Category Archives: gender inequality

The (31) Number One Female Country Songs since 2004: Summed Up by Yours Truly

2014-01-27_cw04-coverIn January, Country Weekly claimed 2014 to be the Year of the Woman in country music.

I replied with a new piece for The Ethos Review about how 2014… isn’t. Going. To be.

[O]ver the last ten years, songs by female artists make up only ten percent of country music’s number one hits (31 of 289). If that weren’t enough, these songs reached number one in part because they perpetuate country’s female stereotypes: 22 of them follow the cash cow country music narrative in which women do nothing but long for men, fall for “bad boys,” and marry uber-young.

Yes, I’m picking on country music for an issue that occurs in other genres. But country’s got an extra special dearth of gender equality. (Also, the Country Weekly headline kind of asked for it.)

The (31) Number One Female Country Songs since 2004:

(Total Number One Country Songs since 2004: 289)

2004 (4 out of 18)

Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson – In which the narrator confirms for all country-listening men that women are exactly what they think: happy in a small town, and ready to have sex. And babies.

Somebody, Reba McEntire – Listeners are encouraged to find a life-long love among whomever they happen to regularly run into in their small town.

Girls Lie Too, Terri Clark – Here women are empowered not by actually having power, but by lying to please the men who do.

Suds in the Bucket, Sara Evans – A country music favorite: young marriage. An 18-year-old falls in love and gets married, right out of daddy’s house.

2005 (3 out of 19)

My Give A Damn’s Busted, Jo Dee Messina – One of a few #1 hits in which a woman is not only angry at her man, but willing to leave him. For that, kudos.

Mississippi Girl, Faith Hill – in which Hill assures her fans that she really hasn’t had ambitions beyond her small town, and even if she’s “pursuin’ her dreams,” she’s (really truly she promises) exactly the same as she was back in Mississippi.

A Real Fine Place to Start, Sara Evans – In which Evans confirms that small town country gals really are enamored of men who whisk them off for sex out under the stars. In the bed of a truck, one assumes.

2006 (2 out of 22)

Jesus, Take the Wheel, Carrie Underwood – in which the narrator gives control of her life back over to God. Advocating for Christian faith is part of a longstanding recipe for country success, so this doesn’t stray from any Country Expectations. But no real complaints.

Before He Cheats, Carrie Underwood – This narrator is willing to do anything to get back at the man who’s cheating on her… except leave him. The song gives the impression of badassery, only to affirm the woman’s dependence on her cheatin’ man. She can mess up his truck, but she apparently can’t go anywhere. The song (and its video) also manages to make female revenge sexy rather than legitimately threatening. #revengefail

2007 (3 out of 25)

Wasted, Carrie Underwood – A rare anti-settling, anti-just-getting-wasted-to-deal-with-things song that made #1. Kudos.

So Small, Carrie Underwood – A nice “everything will be alright if you focus on love” tune that repeats a great deal of trite Christian genre content. Nevertheless a step up from high fivin’ with beers around a truck on a back road. Does not in any way stray from country music standards, but – no real complaints.

Our Song, Taylor Swift – In which the narrator confirms every male country writer’s notion of the ideal girl: the one who wants to go for a drive (she rides shotgun, obvs) and sneak behind her parents’ backs with a boy of whom they apparently disapprove. Pair with the 1st verse to the Cole Swindell’s “Chillin’ It” for a match made in country heaven.

2008 (5 out of 25)

All-American Girl, Carrie Underwood – The antithesis of Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” in which a girl falls in love at 16, assumes this boy is the best she’ll find, and gets married in a hurry – causing her boyfriend to lose his “free ride” to college. His dismissal of college in favor of youthful marriage (and a Musgraves-ian “having two kids by 25”) is celebrated as being all-American. (Also note that the girl herself has zero college aspirations. Marryin’ Young + Childbearin’ = All American Country Girl.)

Last Name, Carrie Underwood – Again, Underwood reps women as precisely the sex-eager fantasy girls represented in most male-penned country hits: girls who “lose their manners” over alcohol, get themselves lured into casual sex with who-cares-whom, get married in a rush, and have little to say later but “oh darn.”

