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47 Responses

  1. Caren
    Caren November 30, 2006 at 1:12 pm |

    Brava!

  2. human
    human November 30, 2006 at 1:14 pm |

    VERY well said.

  3. RKMK
    RKMK November 30, 2006 at 1:14 pm |

    Here, here!

    I only recently tripped over Feministe, and I’m really, really, so very glad I did. One of the best blogs I’ve ever come across, ever.

  4. RKMK
    RKMK November 30, 2006 at 1:19 pm |

    [Or, even, “Hear, hear!” – sorry, the coffee hadn’t kicked in to my typing yet.]

  5. jennie
    jennie November 30, 2006 at 1:26 pm |

    *blush*

    But really? Piny for the win. Again.

  6. norbizness
    norbizness November 30, 2006 at 1:48 pm |

    Enough of Jennie’s demented parlour games! It’s too cold to think!

  7. Isabel
    Isabel November 30, 2006 at 2:07 pm |

    Hmm, very interesting post. I agree with you that it doesn’t matter what someone is like in general, if they do something sexist they deserve to get called out on sexism. But it makes me think (and I apologize if this is way too off-topic) about other situations where I think the line might be a little grayer.

    I was talking with a friend a while ago about children’s movies, and programming in general. Children’s programming is overwhelmingly male dominated (I used to get into fights with my brother because there were more boy Power Rangers than girl Power Rangers, and when they had the chance to fix that, they went and added a new boy! wtf!) How many children’s movies have an equal ratio of male/female characters? Even movies with female protagonists are male dominated (see Disney’s Mulan, which gender ratio aside is still maybe my favorite kids’ movie of all time). Pixar for example has maybe 3 female characters per movie, tops, and the main characters are always men. But I don’t think Pixar writers are, in their daily lives, sexist (necessarily, anyway).

    I think the problem is that a lot of people think of sexism as something you DO, something active, and so when you call someone out on being sexist, they think you’re calling them out on actively hating women and specifically wanting to hurt women. Whereas the reality is more that we live in a sexist society, and what we have to do actively is try to fight that, and calling someone out on being sexist–to me, at least–is more calling them out on falling down on the job. I think a lot of times, sexism is the result of lazy thinking, and while I agree completely that it is useful and necessary to call people out on lazy thinking (of all kinds, but including sexism), I think other people assume sexism is NOT the default state, and therefore you are accusing someone of going out of their way to be sexist, whereas really, they just weren’t trying hard enough not be.

  8. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus November 30, 2006 at 2:16 pm |

    This reminds me of a discussion of racism on another blog, and one of the commenters made a point that part of the problem of talking about racism is because people often see words like “racist” and “sexist” as loaded with a moral judgement as to the worthiness of the person. Most people of good will don’t want to be labeled as racist because they see that as a declaration of them as being bad. It’s probably the same with sexism.

    So, as I see it, the challenge to the person who engages in sexism but doesn’t want to think of him/her self as sexist is to find a way to understand that sexism is a flaw inculcated in you, but isn’t necessarily an indicator of your moral worth.

    If that makes sense.

  9. the15th
    the15th November 30, 2006 at 2:43 pm |

    Well, I annoyed a poster on my blog when I told him that equating Jill Carroll with Natalee Holloway (why not Daniel Pearl?) and writing off both stories as “pretty white women” tabloid trash was sexist. I like the poster, and I didn’t mean that he thinks that women are inferior to men. I think he was just sort of parroting a common media criticism that’s rooted in (most likely) unexamined sexism. I think I could have made the same point and been nicer about it.

  10. LauraJMixon
    LauraJMixon November 30, 2006 at 3:42 pm |

    Thank you! Well said.

  11. demit
    demit November 30, 2006 at 3:45 pm |

    “I think other people assume…you are accusing someone of going out of their way to be sexist, whereas really, they just weren’t trying hard enough not [to] be.”

    Isabel, I think you’ve perfectly described something—one of the things, anyway— that fatally derailed the discussion on FDL. (Which is still going on, I can attest, with a small why-am-I-still-gawking-at-this-wreck sigh.) It would be worth pointing out to them over there, if you were so inclined.

  12. KnifeGhost
    KnifeGhost November 30, 2006 at 4:01 pm |

    I’ll read the whole post when I get a chance, but from skimming it, I think a brief explanation of the Fundamental Attribution Error is relevant.

