-flopping reversals and reinstatements of the Global Gag
Rule, leading to dramatic shifts in care options for millions of women.

But The Means of Reproduction offers
us a detailed and much-needed history lesson as well. Goldberg opens
by describing the population control/family planning craze of the mid-century,
a drive to get birth control to developing nations that was nonpartisan
and, unfortunately, had a strong whiff of paternalism to it. Goldberg
shows us the feminist awakening led by women in the population movement
who felt that it simply wasn’t enough to provide women birth control
— giving them social equality had to be part of the deal.  

And then of course, Goldberg takes us
through Reagan revolution, and rise of the religious right as we now
know it, an anti-abortion, anti-family planning juggernaut which made
the intra-arguments within the population movement pale in comparison
to the "culture wars." Suddenly, politicians like George Bush
Senior (once nicknamed "rubbers" due to his enthusiasm for
prophylactics, as Goldberg points out) forgot their eagerness for population
control in an effort to kowtow to the reactionary bible-waving crowd.  

Goldberg also details the seminal victories
in this battle, including the famous 1994 Cairo and Beijing conferences,
at which family planning and women’s rights victories were won on paper.
But the reality on the ground failed to catch up, and some of the book’s
most heartbreaking passages describe the trials of women in countries
like Nicauragua where religious influence has curtailed abortion rights
– and the brave women activists fighting those restrictions.  

Finally, Goldberg concisely and clearly
delineates the battle lines between "rights" and "rites."
Is exporting gender equality, particularly in terms of rituals like
female genital mutilation, a form of cultural imperialism? Or is it
a matter of basic human dignity? Goldberg argues the latter, but she
believes it’s crucial to stand in solidarity with women all over the
world waging local and internal struggles for bodily self-determination.  

Read an
interview with Michelle Goldberg

My Little Red Book (Twelve

On a lighter note, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
brings a universal female bodily experience out into the open with My
Little Red Book, 
an exploration of menstruation – particularly that
exciting, and/or traumatizing, first period. Her book takes the form
of a collection of short- to medium-length memories, poems, essays and
narratives. Julie at feministe has offered some legitimate criticisms
of the book
, particularly
the overabundance of typically white, suburban and young stories in
its  pages.

However, there are some amazing variations
on the theme from remote places and long-ago times that are just fascinating
– from Kenya, China, Turkey and Ghana to the Comanche nation. There’s
a Holocaust story and a Cultural Revolution one. Despite such huge differences,
common themes do emerge within the stories: shame, shock, fear that
people will notice, and either intense bonding between women or longing
for such bonding. Women may talk about periods with each other, but
women’s bodies are still shameful, and menstruation particularly so.
This book aims to break the taboo, and it’s an admirable effort.  

While the stories could have been culled
more selectively in order pack more of a punch, there is immense value
in this kind of exercise. As did "The Vagina Monologues,"
collections of first-person stories can go miles in de-stigmatizing
women’s bodies. This book works well as a gift for pubescent girls who
can learn that their feelings of relief, sadness, alienation or horror
are not abnormal. And I’d love to see it lying around coffee tables
in the direct view of men, who might be alienated or icked out by this
basic part of every woman’s life.  

Front Lines: "Words of Choice" (The
New Press)

Writer and Rewire blogger Cindy
Cooper’s "Words of Choice" weaves together humor, pathos,
and politics to paint a picture of reproductive rights in America. She
juxtaposes excerpts from a variety of different sources, personal and
political, public and private, that all illustrate the state of reproductive
freedom in our country. Some of the most notable moments come right
from the Roe vs. Wade decision, congressional testimony about
so-called partial birth abortion, an Onion parody, the word of a nurse
injured in a clinic bombing, poetry, songs and more. The tapestry woven
by these disparate excerpts is surprisingly complete, and may leave
the reader or viewer with a good deal of righteous anger towards anyone
who would use blanket laws to restrict something so personal and intense
as reproduction. In this way, it’s reminiscent of the 2007 anthology Choice,
except Cooper’s intentions are more defiantly (and refreshingly) political.
"Words of Choice" as worthwhile a play to read as it must
be to watch.  

"Words of Choice"  appears in
the anthology Front Lines edited by Alexis
Greene, and Shirley Lauro
of which is worth reading. Front Lines is a group of political
plays by American women, many of which got considerable media attention
when they were first staged ("The Exonerated" about wrongful
imprisonment and "No Child,’ which tackles education in particular).
It’s exciting to see so many of these plays together because they do
make a powerful point about creative women taking on a whole range of
issues, from domestic violence to war to legal injustice. Any lingering
stereotypes that political writing is a masculine realm are rendered

Read Cindy
Cooper’s Rewire blog

Supergirls Speak Out (Simon
and Schuster)

Fighting back against the cult of overachievement
is an uphill endeavor. Books like Courtney E. Martin’s Perfect Girls,
Starving Daughters
, which targeted the toll of perfectionism on
young women’s bodies, and Alexandra Robbins’s The Overachievers,
which followed high school students through the college application
process, were the vanguard of questioning whether all this impressive
output on the part of the millenials was healthy.  

