Why I am a feminist #5/5

why

This is my fifth, and last post of reflections on being a feminist.

The Stats

There are many statistics which show that in most parts of the world, women do not (yet) have equality with men. I could run through pages and pages—but what would that tell us?

I want to focus on just one statistic, because it’s the meaning of the one statistic that is more compelling.

One statistic

About year ago, I had the opportunity to attend an urban workshop in the city of Mashhad, in Iran. I arrived the week after Julie Bishop had been there. In the conference hotel there were two workshops running in adjacent halls: the urban workshop and another on women’s affairs. At one point someone came up to me and asked me if I would mind coming to the women’s conference and talk about the situation of the women in Australia. I said I was no expert. They said that’s okay: I was the most expert person available. So I agreed.

The first question I fielded was: Why, in Australia, is there so much violence against women? They’d been reading our newspapers. Clearly: I had a tough audience who’d done some research.

Then they asked me about pay equality. They said in Iran there were laws mandating equal work for equal pay. I said we have those too, but we still had pay inequality. They asked: how is that possible? The law is the law. In Iran, if you break the law by paying women less, you will be prosecuted.

I was again thrown off-balance. If we have anti-discrimination laws (which we do) and we have discrimination (which we do) why aren’t people being prosecuted?

The pay gap

In Australia, the “pay gap” is 18%. For every dollar a man earns in a particular job, a woman will earn on average 82%. We also have a Sex Discrimination Act dating back more than 20 years to 1984.

And yet the gap persists.

So here’s the big question lurking behind the statistic: Why can’t we solve this problem?

This is not mysterious or complex problem like suicide, or anorexia, or depression. All we have to do is pay women the same amount that we are paying men. That is not complicated.

In a certain sense, this is the easiest kind of problem we face. We are all birthed by women. Half of us are women. It would be a rare person reading this who did not have at least one loving relationship with a women, who would actively want that woman to be cheated of 18% of her income.

Yet we fail.

The implications of our incompetence

We can’t solve a simple problem which impacts us all directly. This indicates that we—as a society, as a culture, as a people—are incompetent. Incapable. Useless.

If we can’t solve a simple problem which affects us directly, how the hell are we are going to solve the more complex problems that are hard to understand, with no obvious solutions, affecting people whom we don’t know or can’t see, in ways that might not be now but in the future?

So the implication of being incompetent on the easy stuff is that we are doomed on the big stuff.

Se here’s why, again, I am a feminist. Because delivering on the basics of feminism is easy. All we need is solidarity and focus and effectiveness. But if we can’t do feminism, we will also fail on everything else.

Feminism is a test.

And because we need to pass this test: I am a feminist.

PS

In case you want more stats, below is an illustration by the Australian Human Rights Commission of the gender equality in Australia. For each statistic, ask yourself: how hard can it be? Why needs to be done? What’s blocking the way? And what does that block portend for our future overall?

Gender inequality

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Why I am a feminist #4/5

unnamed

This is my fourth day—of five—posting my reflections on being a feminist.

AWMs, MRAs and GamerGate

If all men and all women were onside for equal rights for women, and an end to stereotyping that forces men and women into—literally—semi-functional moulds, then things would change very quickly.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There are people who are against equality for women, who also think that men should be stereotypical men, and women should be stereotypical women.

AWMs

Imagine a country in which for centuries, the best jobs are reserved for men. As women start to take some of those positions, some men are going to feel dispossessed of what they’ve been conditioned to consider their birthright: a good, well-paid job with status and respect. Those men are going to start to feel aggrieved.

Hence, we have today the phenomenon the AWM—the Angry White Male—a phenomenon so common it has its own Three Letter Acronym. Why “white” you may ask? Because in general, non-white men don’t have expectations of good jobs, high pay, or respect.

Unfortunately, AWM anger is often directed at women in general, and feminists in particular.

One justification I’ve heard for this anger is that men have to support their families—which can be true, but clearly men are not the only ones with people to feed. There are single women, and families with a female head of household, and two-income families.