    The fundamental attribution error is a principle in psychology that holds that generally people tend to attribute someone’s actions to their disposition. IE: somebody says something sexist, people tend to take that as an indication that they’re a Sexist Person. Or if they’re honest in one situation, it’s because they’re an Honest Person. So on.

    But, of course, people are more complex than that. People who say sexist things in one situation can say incredibly feminist things in other situations. They’re not a Sexist Person, they’re a person who’s said a Sexist Thing, probably because they have Sexist Ideas.

    It hink the ideal way to respond when somebody says something sexist or racist or homophobic is to say “you’ve just said something sexist” or whatever, and more or less offer them the chance to learn from it. People fuck up, and when they fuck up, it’s a chance to learn. Now, of course, people tend to have a relly really hard time admitting when they make a mistake or have oppressive attitudes, and so on. Mostly because our culture doesn’t tend to give people a chance to fuck up an learn from it. The usual consequence of fucking up is punishment.

    If they choose not to take the opportunity to learn, and dig in and defend their stupid sexist comment, tell them that they’re evidently not ready to give up their sexist ideas, and that they can fuck off until they’re ready to be open-minded.

    Of course, I realize that’s an ideal. I certainly don’t begrudge anybody their right to skip directly to telling people to fuck off.

  13. Feministe » Mel Gibson Feels Michael Richards’ Pain

    […] l @ 4:35 pm

    It’s tough out there for an anti-Semite. Riffing off of Piny’s earlier post, at what point does one cross the line from […]

  14. JackGoff
    JackGoff November 30, 2006 at 4:41 pm |

    I believe the real problem here, KnifeGhost, was that TRex was called on it, and refused to concede or try to learn from it.

  15. Heraclitus
    Heraclitus November 30, 2006 at 4:47 pm |

    Another excellent post, piny.

  16. flawedplan
    flawedplan November 30, 2006 at 5:02 pm |

    It is an existential debate, that’s exactly it. What he is.

    Labels are reductive, they reduce a human being to that one thing, and make it their primary identity, canceling out whatever else they bring to the table. Labeling is not just dehumanizing, but profoundly irrational, most of us know no one is just one thing. And the insistence of this–

    call TRex a sexist because he has stated that he sees nothing wrong at all with using misogynist slurs to refer to women. I call TRex a sexist because it is just plain senseless to assume that demonstrations of bigotry are isolated incidents rather than demonstrations of a worldview. I call TRex a sexist because I see no point in pretending that he has nothing to do with his own words, or that those words are not important.

    makes the speaker sound to my mind, furious. Completely understandable fury. That is the truth, the rest is bullshit.

  17. jennie
    jennie November 30, 2006 at 5:25 pm |

    So piny very kindly called me “diplomatic,” because I phrased something diplomatically. Does that mean I’m a diplomat? Or even a diplomatic person? My friends might laugh if you claimed I was.

    A diplomatically phrased comment indicates that I have the capacity for diplomacy, and that I chose to exercise it in this instance. Enough examples of my commenting in a diplomatic fashion might even indicate a tendency to diplomacy.

    If I lose my temper and call someone an “evil-spewing, charnel-tongued, nonsense-preaching windbag who wouldn’t know a fact from a fewmet if it beat them about the head and shoulders with vol. 13 of the Encyclopedia Brittanica,” does this make me a less-than-entirely diplomatic person? Does it make me an impatient curmudgeon?

    In this instance, yes, indeedy, it does. I have abandoned diplomacy, and chosen instead to exercise my capacity for invective. I have behaved like a not-very-diplomatic, somewhat cranky person. And so I am, at least as often as I am a diplomat of any sort.

  18. zuzu
    zuzu November 30, 2006 at 5:37 pm |

    You know what’s interesting? The position Jane Hamsher took in her post on the dustup is that Tom Watson called TRex and Pachacutec sexist, and they are not sexists, period, end of story.

    But I just read Tom’s post again … and he did no such thing. He mentioned sexism, sexist arguments and sexist insults, but he didn’t apply the “sexist” or “misogynist” label to either of them.