Liz Funk’s Supergirls Speak Out adds
to this conversation, pointing out the anxiety, body-image issues, and
low self-esteem that can accompany that drive towards surface perfection
in teen girls.  Funk, herself only a senior in college, followed several
younger girls closely and details some quietly disturbing behavior in
her teen subjects – like obsessively rewriting paper drafts for endless
teacher approval when an A was already inevitable, or laying out coordinated
outfits and makeup palettes each night. Funk’s interest in pop culture–and
knowledge of the tv shows and music that make up her subjects’ frame
of references–is a key part of the book. She analyzes the conflicting
messages celebrity culture sends and how that can lead to a spiral of
confusion. Like My Little Red BookSupergirls works particularly
well when targeted towards the girls it describes, as a way of preparing
young women for the issues they face or making them feel less alone.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”

Commentary Race

Black Lives Matter Belongs in Canada, Despite What Responses to Its Pride Action Suggest

Katherine Cross

Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada's history or present ignores the struggles of Canadians of color, including those who are LGBTQ.

As I walked the streets of Toronto last month, it occurred to me that Pride Week had become something of a national holiday there, where rainbow flags and the Maple Leaf banners flying in honor of Canada Day on July 1 were equally ubiquitous. For the first time in my many years visiting the city—the place where I myself came out—the juxtaposition of Pride and the anniversary of Confederation felt appropriate and natural.

For some, however, this crescendo of inclusive celebration was threatened by the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) protest at the city’s Pride March, often nicknamed PrideTO. The group’s 30-minute, parade-stopping sit-in has since come in for predictable condemnation. The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente dubbed BLMTO “bullies,” sniffed that its tactics and concerns belonged to the United States, and asked why it didn’t care about Black-on-Black crime in Canada. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, meanwhile, called BLMTO “Nobody Else Matters,” also saying it “bullied” Pride’s organizers and suggesting we all focus on the real object of exclusion within the LGBTQ community: gay members of the recently ousted Conservative Party.

There is a lot to learn from this Torontonian incident, particularly around managing polite liberal racism—an especially important civics lesson in light of the past month’s tragedies in the United States. Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada’s history or present means ignoring the struggles of hundreds of thousands, many of whom are LGTBQ themselves.

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Pride has always been a thoroughly political affair. It is, thus, hardly an “inappropriate time and place” for such a protest. It began as, and remains, a public forum for the unapologetic airing of our political concerns as a community in all its diversity. We may have reached a new phase of acceptance—the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau at Pride was a beautiful milestone in both Canadian and LGBTQ history—but Pride as a civic holiday must not obscure the challenges that remain. It is not a coincidence that the majority of transgender people murdered worldwide by the hundreds every year are Black and Latina, and that many of them are sex workers. That is part of the reality that BLMTO was responding to—the fact that racism amplifies homophobia and transphobia. In so doing, it was not just speaking for Black people, as many falsely contended, but advocating for queer and trans people of many ethnicities.

Even so, one parade-goer told the Globe and Mail: “It’s not about them. It’s gay pride, not black pride.” The very fact that Black LGBTQ people are asked to “choose” validates BLMTO’s complaint about Pride’s anti-Blackness, suggesting a culture where Black people will be thinly tolerated so long as they do not actually talk about or organize around being Black.

Indeed, BLMTO’s much-criticized list of demands seems not to have been read, much less understood. While drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter collective, it also advocated for South Asian LGBTQ people and those in First Nations communities, whose sense of not-entirely-belonging at an increasingly apolitical PrideTO it shares.

In each paint-by-numbers editorial, there was lip service paid to the “concerns” BLMTO has about Canadian police forces and racial discrimination, but the inconvenience of a briefly immobilized parade generated more coverage. Throughout, there has been a sense that Black Lives Matter didn’t belong in Canada, that the nation is somehow immune to racist law enforcement and, in fact, racism in general.

Yet to listen to the accounts of Black Canadians, the reality is rather different.

Janaya Khan, one of the co-founders of BLMTO, recently spoke to Canadian national magazine MacLean’s about the activist’s views on structural racism in the country. As a native of Toronto, they were able to speak quite forthrightly about growing up with racism in the city—up to and including being “carded” (a Canadian version of stop-and-frisk, wherein officers have the right to demand ID from random citizens) at Pride itself. And last year in Toronto Life, journalist and writer Desmond Cole talked about his experiences being raised throughout Ontario. He told a story of a traffic stop, none too different from the sort that killed Philando Castile earlier this month, after a passenger in his father’s car, Sana, had tossed a tissue out the window onto the highway. The officer made the young man walk back onto the highway and pick it up.