Another justification I’ve heard is that feminism was okay as long it dealt with equality, but now feminists had gone too far. (I’m not clear on what this means.) I point out that a brief look at the Bureau of Statistics site will show that women still don’t get equal pay for equal work (about 10% less, here in Australia) so equality is not yet a done deal. And cabinets and boards are still dominated by toothy male grins.

Finally, there’s the scapegoat mechanism. For many men, things are Not Going As Planned. Someone is to blame. And… it must be feminists.

MRAs

Sometimes angry men get organised, and identify as MRAs or, “Men’s Rights Activists”. On the one hand, it’s good to see men follow the lead of those feminists who have been so effective in working for women’s rights. Unfortunately, many MRAs do not spend much time on ensuring, for instance, good working conditions or appropriate health care for men. Instead, they spend large amounts of energy belittling feminists.

Belittling other people is not what “rights activists” do.

If you want to meet some MRAs, go to any women’s rights organisation with a blog, and look at the comments. They’ll be there, complaining—for instance—that men too are subject to domestic violence. Which is true. About 30% of the victims of DV are male. But in half of those cases, 50% of the perps are still men, which still pretty leaves men as the problem.

This is a men’s right that MRAs could do something about: every man’s right not to be an asshole; every man’s right not to have his gender’s reputation tarnished by men behaving badly.

GamerGate

Apparently, some men also like to play video games: especially games that are violent and portray women as mindless sex objects.

Shockingly, a feminist researcher named Anita Sarkeesian thought (I don’t know why) that she might be entitled to study this behaviour, and even poke a stick at it. At the same, a couple of women game designers—Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu—made the mistake of thinking that there might be room for games themed on more inclusive around topics such as disability, instead of killing and rape.

This turned out to be too much for the denizens of Gamerland, who felt their man cave was being invaded. The Gamers responded by wandering the Internet in large gangs, issuing kill threats, rape threats, and doxxing the women—releasing their home addresses so that others could make good on those threats in person. As I write, the image I have as mashup of Frankenstein and The Crucible.

It’s embarrassing when men behave like this. It’s embarrassing to the men, their children, their friends and partner, and to all other men who have to stand around with jaws on the ground wincing at the spectacle.

Men do have problems that women don’t have. Men should organise to address those problems. Men should also be smart enough to know that attacking women is not the solution. They might instead militate for a world in which: “making money” is not the stereotypical fate of all men, until death ensues by heart-attack; women do get good positions and equal pay, so more men can kick back and enjoy raising the kids; no-one is thrown on an employment scrapheap, and everyone has secure access to food, housing and medical care.

And if we men spent more time doing that, we would be find ourselves on the same path as feminism.

And therefore, for these reasons, yet again, I am a feminist.

 

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Why I am a feminist #3/5

unnamed

INTERSECTIONALITY

There’s an old puzzle that runs like this.

A father and son are in a car, on their way home. The road they are on intersects with a railway track. The father sees a train coming, but attempts to cross the tracks before the train. He fails, and the train hits the car.

The father is killed. The son is seriously injured. Emergency crews arrive and the son is rushed to the nearest hospital. At Emergency, he is rushed directly into the operating theatre, where a team has been prepped to receive him.

The boy is brought in. The head surgeon, in mask and scrubs, looks down and says:

“I can’t operate on this boy. This boy is my son.”

The question is: How is this possible?

I’m always surprised how many times I’ve seen progressive, thoughtful, aware people concoct extravagant stories to do with gay couples, stepchildren and secret affairs in order to explain this, while all the time missing the most obvious answer:

The head surgeon is his mother.

What’s going on here?

The Mythical Norm and Othering

This happens because we carry with us a “the mythical norm”—a default assumption about what a normal person looks like. It’s a stereotype.  It’s mythical because it needn’t correspond to any reality. The mythical norm is still a thin young person, even though the statistical norm is an overweight older person.

In most Western societies, the “mythical norm” includes those in society who are white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure. That image is so strong that we entirely miss the possibility of the surgeon being a woman.

Those who do not fit the norm are classed as “the other.” If you do not fit the norm, you become vulnerable—without necessarily anyone thinking about it—to being excluded, unseen, patronised, subordinated, exploited, oppressed or otherwise treated as somehow less.

