Feminism Lite Is A Dangerous Thing

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If you don’t know who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, that’s ok. But, you really should.

To give the Wikipedia definition – she’s a Nigerian novelist, nonfiction writer and short story writer. But that’s not why I am writing about her. And that does not even begin to tell you who she is. I’ll let you Google her and find out more (there’s a lot).

Why am I bringing her up? Because she is a feminist, and I love her for it. I’ve always thought she’s the real thing – as in, a real feminist (which does not mean she wants to biff any man she sees on the head – it simply means she wants equality).

I read something she said recently and it made a lot of sense – and also tied in with what I’ve been saying for a long time. Here’s what she said – “Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women, or you do not.”

I couldn’t agree more. But there’s more – which I completely, wholeheartedly agree with. She adds that – “Feminism Lite uses analogies like “He is the head and you are the neck.” Or, “He is driving but you are in the front seat.” More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to “treat women well.”

I have heard this from so many of my female friends – even the so-called liberated ones. Male superiority is so deeply ingrained in our systems that we do not even realize it. I’ll give you an example – it’s a line I’ve heard so many of my friends use when they speak of their husbands. Things like, “he’s a really good father, he spends so much time with the kids, he’s really hands-on”. They say this beaming with pride and, in some cases, feeling blessed for having a man who spends time with his own kids. My question is – he’s the father, so what’s to be impressed by here? Do we, for instance, ever say this of the mother? – that she spends so much time with the kids, hence she’s awesome. So, why the accolade for the man?

Here’s why. Because “most-men” don’t do this, so the ones who do, deserve mention.  And that’s really the unfortunate part. It should really be the reverse. It goes to show who very far we are from an equal world.

Chimamanda goes on to say that – ‘feminism Lite uses the language of “allowing.”’. She e hits the nail on the head when she say that. It’s a word one hears a lot – “he allows her to work”. Inherent in that sentence is that the fact that the male has the power and he uses it the way he wants. So, remarks like – “he’s a good father”, or “he’s let her work”, or “he takes care of the house, so she’s really lucky”..the list goes on.

Men and women are equal partners – they shoulder responsibilities equally. That’s the truth – or rather, that’s the real truth, but it’s been stifled and gagged in a world run by men. Read how a British newspaper described Theresa May, the British Prime Minister’s husband: “Phillip May is known in politics as a man who has taken a back seat and allowed his wife, Theresa, to shine.”

I rest my case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Careful What You Tell Little Kids Through Toys

nasa

 

I don’t much believe in women’s day – don’t ask, it’s a long argument – but suffice it is to say that for me, the fact that we need a woman’s day is unfortunate – will rant about this on another post soon.

However, there is one thing I do like about all this hullabaloo around Women’s day – the fact that there are these great stories that come out of every corner of the internet, and I make my girls read them – to drive home the point that they are no different from boys (they know that, but I feel the need to reinforce it in the face of so much inequality that women face today)

One such example of a story I read was about Lego – the toy company – making female NASA pioneers as Lego figures. I think it’s a brilliant idea and, refreshingly, moved away from the gender stereotyping the company has done in the past (Lego girls is pink with beach and salon stuff the boys one is blue with all the “boy stuff” to make – you know the typical). In my opinion, the company has redeemed itself a little bit.

This is what toy companies need to do – to make gender neutral toys (hear that Kinder?). Children have impressionable minds, and the toys they play with – or the ones people gift them – tell them something about who they are supposed to be. Sure, that’s not how it should be, but that’s exactly how it is – when you give a girl a kitchen set to play with, you’re telling her that this is what she’ll enjoy, because that’s really what should come naturally to her. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with girls playing with these. The problem happens when that is all they play with – the “girlie stuff” – that’s giving them a message, even if unintended. Anyway, I think I’ve made my point (and I’ve said it before – you can read more about it if you like)

So, back to Lego’s NASA women – it’s a great idea. And, I cannot believe I am saying this. Why? Because I have hated Lego Friends – it’s all that women stand against today and I look at it as exploitation for mercenary gain. But, this is more of  give-the-devil-the-due kin fog thing. Like I said, they’ve redeemed themselves a little – even if it is an overt way to compensate for their other follies.