Cole wrote, “After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. ‘You realize everyone in this car is Black, right?’ he thundered at Sana. ‘Yes, Uncle,’ Sana whispered, his head down and shoulders slumped. That afternoon, my imposing father and cocky cousin had trembled in fear over a discarded Kleenex.”

This story, of narrowly escaping the wrath of a white officer on the side of a motorway, could have come from any state in the Union. While Canada has many things to be proud of, it cannot claim that scouring racism from within its borders is among them. Those of us who have lived and worked within the country have an obligation to believe people like Cole and Khan when they describe what life has been like for them—and to do something about it rather than wring our hands in denial.

We should hardly be surprised that the United States and Canada, with parallel histories of violent colonial usurpation of Native land, should be plagued by many of the same racist diseases. There are many that Canada has shared with its southern neighbor—Canada had a number of anti-Chinese exclusion laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it too had Japanese internment camps during the Second World War—but other racisms are distinctly homegrown.

The Quebecois sovereignty movement, for instance, veered into anti-Semitic fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. In later years, despite tacking to the left, it retained something of a xenophobic character because of its implicit vision of an independent Quebec dominated by white francophones who could trace their ancestry back to France. In a blind fury after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum on Quebecois independence, Premier Jacques Parizeau, the then-leader of the independence movement, infamously blamed “money and ethnic votes” for the loss. More recently, the provincial sovereigntist party, the Parti Quebecois, tried to impose a “Values Charter” on the province aimed at criminalizing the wearing of hijab and niqab in certain public spaces and functions. Ask Black francophones if they feel welcome in the province and you’ll get mixed answers at best, often related to racist policing from Quebec’s forces.

Speaking of policing and the character of public safety institutions, matters remain stark.

A 2015 Toronto Star special investigation found hundreds of Greater Toronto Area officers internally disciplined for “serious misconduct”—including the physical abuse of homeless people and committing domestic violence—remained on the force. In 2012, the same outlet documented the excessive rate at which Black and brown Torontonians were stopped and “carded.” The data is staggering: The number of stops of Black men actually exceeded the number of young Black men who live in certain policing districts. And according to the Star, despite making up less than 10 percent of Toronto’s population, Black Torontonians comprised at least 35 percent of those individuals shot to death by police since 1990. Between 2000 and 2006, they made up two-thirds.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and Native Ontario corrections officers have routinely complained of poisonous workplace environments; a recent survey found anti-Muslim attitudes prevail among a majority of Ontarians.

Especially poignant for me as a Latina who loves Canada is the case of former Vancouver firefighter Luis Gonzales. Gonzales, who is of Salvadoran descent, is now filing a human rights complaint against Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for what he deemed a racist work environment that included anti-Black racism, like shining a fire engine floodlight on Black women in the street and joking about how one still couldn’t see them.

One could go on; the disparate nature of these abuses points to the intersectional character of prejudice in Canada, something that BLM Toronto was quite explicit about in its protest. While anti-Black racism is distinct, the coalition perspective envisaged by Black Lives Matter, which builds community with LGBTQ, Muslim, South Asian, and First Nations groups, reflects an understanding of Canadian racism that is quite intelligible to U.S. observers.

It is here that we should return again to Margaret Wente’s slyly nationalistic claim that BLMTO is a foreign import, insensitive to progressive Canadian reality. In this, as in so many other areas, we must dispense with the use of Canadian civic liberalism as a shield against criticism; the nation got this far because of sometimes intemperate, often loud protest. Protests against anti-LGBTQ police brutality in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, set the stage for a Toronto where the CN Tower would be lit up in rainbow colors. And any number of Native rights actions in Canada have forced the nation to recognize both its colonial history and the racism of the present; from Idle No More and the Oka Crisis to the 2014 VIA Rail blockade, that movement is alive and well. Indeed, the blockade was part of a long movement to make the government acknowledge that thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women constituted a crisis.

If we must wrap ourselves in the Maple Leaf flag, then let us at least acknowledge that peaceful protest is a very Canadian thing indeed, instead of redoubling racist insults by insinuating that Black Lives Matter is somehow foreign or that institutional racism is confined to the United States. Canada has achieved little of worth by merely chanting “but we’re not as bad as the United States!” like a mantra.

Far from being a movement in search of a crisis, Black Lives Matter and its intersectional analysis is just as well-suited to Canada as it is to the United States. In the end, it is not, per the national anthem, God who keeps this land “glorious and free,” but its people.