And “the other” is not static. Twenty years ago, no-one was bothered by Muslims. And no-one felt other than pity for refugees. Now, they have both been cast into the pit of “otherness”. What we have is a constant process of “othering”—constantly creating shining an evil eye on groups whom we previously ignored.

Dimensions of Disadvantage

The idea of intersectionality, then, is the idea different forms of prejudice work together: they intersect.

They intersect in two ways.

First: they are all aspects of the same process. Racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia—these are not all different prejudices. They are all the result of the process of bothering, by which we at different times select certain groups that do not conform to the mythical norm, and pick them out for demonisation and ill-treatment.

They become scapegoats: for crime, terrorism, unemployment, rising taxes, or a dozen other persistent. Someone has to be blamed. It can’t be our fault. Therefore, some group has to be othered. Some group has to be scapegoated.

Second: if you are at the receiving end of this process, you are lucky if you only deal with one form of othering. If you are only Black (but male and rich and heterosexual, like Kanye), then you have fewer problems than if you at the intersection of multiple others. Right now, the group at the highest risk of being murdered, in the United States are Black trans women.

And these forms of prejudice don’t just overlap: they work together. Black trans women for instance, are so excluded that many turn to sex work just to survive: sex workers are also othered. Multiple forms of prejudice will also work together to make you poor: and poverty is also a form of othering. Being poor is seen as proof that there is something wrong with you.

Everything I’ve just described is part of feminist theory. This theory helps me understand that in my culture, my society, my place, there are powerful processes which seek to find and punish groups that are not “normal”, as scapegoats for social problems. A friend of mine has compared this to the Eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings: an eye atop a tower, constantly scanning, scanning… looking for the Ring. And woe betide you if the it’s gaze falls on you.

All prejudices are just one prejudice. And in order to fight one we have to fight them all. And if we are subject to just one prejudice, we have to be aware that we are the lucky, compared to those who sit at the intersection of many.

I’m in debt to feminism for giving me this insight into what ails my world.

That’s why I am a feminist.

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Why I am a feminist #2/5

WhyIAmAFeminist2-Patriarchy

PATRIARCHY

Rule by men
Patriarchy means, literally, “rule by men”. And that might sound like that would be a good thing for men. But it’s not. And why not?

We’ll get to that.

The first wave of feminists were the suffragettes. They had a clear agenda: get women the vote. In that sense, it was the most direct, ordinary challenge to political rule by men. And they won. And that’s history.

It’s useful to remember that this happened at a time when, in Australia, it was still legal for a man to beat his wife “so long as he does not use a stick thicker than his thumb.”

The second wave of feminists realised that the vote was not enough. Women also deserved economic equality. So the second wave was largely about ensuring that women had equal access to economic power: that they had equal access to opportunities for work and education (which for many also meant access to childcare), that they were equally represented at all levels of hierarchy, and that they received equal pay for equal work. In addition, there was a battle against all forms of violence against women, and for the rights of women to control their own sexuality.

These battles have not yet been won, and for a number of reasons it’s still possible to cheat women of their earnings in almost every country in the world, including Australia.

And we know right now, all around us, women are being beaten, oppressed, raped and murdered—mainly by men.

But it’s the third wave that the feminist analysis of patriarchy moves beyond the surface issues of power, opportunity and violence, and looks at what’s happening beneath the surface.

Here’s where it becomes clear why patriarchy is not good for men, either.

Dividing us all in two
When we raise children, we raise them (still) against models of what it means to be a girl or a boy. And too bad for anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into one of those two categories.

Girls are supposed to have one set of behaviours, and boys another. Girls genteel, boys rough. Girls circumspect, boys direct. Girls nurturing, boys productive. Girls pink, boys blue.

Each of us has been affected by this in that we have been taught to emphasise one half of our capabilities, and suppress the other. And when we violate this training, we are called names. When men show fear, they are called wusses. When women assert themselves, they are called bitches.

We are turned into half-creatures.