Should’ve Said No, Taylor Swift – Ah! A woman who tells a cheatin’ man both what he should have done AND that she won’t give him a next time to do it. Kudos.

Just a Dream, Carrie Underwood – In a saccharine lyric playing on both young country love and military valor, a female narrator gets married as soon as she turns 18 (big surprise), and two weeks later her man has died in combat. Note that the young man is depicted as doing something quite honorable, while the young woman’s role is simply to wait back at home for him.

Love Story, Taylor Swift – In which Swift falls prey to the country-hit method of celebrating far-too-young marriage. She also manages to imply that women can’t take care of themselves (need daddy’s permission, need saving by a lover).

2009 (2 out of 30)

You Belong with Me, Taylor Swift – At least the two high school lovers aren’t getting married (yet), but here’s a young woman centering her life on a guy who doesn’t appreciate her. But it’s okay; she’ll just wait until he comes around. It’s not like she has anything or anyone else going on in her life.

Cowboy Casanova, Carrie Underwood – Ms. Underwood’s specialty is confirming the male country vision of women, which is in part why her songs become hits. This one’s no different: the narrator describes a “cowboy casanova” in such a way that her “complaints” about him make him sound exactly like what every male country writer thinks men are: so sexually irresistible that they consistently make girls go against their better judgment.

2010 (2 out of 28)

The House that Built Me, Miranda Lambert – A sentimental tune about a woman who tries to find herself by visiting to the home in which she grew up. While relatively harmless, it does affirm the country music belief that when you go out traipsin’ around the world, you lose something essential. (Better get on back to that small town.)

Undo It, Carrie Underwood – Like Swift’s “Should’ve Said No,” this song portrays a woman who stands up for herself and refuses to stay with a guy who “blew it.” Kudos. (Although by this point, if you’re like me, you’re wondering whether women can express strength in any way other than by getting rid of no-good men. This solitary version of Woman Power is getting pretty old.)

2011 (4 out of 34)

Turn On the Radio (Reba McEntire) – Ms. McEntire, always slightly less likely to give men their fantasy version of femalehood, here gives one the middle finger by suggesting that if he wants to hear her, he can just turn on the radio. Kudos. But sigh with the leavin-the-no-good-men thing.

A Little Bit Stronger (Sara Evans) – This narrator put up with an awful lot before she finally let go, but she did it. And she’s stronger without him: kudos. But.

Heart Like Mine (Miranda Lambert) – Like Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” it’s hard for country to resist a song that incorporates Jesus. This one’s no exception; not only is the woman tantalizingly different from the typical, “respectable” small-town girl, she loves her both some alcohol AND some Jesus. Hit song.

Sparks Fly (Taylor Swift) – In which Taylor’s female narrator again fits everything male country writers describe them to be: eager for sex, open to doing something they know they “shouldn’t,” and reliant on men to make life bearable.

2012 (5 out of 36)

Ours, Taylor Swift – Here the woman is her man’s comforter, assuring him that their love is everything, and other people’s judgments don’t matter. Relatively harmless, but certainly not straying from the country music narrative.

Over You, Miranda Lambert – Hard not to sympathize with a narrator who’s dealing with the grief of loss. It doesn’t stray from the country music narrative, but – no complaints.

Good Girl, Carrie Underwood – As in “Cowboy Casanova,” Underwood again tries to warn female listeners about a(n irresistible) “bad boy.” And like the cowboy tune, one can’t help but assume that a lot of male listeners will like the idea of being an irresistible bad boy with whom all kinds of good girls fall in love despite themselves. This track wins the Utter Ew Award with, “You want a white wedding and a hand you can hold / Just like you should, girl / Like every girl does.” #girlpowerfail

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Taylor Swift – Swift tells the male both that he sucks and that he’s gone. Kudos.

Blown Away, Carrie Underwood – As an activist myself re: domestic violence, I appreciate the courage of this song’s representation of abuse – particularly as one of the many dangers of alcoholism. I also hope country writers and listeners who sympathize with this narrative will reassess their devotion to celebrating alcohol-as-coping-mechanism. (Not holding my breath.)