The next time you want to gift a Lego, go for the NASA one – for both girls and boys. It’s equally important for boys to grow up believing that women are equal to men – in every possible way. They too need to question the inequality and help break it. So, if you have a son – go ahead and gift him a Lego female NASA pioneer set.

 

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The Appalling Attitude Towards Male and Female Birth Control

pills

So let me see if I understand this right. A male contraceptive trial was conducted on some 350 men as part of a study that would’ve paved the way (could’ve, would’ve who knows?) for men to share the responsibility for birth control. And even though the results looked promising – the combination of hormones was found to be nearly 96% effective – the study was brought to a screeching halt. Hmm. What on earth am I missing?

Turns out, not much. Except, of course, that this is men we’re talking about.

There were side effects – particularly depression and other mood disorders – in some men. That can be hard, sure, but was that rare or reported in too many men? Not to both.

So now let’s see what the side effects of the pill, or other forms of birth control which women have been taking for years, are. Let’s see..headaches, nausea, weight gain, menstrual cramps, yeast infections, acne, mood swings, vaginal-tissue irritation, vomiting, migraines and decreased libido, to name a few. And oh – ovarian cysts, depression and heavy menstrual bleeding.

And women have been going through this for years. A bit of history. In the 1950s a trial was carried out for the female hormonal contraceptive (the predecessor of the one used today) in Puerto Rico The doctor in charge of the trial recommended against its use. But, guess what? a U.S. pharmaceutical company released the same formulation anyway.

Wait there’s more.

As this article tells us – the same group of doctors that studied the female pill also considered one for men, but decided against it. Why? Because of the supposed side effects (testicle shrinkage being one) . Also, they believed women would be able to take the side effects better than men!

Not much seems to have changed in the past sixty odd years. The male contraceptive study has, once again, been abandoned as women, the uhm, weaker-sex, are stronger to tolerate the side effects.

And now, after years of women complaining, a recent Danish study found a correlation between the use of hormonal birth control and being diagnosed with clinical depression. Not that this is news to women.

So, to state the obvious here, it’s unfortunate, yet again to know what an unequal world it still is –  men must have an equal responsibility towards birth control, but they don’t. Far, far from it.

And the one chance we had of getting there just got snuffed out.

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A Day In The Life Of A Working Mom

ducks

6:00 am: Wake up, wash face, wear running clothes, take a deep breath. Start getting the kids ready, with the help of the maid (may the lord bless her).

6:30 am: Twins have finished their milk. General ablutions are in due process. But older one needs to be woken up – didn’t sleep on time at night (don’t ask). Gently goad her out of bed, while remembering the resolution to be more calm and patient. She stirs and falls back to sleep. Count to ten, while holding back on the lecture on the merits of sleeping on time.

6:40 am: Try not to burst a nerve as two of the three remain ensconced on the pot with books.

6:41 am: Husband enters after Yoga.  Asks me to chant “serenity now”. I give him the look. He smiles, gives me the what-else-can-you-do look in return. He’s charming even at this hour. I don’t tell him that, of course – there are three kids to get out the house by 7:10.

6:43 am: One twin bathed – comb her hair, as she protests, while husband feeds her fried egg (mama can’t feed, it’s a fine art only dad knows best. Mama only too happy not to learn the art. Is willing to give up others, for the record). Other twin out. Repeat combing and feeding process. She too has strong objections to the manner in which the combing is carried out. She curls up her nose and declares that it hurts. Refuses to eat more till the problem is resolved.

6:44 am: Give her the hair brush and exit the room. Dad can deal with this on his own. Check on the older one. She’s still on the pot. Needs two more minutes. We don’t have two more minutes, I tell her. She sighs, rolls her eyes. I give her one more minute by the clock and leave with my signature, don’t-make-me-come-in-there look.

6:46 am: Twins ready, but there’s been a fight over the ownership of a pen. Dad is smack in the middle of it, trying to reason with two seven- year olds.