So the first reason that I am against patriarchy is that I don’t want half a life. I’ll take the whole of me, thanks.

A gendered world
But this split goes beyond individual conditioning.

Because in patriarchy men rule, so too do stereotypical “masculine” values. Politicians—whether they are men or women—are forced to be “decisive”: which often means they aren’t allowed to think deeply or, perish the thought, change their minds. The city becomes gendered, so heavy, hard, aggressive traffic is allowed to push out bicyclists and parks and quiet squares. We all become stressed in businesses based on ruthless competition, winners take all, and losers who get nothing.

In a society in which such “masculine” behaviours—aggressing, winning, dominating, deciding—are assigned to a superior gender, we get then lopsided and badly run politics, cities and businesses.

That sucks.

I like politics, cities and businesses—and just about every other aspect of human life. And since I like them, I don’t like to see them done in this kind of half-assed way.

That makes me a feminist.

 

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Why I am a feminist #1/5

WhyIAmAFeminist

Today is International Women’s Day

In the lead up, I started thinking about how and why I am a feminist. I finally realised that all of the reasons are intensely personal. They have nothing to do with abstract political or ethical principles. They have to do with how I feel, and what makes my life good.

Over the next five days, I’m going to post the answers I found to the question “Why am I a feminist?” The answers fall into five themes:

  1. Relationships
  2. Patriarchy
  3. Intersectionality
  4. AWMs, MRAs and GamerGate
  5. The Stats

I’ll start with number one.

RELATIONSHIPS

The number of one reason I am a feminist is because of how it affects my relationships.

Relationships make you who you are. They also make the quality of your life.

Imagine two boxes. The first contains three items: wealth, power, fame. The other contains all your relationships. Now ask yourself this: If the first box was full of much wealth, much power and much fame, and the second box was empty—would your life be good?

Another question is this: Given what you have now, the actual contents of those two boxes in your life, today, if some magical being came and told you they were going to take the contents of one box away—which box would you choose?

Good. I imagine our answers are the same.

Feminism is about equality. I want the relationship with each of my friends and family to be a relationship between equals. Most of the people in my life are women. Most of the people closest to me are women.

If you want to know why an equal relationship might be important, imagine the alternatives. Under equality, you treat the other person as your equal in terms of power, dignity and worth. Too often, we men have been taught to put women at a different level, in one of two ways:

  • To put them below us: this is patronising.
  • To put them on a pedestal: this is fetishism.

Not only do most people not enjoy being patronised or fetishised, but if you do that even a little a bit, you don’t have a full relationship, because the role you have cast the other in gets in the way. You don’t get the full benefit of the relationship you could have. And so your life is less.

Plus, you may be mistreating a person by patronising or fetishising them.

Equality gives you better relationships. Better relationships give you a better life. Women make up half my world. Feminism stands for equality.

And therefore, inevitably, I am a feminist.

 

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In praise of small houses

tinyhouse-31

Over the past 30 years, the average size of a house in the developed world has climbed from 100m2 (1100 sq ft) to 250m2 (2700 sq ft). There are good reasons, if you care about your home, to resist this trend.

When I lived in Papua New Guinea, in the Sepik, I lived for four years in very small houses. The first was 40m2, a government L40 built out of fibre-cement and and corrugated iron. Then I moved into a 54m2 house which I’d designed and built myself using local timbers. It has always struck me that I had as many (if not more) good memories from those very small houses, as I did at any other times in my life. Small houses are good at making good memories.

But here are more tangible reasons for not buying big.

1       The impact of spending
First, if you love your family and love your home, then you want to spend as much time there as possible. The alternative is spending more time at work. And as one wag put it: no-one, on their deathbed, ever regretted not having spent more time at the office.

The more money you spend, the more you have to work, and the more time you have to spend at the office, or other workplace of your choice. Obviously, when you buy a large house you pay for more direct construction costs. So automatically having a bigger house means you spend less time there.

Ironic, isn’t it?

2       Multipliers
But wait. There’s more! Because in addition to the direct costs of a bigger house, there are many indirect costs. A bigger house means a bigger mortgage means yet more time at the office. Typically, for every $1000 of house you buy, you’ll pay $1500 in interests costs over the life of your mortgage. That’s quite a multiplier.