2013 (1 out of 44)

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Taylor Swift – A holdover hit from 2012 (see above). And yes, the only #1 track by women in 2013.

2014 (out of 8 so far)

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Because obvs women aren’t in charge lolz

Okay, there’s already a pile of responses to Mike Huckabee’s LIBIDOFFENSE 2014. But having now heard Allen West’s “thoughtful” additions, I have to ask:

Can we talk about how even the language used by conservatives constantly excludes women from positions of influence, placing them at the mercy of (male) lawmakers?

Exhibit A, Huckabee: “[W]omen are far more than the Democrats have played them to be. And women across America have to stand up and say enough of that nonsense.”

Exhibit B, Allen West: “the left tries to win the women’s vote by talking from the waist down. What we have to do on our side as conservatives … we have to talk to their heart and we have to talk to their mind”

Both men seem to think that the category of “women” and “democrats” have no one in common: there are democrats, and then there are the women democrats portray as Outta Control. And it apparently works the other way, too: there are conservatives, and then there are the women conservatives must appeal to by speaking “above the waist.”

fragile femalehood

Meanwhile, how often do politicians, on either side of the aisle, question how a political party (or its agenda) is portraying males? How much “concern” is there that men are being disrespected or undermined by political decisions? WHO WILL FIGHT FOR ENDANGERED MALE HONOR??

But seriously, when we switch the gender of politicians’ supposed concern, we can readily recognize a gross inequality that ignores women’s subjectivity, competency, and political presence.

These latest (hilarious) republican attempts to not be anti-woman reveal, in their very grammar, a view of women as outsiders — in need of men to make and enforce laws that pander to them, “win them over,” portray them “respectfully,” and even apologize to them for the other party’s failure to “get it.”

Yes, our numbers in Congress have been kept dismally low. But hey men. We’re right here. We can hear you. We may even be lawmaking like, right next to you.

It’s time to stop using “we” when talking about lawmakers, and “them” when talking about women.

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placebo for rape terror

Um PlaceboHere’s this, that you should read. (I’ll wait.)

Because seriously, for the thousandth time:

We should be able to be frightened by violence — to look at it, talk about it, work with it — without retreating into jokes and denial.
If we can’t, we should be creating communities of support that make such reality-gazing possible.

The method of dealing with our terror by blaming violence on its victims — Sure, this method works… if by “works” we mean, “makes us feel better via the numbing effect of denial and other-ing.”

If by “works” we instead mean, “keeps us legitimately safe,” or “makes us better people,” or “builds compassion” or “decreases overall violence in our communities and society,” the victim-blaming method is, objectively, a massive failure.  To pretend otherwise is to put one’s need for pretend momentary safety above one’s need for actual, legitimate safety, and/or for effective, caring support when that safety is savagely compromised.

The cost of victim-blaming is compassion. And a grasp on reality. And any effectiveness in the realm of human rights.
Please, stand in the terror. Look at it, work with it, speak it. The numbed-out words are meaningless.

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“Be a Man” = “Learn Pretense”

How the imperative Be a man!” devalues anything our culture (erroneously) feminizes —
including, ultimately (and tragically), empathy.

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Why Teaching Equality Hurts Men

shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows

Don’t let the title put you off. This isn’t what you think.

With few exceptions, there comes a point in every little girl’s life when she first suffers exclusion on the basis of gender. For me, this happened regularly in primary school sports: the boys didn’t like it when I wanted to play cricket, and would actively gang up to ensure I was either kept away from the bat or relegated to the furthest reaches of the outfield. Children aren’t paragons of political correctness: unlike later in life, I knew definitively then that gender was the reason for this behaviour, because I was openly told as much. Over and over again, whether it was soccer or cricket or handball or football or some other thing the boys were doing, I had to fight for inclusion, because even at the tender ages of seven and eight and nine, boys knew

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A “Rape-Victims List” for sale by a Data Broker… Hey, only $79.