6:58 am: Last one out of the bathroom. Countdown to departure begins.

7:08 am: Everyone ready. Breakfast halfway. But now have to feed them almonds, and the tonic. It’ll have to be had in the car. Pick up spoon and tonic. And oh, the immunity sachet – older one’s been falling ill a lot, so needs this in the mornings, along with figs, raisins and dates. Doctors really need to go more ground-level studies before scribbling out undo-able prescriptions.

7:10 am: Breakfast over. We’re almost at the door, with tonics, almonds et all. Twin two declares she needs a winter flower for show and tell. Starts to cry, it has to be taken today. I give her the you’re-kidding look. She cries more. Husband intervenes, asks me to calm down. I tell him to get the winter flower. He tries to reason with her, she cries even louder.

7:11 am: Cook runs to the neighbour’s house, comes back triumphant with a Hibiscus. She informs him that it can be anything but Hibiscus. I laugh, there’s nothing else to be done.

7:12 am: We get into the car. Twin two has curled up her nose and continues to wail. I step on the gas, then I stop, run out of the car. I have spotted a Petunia. I retrieve it the alacrity of a cat having caught a bird. I hand it to her and get behind the wheel. There’s cheering in the back. Mommy steps on the gas again.

7:17 am: Reach the bus stop. Phew!

7:20: am: Wave to them as the bus pulls away. I can’t believe the day has only just begun. I feel tired already.

7:30 am: Go for a run. Make a note to remember the Vitamin D sachets, as the knee starts to creak again. Will have to reset reminders, because now I don’t know how many have been consumed.

9:45 am: Drive to work with a gazillion thoughts about things to do. Some urgent, some important – not the same thing. In attending to the former, the latter get ignored. Urgent – pipe in the bathroom is on its last legs, is leaking, will give way anytime. Plumber must be summoned. He’s on speed dial. Pull over, call him. He doesn’t pick up. Important – mammogram. No time for it, despite the lumps I can feel. It’s ok I tell myself.

10:15 Get into the office. Pour a glass of water, gulp a headache medicine. Ask office boy for a strong cup of tea.

11 am: Am at work. Cook and general Man Friday calls to remind me about the leaking pipe. Plumber needs to be called. And also, the electrician too needs some determined chasing, the AC is making sputtering noises and is out of gas – the coil has holes in it and needs fixing. These are urgent. I think about the air we are breathing, if metal gets corroded then it’s scary to think about what the pollution does to our lungs. This is important, but I’ll attend to the urgent.

11: 10 am: Step out of the office to speak to the plumber and electrician. Plumber finally picks up. He has fever, but will come. Electrician too promises to attend to the issues promptly. Make a note to call them back in an hour.

12:00p.m. to 3:30 pm: All’s quiet on most fronts. Chip away at that presentation. Boss needs to see it at the end of the day.

12:15 pm: Mom calls. Can’t talk. Will call her back.

4pm: Call from home. Kids are back from school, have many tales to tell. I whisper and tell them I’ll back.

4:10 pm: Call from home. There has been a fight. Mommy’s expert opinion on whodunit is urgently needed. Hang up.

4:40 pm: Call home, remind kids about respective instrument practice. They are watching Master Chef.
Try not to blow my lid. Reiterate will-take-away-benefits rule that kicks in when work is not done.

5pm: Call from Plumber. Pipe is fixed. Needs money. He’ll have to wait, or come back. He mutters and hangs up. Am afraid he won’t take my calls the next time.

6pm: Boss wants the update on the presentation. Send it to him.

6:20 pm: Start wrapping up work. Call from home. Barrage of questions about time of return.The fight is still not resolved. Also, there’s some project work that needs mommy’s superior cognitive skills. Homework is for kids, I say. Not this one, comes the reply. Wonder why schools subject parents to torture. Why do projects involve cut and paste, is it me, or is it not obvious that nothing is learned in the process, except how to cut in a straight line, colour and search Google.