  19. Regina
    Regina November 30, 2006 at 6:16 pm |

    zuzu: exactly. they immediately made the argument all about themselves, and then got huffy and refused to address the actual substance of contention because they were too busy taking exception to what they insisted on perceiving as personal insults.

  20. Matt Browner-Hamlin
    Matt Browner-Hamlin November 30, 2006 at 7:04 pm |

    Piny, great post and a really thorough rebuttal to the arguments I was making last night/this morning.

    One question. Do you mind providing a link to the post or comment where TRex said this?

    I call TRex a sexist because he has stated that he sees nothing wrong at all with using misogynist slurs to refer to women.

    [Emphasis mine]

  21. Lauren
    Lauren November 30, 2006 at 7:38 pm |

    Matt, what exactly are you trying to defend here?

  22. Nanette
    Nanette November 30, 2006 at 8:20 pm |

    Well done, piny. I’ve been following this on the different sites, but not commenting as I am sort of FDL’d out after the past incidents. Too many racist, sexist and white/male/blog supremacist incidents for me to be even mildly surprised at the newest set. And how weird is that blog supremacy stuff? From one post to the next, people who criticize them are traffickless dweebs with an agenda, jealous of FDLs greatness and traffic and power and punks and want to wreck FDL, which would wreck the progressive movement. Somehow. – and – their detractors are powerful insiders who don’t want the puny outsiders like FDL to have a seat at the table. Okay.

    Still, I wanted to compliment you and zuzu on your posts… I think the reclamation one, especially, should go in people’s knowledge libraries alongside Kai’s political correctness one. Maybe FDL (and such) should have racist/sexist implosions monthly, because some of the fallout – finding great new sites and bloggers as more people enter the conversations, and some of the wonderful writing that has come about as a result and so on almost more than makes up for the original incidents.

    Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of.

    Most everyone has said everything and much better than I would have, but I did want to make one point in all of this.

    All that “I know them personally, and they are just darling, sweet boys (or girls) in person, nice as can be, when they aren’t being racist and/or sexist and running off at the mouth. Teddy bears, even!” stuff? Um… no. That sort of thing should be retired right along with the “Some of my best friends are… ” nonsense.

    As a black woman of a certain age (I’ve decided that I don’t need to say fif… fift.. .that word, until it actually happens) I can tell you, from personal experience… LOTS of racist/supremacist/sexist, etc freaks are very nice people. At home. Or among friends. Some are even pillars of their communities. They like kittens!

    “I know them, and they are fine with me” is more like a red flag of warning than anything else, if you ask me.

    I wholeheartedly agree that there is a difference between someone who posts an ill-conceived blackface photoshop caricature and, say, Nathan Bedford Forrest. I will also happily concede that there is a difference between someone who openly identifies as feminist but casually uses misogynistic slurs and graphic misogynistic riffs to deride people–women in particular–and, say, John Knox.

    Yes, exactly. However, many marginalized groups have learned that even when we are all facing the same enemy (in this case, the rightwing), it still behooves you to keep one eye on your friends, because they are at your back.

  23. RachelPhilPa
    RachelPhilPa November 30, 2006 at 9:37 pm |

    Maybe FDL (and such) should have racist/sexist implosions monthly, because some of the fallout – finding great new sites and bloggers as more people enter the conversations, and some of the wonderful writing that has come about as a result and so on almost more than makes up for the original incidents.

    It was the blowup at AmericaBlogs some months ago over John Aravosis’ mysogyny, that introduced me to four blogs that I love: Feministe, Feministing, Pam’s House Blend, and Shakespeare’s Sister. And through them, I found Reappropriate and brownfemipower, blogs by women of color.

  24. wren
    wren November 30, 2006 at 9:56 pm |

    This whole semantic issue sounds a lot like “There are no bad children, just children who do bad things.”

    And… you know, that’s true. Kids make mistakes, you show them it’s a mistake and they act differently next time, it doesn’t make them failures at life. What would make them bad people would be if little Timmy punches Johnny, and you explain to Timmy that he shouldn’t do that, and he continues this behavior unto adulthood.

    At which points he gets a blog and rants about his right to direct his fists in any way he chooses.