In the realm of “Are you kidding me?” —

The following was written by Elizabeth Dwoskin, posted on WSJ Blogs:

“Data Broker Removes Rape-Victims List After Journal Inquiry”

A marketing company purporting to sell lists of rape and domestic violence victims removed the lists from its website Wednesday after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal.

Medbase200, a Lake Forest, Ill., company that sells marketing information to pharmaceutical companies, had been offering a list of “rape sufferers” on its website, at a cost of $79 for 1,000 names.

The company also removed lists of domestic violence victims, HIV/AIDS patients and “peer pressure sufferers” that it had been offering for sale, until it was contacted by the Journal.

The rape-victims list was first disclosed by Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, at a Senate hearing Wednesday about the data-broker industry. Ms. Dixon could not be reached for comment after her testimony.

The hearing was part of a Senate Commerce Committee investigation into the data-broker industry. In a report Wednesday, the committee said marketers maintain databases that purport to track and sell the names of people who have diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis, as well as how often women visit a gynecologist. The report said individuals don’t have a right to know what types of data the companies collect, how people are placed in categories, or who buys the information.

Medbase200, a unit of Integrated Business Services Inc., sells lists of health-care providers and of people purportedly suffering from ailments such as diabetes and arthritis to pharmaceutical companies.

In an interview, Integrated Business Services President Sam Tartamella initially denied that his company maintained or sold databases of rape victims. After the Journal provided him a link to the “rape sufferers” page, he said he would remove it from Medbase200′s website. The page was removed later Wednesday.

In a subsequent email conversation, Tartamella said the company had never maintained an actual list of rape victims. “No one has ever leased, rented or otherwise acquired such a file from our firm, ever,” he said.

He said a “hypothetical list of health conditions/ailments was used as a hypothetical” file for an internal test. “Apparently, that ‘test’ datacard was never removed after the website went live,” he wrote.

Tartamella said he was combing through his company’s website to ensure “that other errors are not present.”

To compile its lists of patients, Tartamella said the company used direct surveys, along with proprietary models that could not be shared.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect that Medscape200 also removed a list of HIV/AIDS patients that had been on its website.

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Using Words

“As long as I can, I will take what I feel, use it to face what I am able to know, find language, and write what I think must be written for the freedom and dignity of women.”


AndreaonCrete1966MI don’t agree with everything 
Andrea Dworkin has written, but this, yes. Yes.

Taken from “My Life As a Writer,” in Life and Death.

 

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Your silence will not protect you.

Silence-Audre-Lorde-Button-(0348)

I’ve been reading a great deal of Audre Lorde for my work over at Ploughshares. Like Adrienne Rich (whose quote serves as the tagline for Louder Please), she’s a model for placing art in the service of socio-cultural improvement.

When I read her work, it’s like a voice at the back of me:

say it. say it. say it. 

Lately,  my saying has been in the form of songs, pshares blogs, and applications for god knows what activities, all of which could push forward the issues and research I care about. I feel as if I’ve got a hand in everything, prodding the flesh of possible stories. Meanwhile, I find something like refuge in Lorde and Rich, for their emphases on voice, on word, on pressing the damned world into syntax. Not for the purpose of condensing or constraining what can’t be accommodated by language, but for the purpose of the pressing. For the very sensation of limitation.

And dear god, to do what I can. “To roll the thunder of the voice out from the ribs and throat, / To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire with” myself.

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

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sometimes, “staying together for the kids” needs to suck it

Note: I’m in a (long!) marriage that I love, and I don’t have kids. That said:

this will be greatMany of my friends are contemplating divorce. And I’ve noticed that, when kids are involved, a super-sized ever-present argument gets touted about how parents should “stick it out for the kids.” If you’ve experienced a more nuanced approach to divorce with kids, hooray. This blog isn’t for you. For the rest of us, imma punch the “stick it out” thing in the face.

The cultural assumption is that, if parents base their divorce decision on what’s best for their children, they’ll of course decide to stay together. Um.