6:30 pm: Call from home. Further inquiries about exact arrival time

6:40 pm: Leave work. Call from home again about update on ETA. Now I can yell, I am in the car. Inform them that I am on my way, have not acquired the ability to fly yet.

7:00 pm: Walk into the house. They run towards mommy. Feel blessed. Kiss them and ask about their day – they talk in unison. I get the gist. They ask me if I need tea. I do. It’s been a long day.

7:10 pm: Check on homework. Check, approve and disapprove and ask for some of it to be redone. Ignore the

7:15 pm: Mom calls. Can’t talk. Will call her back.

7:20: Dinner time for the kids. No they can’t watch Master Chef while eating.

7:45 pm: Dinner over. Time for race-to-bed-time drills.

8:00 pm: Fight over who will change last.

8:05 pm: Older daughter remembers she needs glue. I tell her we have glue. She tells me we have the other one. Glue is Glue I say. Seems not. And oh we need an A3 sheet as well, in cream (not white)

8:10 pm: Tears, apologies, more tears, and then a dash to the market.

9:00pm: Back home after getting the glue and the sheet. Twins have slept. Race against time to bedtime for older one.

9:30 pm: Announce the last and final call for bedtime – after this “it ain’t going to be pretty” (it’s a daily thing)

10:00 pm: All three asleep. Day over – all’s quiet.

10:10 pm: Guilt sets in. Go into kids’ room. Kiss them – they look angelic in their sleep. Apologize for yelling. Make promises about being more patient.

10:20 pm: Day over. Too tired to read. Watch Shark Tank with the husband while drinking Chinese Tea and eating dark chocolate. Feel the fatigue draining from my bones. Laugh, talk, indulge in uplifting conjugal banter. It’s the best part of my day.

11:00 pm: Ready for bed. It’s late. No time to read.

11:45 pm: Lights off. Wonder how it got this late? Really need to sleep on time.

11:50 pm: Think about mom, forgot to call her back. Damn. Too late to call now, she must’ve waited. Will do it tomorrow..

12:00 am: Slip into sleep as a million thoughts flood the mind – mobile bill is due, presentation is due by eod tomorrow, have to call the pest control fellow, the upholstery guy.. and yes, haven’t got sis a birthday present yet. Must call her tomorrow too…

And Ma, must call ma in the morning..

Tomorrow is another day.

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No GAP, Your Ad is Not A Mistake. It’s Really More Than That

gap ad

A lot has been said about the UK GAP ad – how it not only made a fatal error but also disappointed many when it released its latest ad.

I look at it a bit differently. To me it’s not an “error”. The ad, quite clearly, gives away a mindset – one that cannot be termed as a mistake, an oversight or lack of judgement. These are mere euphemisms that gloss over the real truth, which is that for an ad campaign to be created at a company like GAP (or any other company of this size for that matter) must require several layers of approvals, from the bottom to the very top. This revels only one hard truth – that somewhere the ideas of men and women are so firmly entrenched that it did not strike anyone as wrong. And that’s really the unfortunate part – that the ad did not seem jarring to anyone who was involved in its creation and approval. For all the politically correct rhetoric about equality and gender stereotyping, at the end of the day the best of us like to put men and women in boxes – women shop, men do the cerebral stuff.  That’s what it boils down to – cutesy girl, little boy – wham you have an ad.

To take this a little further let me add that it’s not about being politically correct either, or how GAP “let it slip”, because being politically correct means that there are compulsory checks and balances that ensure an organization does not make blunders. Call it utopian, but I believe that a company that looks at men and women equally should not, in an ideal world, need such checks.

But it’s not an ideal world, we’ve seen this before, and sadly, we’ll see it again. GAP is not the first company to have revealed its narrow-minded outlook though an ad. Nine West did it two years ago when it released a campaign showing animal print stilettos with captions like – ‘Starter Husband Hunting’ and text that read: “It’s hunting season. Whether you’re looking for Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, we have a shoe for that” . Again, it was an inadvertent giving away of a mindset, not an example of a “mistake”.