    If you use a word to refer to someone and find out afterward that it was derogatory or insulting in a way you didn’t intend it to be (… not that I’m saying he wasn’t trying to be insulting, because he clearly was). “I’m sorry, it was a poor word choice, I didn’t intend to express myself in a misogynistic manner” isn’t that hard. Of course it would have been better if the poor word choice hadn’t been made to begin with.

    It isn’t too hard to apologize and file your new semantic knowledge about connotation away in the part of your brain that tells you when it’s appropriate to say “good morning” and when it’s appropriate to say “good night.” It’s the defense of the behavior (indicating an obvious intent to persist in the future) that’s the issue here.

    Good grief.

  25. Matt Browner-Hamlin
    Matt Browner-Hamlin November 30, 2006 at 10:34 pm |

    Lauren:

    Matt, what exactly are you trying to defend here?

    I asked a question. I didn’t know that constitutes a defense.

    Piny stated a fact that I, having read much of the debate on the subject, had not been aware of. I was simply asking to see where TRex “stated that he sees nothing wrong at all with using misogynist slurs to refer to women.”

  26. evil fizz
    evil fizz November 30, 2006 at 10:44 pm | *

    I was simply asking to see where TRex “stated that he sees nothing wrong at all with using misogynist slurs to refer to women.”

    Uh, he called Ingraham a cunt and went on to wax lyrical about how that was all well and good and she deserved it. That would be claiming to find nothing wrong with using misogynistic slurs against women.

  27. MARes
    MARes November 30, 2006 at 10:55 pm |

    Jane Hamsher went beyond saying they’re not sexists, she said that nothing either one has ever written has been even slightly mysoginistic. That’s a hell of a categorical statement.

  28. kate
    kate November 30, 2006 at 11:03 pm |

    It’s the defense of the behavior (indicating an obvious intent to persist in the future) that’s the issue here.

    Just what I was thinking wren. Labeling and appropriating labels onto persons by virtue of one bad incident is indeed cruel and often unfair. Sure, people are multi-faceted and people can do and say stupid things. Sure, I even believe that people do or say things that they’ve been culturally innurred to and conditioned to accept, but know on a more intellectual level are wrong.

    But jumping from knowing or thinking about something, to acting on that impulse I think are two different things. Outside of Tourettes Syndrome can’t quite bite on the idea that someone might be overcome with involuntary mouth and tongue convulsions, causing them to spew vitriol they’d never claim as their own.

    More often than not, racist, sexist and other comments end up in casual conversation because the speaker figures their audience share’s their value system and world view. In other words, I think that what people utter from their mouths does indeed come from their heads.

    Also, someone earns the identity, label if you will, when the demonstrate by repeating the infraction, especially when educated about why such is unacceptable.

    TRex I’d imagine, though I have no link to follow the turd, also demonstrates a deep mysoginy and tendency to exercise his male priviledge by refusing to acknowledge the effect of his offense on those offended; they’re just women, who cares?

  29. Rockit
    Rockit November 30, 2006 at 11:11 pm |

    But is the word itself inherently misogynistic? Because I don’t think it is. I’ve never used it as a vangina euphymism, mostly because of its mondo offensiveness, but I use it every now and again for people I really, really hate, pretty much regardless of gender. I’m not trying to comment on the specifics of the people involved because I don’t know them but surely words can outgrow their original meaning and mutate into something else. I don’t know anyone who uses cunt as a specific word for vagina unless they mean it to have that kind of visceral impact.

  30. Sally
    Sally November 30, 2006 at 11:45 pm |

    but surely words can outgrow their original meaning and mutate into something else.

    They can, but I don’t think this one has. I think the reason that cunt is a very nasty insult, and one that you reserve for people who you really, really hate, is that it’s associated with female sexuality, which is supposed to be especially disgusting. The word gets its power from misogyny, from the idea that vaginas are revolting. It wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying an insult if it weren’t backed up by the power of misogyny.

    Like I said, I’m not bothered by cunt in places where it’s interchangable with prick. But that’s definitely not the case in the U.S., so when USians use it to convey a special level of contempt, it’s misogynistic and offensive.

  31. Sunrunner
    Sunrunner December 1, 2006 at 8:41 am |

    Uh, he called Ingraham a cunt and went on to wax lyrical about how that was all well and good and she deserved it. That would be claiming to find nothing wrong with using misogynistic slurs against women.