But there’s even more. A bigger house needs:

  • more electricity
  • more heating and cooling
  • more furniture
  • more cleaning products

All of these have to be paid for with money which has to be earned away from home.

3       Hidden time costs
So far, we’ve just talked about the financial costs, though we have thought of them in terms of “time of the office”. There are also direct time costs. For instance:

  • A larger house is usually farther in the suburbs than the smaller houses, which means re commute time, more “chauffeuring” time trying to get your kids or yourself to places.
  •  More time spent tidying and cleaning and re-arranging.
  • More time wandering from room to room trying to figure out where the other members of your family are. (Joke.) (Kind of.)

4       Stress is deadly
Finally, all we know that financial stress and time poverty are as much “lifestyle diseases” as are obesity and diabetes. But whereas those diseases will simply kill you, financial stress and time poverty will kill your quality of life, and the quality of the your relationships with the significant people in your life. More on these in a later post.

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How ‘at home’ are you?

Take the questionnaire and, in the comments below, tell me your scores and what you think might be wrong with the way your home works.

Next time: Why poetic insights and longing reflect the social and economic functions of the home. The heart might be crazy, but it’s not stupid.

How 'at home' are you?

download the questionnaire

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What our poets tell us about home

What our poets tell us about home

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Five reasons why we need to rethink the home

We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot

We have divided our world in two

The industrial revolution has taken almost all productive work and put it outside the home, in those giant workplaces we called factories, offices, schools and hospitals.

We think of those workplaces outside the home as “production”, where value is created. Work done in those places is counted in the GDP. Those spaces are still dominated by men, and are valued.

The home is left over as a place of consumption, where value is used up. Work there is not counted in the GDP, not reported in the newspapers, not worried over by politicians. It remains mainly women’s work, and is devalued.

The industrial revolution has brought us enormous comfort, long life and health. It has also distorted our lives by devaluing the home. We need to rethink this. Here are five reasons why.

 

1. Home is what we yearn for

Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert, writes: “If people liked work they’d do it for free. The reason we have to pay people to work is that work is inherently unpleasant compared to the alternatives.”

Let’s face it. Work involves long commutes, long hours, high stress, and often doing things we don’t agree with. So how did that get valued more than life at home, the place of sex, relaxation, good food, children, friends and doing what you love?

The answer is: in order to get us to commit to work, society conditions us to recognise value to things we wouldn’t otherwise value. Okay. But we need to shake off this condition, and remember where life starts: at home.

Suburbia


2. Work should serve home

The only reason that we have industries is to provide what we need for a good life at home, and in hour communities.

But the competitive financial and industrial engine we have created doesn’t know how to scale down. It continues to pump products and services at us, way beyond what we might otherwise want, ramping up consumer and household debt, and making home life crowded, stressful and busy.

If we continue to feed the runaway machine, it will consume not only us, but our environment as well.

 

3. The home produces the next generation of humanity

The New Zealand economist Marilyn Waring says that home is the place of the most important production on earth: the REproduction of the human race.  Isn’t that more important than advertising, hamburgers or finance? Why do we not elevate the householder as the most important profession, over and above lawyers, bankers and CEOs?

 

4. The home produces care

Lost in the abstraction of words like “social capital” and “social safety net” is the fact that it’s only because people love and care for each other that our society runs at all. If we had to hire public servants or corporate contractors to care for every child, every sick person, every older person, we would go bankrupt within weeks.

We need to acknowledge that the continuity of our society depends on the work done in that home. That work is primary. What happens in childcare centres, hospitals and old age homes is secondary.

 

5. The home produces workers

We go out to work, and come home stressed and tired. Where do we get re-invigorated so that we have the strength and energy to go to work again the next day? At home. It’s at home that we are fed, rested, have a chance to reflect, and get emotionally recharged.

If you look at a city, you see business at the centre, and homes out towards the edge. This is a diagram of our way of thinking. We may not change our cities, but we need to change how we think: the home, the work of the home, and the work done at home are most important to the economy. Everything else needs to be organised to be subordinate.