As if kids are only or primarily benefitted by living with the same two people for 18 years, even if those people don’t like one another. Even if, and even if in subtle ways, those people routinely inflict emotional harm on one another. Even if those two people are never able to find fulfillment as human beings, and thus never able to model fulfillment-finding to their kids. As if no positive impact can possibly result from two adults’ divorce and subsequent happiness-finding. (And I’m not just talking about marriages that involve an abusive or addicted spouse.)

HOWDY KIDSI readily acknowledge that some couples consider divorce, decide to stay together “for the kids,” and find later that they’ve fallen in love again. That’s great! But it’s not the rule, so let’s move on. Of course divorce can be bad for kids. But so can staying together, for different – but equally significant – reasons. Let’s not make this simpler than it is.

Ultimately, good models for deep, respectful, fulfilling, intimate human relationships may be the best possible gifts a child can receive from her parents. So here’s this:

Dear Parents Considering Divorce,

Your children won’t be fooled by the fact that you live in the same house or sleep in the same bed. Instead, they will learn what to expect out of a relationship by watching yours. They’ll glean ideas about what they’re worthy of, what they should tolerate, what they’re allowed (and not allowed) to hope for, etc. Because of this, it’s possible that the best gift you can give your children is to model what it looks like to believe you’re worth being loved for your whole self, and not just for the sake of tradition, a promise, or some ideal familial construction. Sometimes, such modeling requires divorce. More than having everyone under one roof, it’s possible that your children will prefer to learn how to respect themselves and their dreams, by watching you do it.

xo,
tg

The ideal is of course that parents can be personally fulfilled and stay together. But when they can’t, we must admit that sometimes, it’s divorce that allows for possibilities, love, and fruitful Life Education for children. Sometimes, the best parenting move is to move on from a relationship that fails to model the potential inherent in human intimacy. Yes, children of toughing-it-out parents get a model of commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice, and this is worthy of respect. But let’s not pretend the “perseverance model” is automatically the one a child needs – or later appreciates – most.

hey kids! we hopeFor one thing, (this rarely gets heard), the choice to tolerate one another “for the kids” may turn into a Great Burden of Guilt that your children take up once they recognize the choice you made (and why). That’s too much for any child to have on her head, even if it takes her years to see it.

Two, the choice to “persevere and sacrifice” may model – disastrously – the idea that a longterm relationship is not a situation in which individuals can or should expect to be fully loved, fully respected, and/or fully themselves – at least not if they have kids.

I’m not saying that by choosing to stay together, parents are always and necessarily committing themselves to misery. In fact, there’s good reason to hope that couples at the brink of divorce can come back from it more loving, more respectful of one another, and able to present even more solid examples to their children of fulfillment, connection, vitality, and commitment. When this happens, it’s beautiful.

But when this isn’t possible, we must admit that children will suffer regardless. If parents divorce, the family is broken and life irrevocably disrupted. If parents instead “suck it up” in a hopeless situation, children grow up in the context of a relationship defined by mere functional co-parenting and personal martyrdom. Let’s not pretend the latter is unequivocally preferable.

The divorce + kids quandary is the grief-worthy result of broken-down love – of lives that shift, evolve, and/or cease to connect. It is complex and imprecise. We have to be wary of simplistic black/white notions of what it means to wrestle with love that isn’t working.

i just love an easy solutionDivorce is not always (or even often) the best solution. Sometimes it’s just the selfish, easy one. In such cases, marrieds should swallow our pride, work hard, get help, and press on. (So been there.) But we must also be willing to recognize when our perseverance isn’t yielding a healthier marriage. And if that sad point comes (here’s hoping it won’t), we must refuse simplistic solutions where kids are involved.

The suck-it-up-for-the-kids message is everywhere, and many parents have swallowed it blindly. So I’m agitating for nuance. Hear me roar. There’s remarkably little said about the negative impacts – on children – of parents’ forfeiture of a fulfilling intimate relationship… And of the positive impacts – on children – of parting ways. So:

I reject the assumption that divorce is always selfish,
that having a parent who actively pursues his/her personal fulfillment is a loss for his/her child (I find this notion particularly heinous),
and that parent-Togetherness is always best for a child.