    So becuase a bunch of African Americans in a night-club are behaving like a bunch of asses–heckling the performer (remember Michael Richards) the deserved to be called the n-word????

    Becuase if you had been listening to what an awful lot of women have been saying, there is an equivalency. You might want to check out the latest photoshopping by ebogjonson…before you ay it is alright to call a woman a cunt, because she is a hateful woman.

  32. R. Mildred
    R. Mildred December 1, 2006 at 9:11 am |

    Because I don’t think it is.

    So you don’t think that using a word that specifically means “female genitalia” as a way to paint a person as really really bad is in anyway misogynistic?

    No it’s not equivalent to dick or prick, due to patriarchy.

    It was the blowup at AmericaBlogs some months ago over John Aravosis’ mysogyny, that introduced me to four blogs that I love: Feministe, Feministing, Pam’s House Blend, and Shakespeare’s Sister. And through them, I found Reappropriate and brownfemipower, blogs by women of color.

    Which is why the response of the mainstream blogs is that such blowups are a waste of time and stuff that serious bloggers shouldn’t engage in if they want to be taken seriously because only criticisms of rightwingers is valid and we’re all freinds and on the Side Of Good(tm).

  33. Donna
    Donna December 1, 2006 at 4:33 pm |

    I think there has to be a pattern before you could really say that someone is sexist, as opposed to they did or said something sexist. This is why I have no problem labelling TRex and the FDLers in general as sexist and racist. The pattern is there. They know they are offensive and don’t give a damn what women or POC think. There is also the difference in whether use of the word(s) makes some kind of point, satire, irony, etc. There is none of that at FDL, they are using it the same way a 5 year old uses curses when he first discovers them. To shock and get attention, even negative attention. I do think there will come a point where Jane will have to weigh her loyalty to TRex, and her grubbing for power and influence and decide she has to throw him under the bus. She’s already seen that Lamont had no problem throwing her under the bus over the blackface incident and will have to take the hint that other politicians and movers and shakers will back away from FDL if she continues to condone the sexism, racism, and egotistical misanthropy of TRex and possibly Pachacutec too if he continues to emulate TRex.

    I read alot of that language thread over there and had little hope of it being more than a chance for the fan club to come out, and was pleasantly surprised to see many regulars and former readers there who came right out and said at the very least that the invective wasn’t their cup of tea, and many who said it alienated them or bored them and that they left because of it. I think that Jane is too stubborn to make changes because of one comment thread, but it will give her something to think about, especially if it keeps happening because of TRex and his childishly clinging to his right to slur anyone (and thinking they have no right to complain).

  34. mythago
    mythago December 1, 2006 at 5:50 pm |

    But is the word itself inherently misogynistic?

    By “inherently” do you mean “divorced from all context”?

  35. sylviasrevenge
    sylviasrevenge December 1, 2006 at 8:23 pm |

    The problem may not only be an existential one but also an epistemological and an ethical one. Most ___-ists and/or ____-ophobes, so to speak, believe that they are ethically superior to the people of the respective groups. It’s much easier to perpetrate a behavior if you think it’s correct or justified than if you think it’s wrong. In this instance, both bloggers felt fully justified in calling that woman a “cunt,” as if they can dissolve the hateful history of a word to conform to using it for occasional expression of dismay and frustration. Such an abuse of language to meet your own personal ends is careless, and a flimsy defense of “yes-huh miss madam lookee!” won’t cut it.

    Epistemologically, as far as the designation aspect, the way we label things often corresponds to the way they behave. However, we make distinctions by design, by regularity, by our personal connections, and by function. For example, planes fly around all the time but we haven’t started classifying them as birds. You can do racist things repeatedly and still come home and kiss your kids at night. We have this tendency to turn people, words, and objects into Others — into living, breathing embodiments of horrible behaviors with horrible appearances — so that we can dismiss them easily without reflection. But when it comes to complicated and pervasive institutions like racism and sexism, it’s never that simple.

    (There’s a point in there; see if you can find it. I’m a notorious rambler.)

  36. Rockit
    Rockit December 1, 2006 at 11:29 pm |

    But is the word itself inherently misogynistic?

    By “inherently” do you mean “divorced from all context”?