 

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Schools Hurt Your Home Life – but They Don’t Have to

Schools play a big part of our lives. Not only do they shape our development as children, but they continue to impact us when—as adults—we have children of our own. We choose our homes to be near good schools; we struggle to pay for good schools; and we struggle when our children are challenged by homework or bullies or academic failure.

But most of us accept the current state of schools as a “given” and accept these enormous impacts on our home lives. We shouldn’t.

Schools are pipelines to the future

Schools are institutions with a very difficult task: they have to prepare the next generation to live in the future. Yet most schools operate in the past. Many primary and secondary schools of today are little changed from their counterparts 50 years ago, so instead of preparing children for the future, they’re not even preparing them for the present.

As part of a large American research project about the future of schools, George Copa undertook a ground-up redesign of the high school. He asked teachers, parents and employers what they want of high school graduates, what educational processes were needed to produce such graduates, and finally, what kind of institution could support such processes. The resulting new educational designs were prototyped in practice; one was the Zoo School in Minnesota.

Zoo School student cubicleZoo School student cubicle
A rendering and photograph of students’ workstations, or cubicles.

The results were radical, and wonderful.

School size was limited to 400—the largest size where everyone could still know each other. When students first enrolled, they were assigned to a team of four: just like in the workplace, where we work in teams. Again, just like in the workplace, they had no choice of team-mates.

They work on real-world problems (drawn from an adjoining zoo—hence the name) to which no-one knows the answers, and are graded by presentations to juries of their peers. The school is built around a forum where students gather to debate and vote on issues affecting them. All this models the real world of workplace and politics.

But such schools are rare. Why?

Schools are inherently backwards looking

Schools are part of a wider educational system that is very difficult to change:

  • School change requires political change
  • Politicians respond to voters
  • Voters’ knowledge of education comes from their own education…
  • …which was decades ago, so they tend to be backwards looking

In addition, changing education is high risk for both parents (voters) and politicians. Imagine the backlash if a change goes wrong.

As a result, contemporary high schools in many countries are unchanged from the school of 100 years ago, with the exception of a computer lab and some new gadgetry.

Schools have a hidden curriculum

We all know the curriculum: science, mathematics, social studies, languages… but educators also teach a more subtle, hidden curriculum based on assumptions, which isn’t in the books. In a typical school, in many countries, this is what a child experiences:

  • Go to a specific place every day
  • Be on time
  • Do what the boss tells you
  • Work alone at your workstation
  • Work on a standardized task to which someone else knows the answer
  • Get graded according to how your work conforms to the known answer
  • Don’t object or criticize

This is the life of a 19th-century factory worker. That’s no accident, because the modern school system was invented to educate the children of the industrial revolution’s immigrants and rural migrants to be a workforce for new factories.

However, the revolution has moved on. In the current economy, we need people who can innovate, work in teams, be self-directing, and solve problems that have never been solved before. But this hidden curriculum—precisely because it’s unexamined in the background—powerfully trains children to do the opposite.

Wrongs can be righted

Norway recently shifted all of its high schools’ start time from 8am to 10am. This has significant impacts for habits at home, commuting parents and employers, so why did they bother?

Neuroscientists realized some time ago that the teenage brain doesn’t wake up fully until 10am, so for decades the first two hours of every high school day has been wasted.

So all these years of schools’ institutional intertia have led to terrible waste, despite the experience of millions of parents dragging teenagers out of deep slumber to get to school; some must felt that something was wrong. But now that Norway has led the way, it’s started a conversation that is going around the globe.

So remember this:

Public schools did not exist forever: they did not come out of the forehead of a Greek or Roman god, they were contrived by ordinary men and women and for just this reason they can be rebuilt or reconceived, dismantled, or replaced not by another set of gods but by plain men and women. You and I leave school as it is, can change it slightly or turn it inside out and upside down. —Jonathan Kozol, On Being a Teacher

Image credits: Flickr user lnx, Edutopia c/o U.S. Department of Education and HGA Inc., and the School of Environmental Studies

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