I suggest that watching a parent esteem him or herself enough to work toward self-fulfillment, respectful intimacy, and a healthy partnership may be the best gift a child could receive. (How else will s/he learn that it’s possible? Or how to do it?)

When love is broken, children will be hurt – either via divorce or via f*cked up ideas about self-fulfillment and intimate relationships. In either case, these children will require healing. Let’s respect their inevitable aches enough to recognize they’re far from simple.

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Dear Parents. Stop Saying Miley Was Degrading Herself.

miley + miley

Okay. It’s true that many women who use their bodies to make money ARE degraded, by others or themselves. It’s true that many women don’t have a choice in this, and/or don’t believe they’re worth anything “better.” And our desire to change the socio-cultural situation for the benefit of such women is admirable, and necessary.

But we must not fool ourselves that any woman who uses her body sexually is motivated by low self-esteem or poor morals. This assumption is simply another way to dehumanize the woman while feeling good about ourselves. By expressing disappointment in Miley’s decision to “degrade herself,” we access a rush of moral, psychological, or even feminist superiority, which can feel great. But such superiority relies on a willful skirting of Cyrus’ intellect, agency, and personhood. How do we know that she has degraded herself? And how CAN we know, unless we allow the woman to be a person – and to speak for herself?

The assumption that any woman who uses her body sexually is diminished as a person is a sign of our ongoing dissociation of female sexuality from humanity and agency. If we perceive female sexuality as “dirty,” “impure,” and/or intended strictly for male enjoyment, then the viewing of it all out in the open, seemingly of a woman’s own volition, will be troubling to us.

And it’s this very perception of female sexuality that we must question – particularly in a culture that, for men, readily embraces desire, lust, and a “healthy sex-drive” as symptoms of being fully alive. For women, when publicly revealed, these are symptoms of debasement, slutty-ness, and embarrassment.

i shall take herWhen it comes to women, we tend to think, Obviously, this sexy-fied woman is incapable of thinking or speaking for herself. So I’ll assume I’m the more intelligent, self-esteemed, morally-sound person, and blindly project onto this woman the degradation I’d feel if I were in her place. I won’t ASK her, or leave room for the possibility that she thinks differently (let alone intelligently!) about her work. Instead, because she’s using her body in a sexual manner, I’ll assume she doesn’t know what she’s doing, doesn’t know who she is, doesn’t have good guidance, doesn’t have sound life goals, and certainly that she doesn’t have anything to tell me. In fact, I’ll assume she needs me. If only I could be her mentor!!

I’m not saying Cyrus was legitimately empowered, or that she was expressing her full agency as opposed to playing to the entertainment industry or to a sense of needing to shake off her Disney persona.
I’m just saying we don’t know. And we don’t seem to care to wonder.

It seems to me that, aside from transgressing cultural boundaries as a means of gaining media chatter, what Cyrus did on stage was: sing, dance, communicate a love of sex, touch herself sexually, touch others sexually, and make it clear that she’s a sexual being who’s sexually available. Men do this all the time, including on network TV, and no one blinks. Such men may be perceived as “sleazy” or as “douchebags,” but they’re not pitied. We don’t assume they lack control, agency, or brains. We don’t assume they need us.

We can’t know what led to Cyrus’ choices without treating her like a human being with a brain. That we assume her performance precludes humanity and intelligence – or removes her right to be perceived as a human being with thoughts – reveals volumes about our inability to reconcile a woman’s sexuality with her personhood.

A man can be overtly sexual, even sleazy, and yet be perceived by society as a human being who thinks for himself. I’m troubled that this is so rarely the case with women.

–> Idea time, hooray! <–
If you think Miley Cyrus’ performance was degrading, and if you also feel the need to discuss this with your children, consider describing your perception AS a perception, rather than speaking for someone you don’t know: “This would be degrading to me, and here’s why.” Consider communicating that, as a grown, successful woman, Miley Cyrus can make her own choices, and that we don’t know why she made this particular one. Don’t be afraid to say, “I wonder why she chose this? It’d be interesting to ask her, don’t you think?”
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