    Well it depends on what you define the context as. Since no one I know really uses it as a vagina euphymism, or a gender-specific insult I never really associated it with that, regardless of its original meaning. It could be a geographical or generational thing, or maybe I’ve never thought about its effect on women since, if I ever us it, it tends to be in a gender-neutral way, much like twat, prick, etc. They’re mostly used in a more generalised way, unlike say ‘pussy’, ‘bitch’ and so on, which are clearly meant as feminine-oriented insults.

  37. Ilyka Damen
    Ilyka Damen December 2, 2006 at 3:56 am |

    Since no one I know really uses it as a vagina euphymism

    Who would use a slur as a euphemism in the first place?

    or a gender-specific insult

    I understand it’s as likely to be applied to a man as to a woman in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc., and I know I’m not as familiar with that usage as I am with the way it’s used in the United States. As nearly as I can tell, where a guy picking on another guy in the US would say “quit being such a pussy,” a guy in the UK might say “quit being such a cunt.” Even so, a few funny things about that:

    1. Neither usage is intended to be complimentary to the person to whom it’s applied. At best, it’s an “only kidding” insult used among friends.
    2. The original meaning of both words is what?
    3. And which sex has those nasty filthy parts again?

    I’m dubious about the ability of women to reclaim this word. Women have been trying to reclaim “bitch” for decades, and if fewer men have been using it to insult and demean women as a result, well, that’s a decline I haven’t noticed myself. If anything, I think more men feel comfortable saying it because “Well, she said it, so why can’t I?” Heaven forbid a bitch get to do something a man can’t. That’s never okay.

  38. zuzu
    zuzu December 2, 2006 at 9:26 am |

    Can I just say that I’m sick to death of the “But it’s not an insult in the UK!” argument?

    News flash: FDL is written by Americans, not Brits. Ergo, they’re using the term in the American English usage. So it really matters not that your buddy in Glasgow uses it freely.

  39. Sunrunner
    Sunrunner December 2, 2006 at 10:35 am |

    While we are on the subject, another word that really gets under my skin is “chick”. I particularly cringe when I hear young women use it in casual conversation. I came of age during the 70s when the word was used to refer to a fluffy, cute dimwit. And many women at the time, even us very young women were refusing to stay silent when we heard it used, just as we did not allow ourselves to be called “girls” when we were no longer children.

    I mean there is no equivalency, “He is a good guy” vs “She is a good girl.” In the same way, chick and dude do not carry the same connotations, because a dude sounds cool and a chick sounds irrelevant.

    And I will say that as a person who has spent a lot of time in the UK, I am always shocked when I hear the word cunt being flung around, it doesn’t usually sound affectionate–rather it sounds like masked hostility (and it is worth mentioning that the Brits are masterful at flinging the most vile insult in the guise of only a joke, boarding school types are esp adept at this kind of behavior). And I will say that an awful lot of feminists I know in the UK do not like the word as it is used, whether by men or women.

    I think reclamation is dicey, at best. I live in Brooklyn and hear the n-word used all the time (never by white people) and to my ears it always sounds like a put down, esp when you hear a mother yelling to her young son, “n*gg*r, get over here” or some such. Once the word is reclaimed, it becomes a means by which an oppressed group somehow buys into the dominant stereotype and turns it back in on itself, which is what I have seen in the UK with cunt and with the n-word in Brooklyn.

    That said, there are a few people who can effectively weild language like that to make a point, but in my experience the people who are actually capable of this generally choose not to.

  40. Sunrunner
    Sunrunner December 2, 2006 at 2:05 pm |

    I’d like to promote (I will not call it blog-wh****g!) on behalf of someone elses blog re this topic. Ezra Klein: On Obscene Sexual Expressions.

  41. therealUK
    therealUK December 2, 2006 at 2:31 pm |

    zuzu that it’s not an insult in the UK!..

    sunrunner…as a person who has spent a lot of time in the UK, it doesn’t usually sound affectionate

    I posted a comment on ShakespeareSister that I was suprised to read people saying that it’s not an insult over here – when in fact it is, and quite a bad one at that. It may be used publicly more frequently than than in the US, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost its offence – it still has the same misogynistic contempt behind it.

  42. Lauren
    Lauren December 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm |

    Funny, when I hear the word bitch used it’s more in the lines of prison bitch, which of course leads us back to the misogyny charge.

    2 cents.

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