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Like in the GAP ad, then too many said that the outcry against the ad was an overreaction. They asked women to “lighten up and take a joke”. Except it’s not a joke – this is about constantly reinforcing deep seated stereotypes that manifest themselves in intangible ways and feed regressive ideas about women and what they should be like. Such parochial ideas percolate deep into our psyches and contribute to creating the barriers women are finding hard to break through today – barriers that are created because of mindsets about women, mindsets that are fueled by ad such as these. So no, it’s not a joke and it cannot be taken lightly. It’s the reason why women are still not accepted into many so-called cerebral roles at work (finance, coding, IT, to name some); it’s why prominent world leaders continue to make derogatory remarks about women and get away with it – ads like these do nothing to help rid society of regressive stereotypes. And they must stop.

In my humble opinion, what GAP did was far worse than many other such ads and thus, unforgivable. By featuring children it’s basically telling every girl who sees the ad that she’s really a social butterfly at best, and must dress to be like one and it’s telling every boy that he is meant for all matters cerebral and must aspire to be like Einstein (which he would probably need to spell first, because GAP sure can’t). Unforgivable and revolting.

I’ve said this before, on too many occasions, that campaigns that feature women in stereotypical roles do irreparable harm and must be checked. Only last month I wrote about something similar I saw at ICICI bank when I saw a poster that showed a father saving money for this daughter’s wedding and son’s graduation – again – women social butterfly who aspires to be married, son – the Einstein who’ll go to a good university.  We don’t even realize the flaw in that thought, because we do it repeatedly, and worse, not many even notice it.

Brands have no business telling children what they should play with or wear or think like. Kinder Joy loves to tell boys that blue is their colour and that they must play with boy-toys and that girls must stick to dolls which are found in the pink Kinder eggs. Again, they are impervious to disapproval and continue to be irresponsible in the blind pursuit of sales. Another example of an unforgivable act by a company.

There will be more such ads, which will be termed as “mistakes”. No, a mistake is a spelling error (which GAP also made in the same ad). The ad, in itself, is a reflection of the real problem with our society today in its ideas about gender roles. I am not sure an apology can change that attitude.

 

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My Daughters Are Not My Sons. They Are Daughters. They Are Not Tomboys, They Are Girls.

daughters

I have three daughters. Yes, three. And no, I wasn’t “trying for a son”, as most people ask me, a question that only reveals their supreme narrow-minded stupidity than anything else. Why else, implies their tone, would anyone willingly have three daughters. I don’t know, but wanting to have them could be one obvious reason. Not sure if the obvious is obvious after all, especially those who walk around the world with “to-let signs in their eyes”, to steal a dear friend’s phrase.

I don’t bother replying to these questions, despite the fact that my silence is taken for consent, even lament. Also, the truth is that even I do answer, in some misguided sense of wanting to educate the world, it would be wasted breath. Such deep-rooted parochial ideas are not about to change with any answer I can give them, no matter now persuasive. So I’ve learned to ignore the questions, the prying, and the commiserative looks I get from people – which I find amusing more than angering.

However, for all my fortitude on the matter, there are days when I my patience wears thin – especially when I am told that my daughters are “going to be like my sons”. That gets my goat. What does that even mean? What can a son do for me, that a daughter cannot? I once asked this to an unsuspecting lady who probably said this to me with the expectation that I would proceed to unburden my worries onto her and express my deep gratitude for her understanding. Instead I asked her what she meant by that remark. She was taken-aback, but recovered quickly and added that they would “do what sons do”, and beamed as if she had shed invaluable light on the matter.

I didn’t press any further, because it was evident that she would be unable to articulate what she meant, and continue to make generic, seeping statements which would irritate me further. Besides, patience is not a virtue, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I let it go.

But the truth is that she’s not alone in thinking this way. I get only two kinds of reactions when people discover I have three girls. Actually, make that three kinds– shock, sympathy and reassurance. I am pretty used to it by now. I know the look. Mostly, though I don’t let it get under my skin, but there are times when I want to shake the people out of their idiocy and tell them to take off their blinkers.

My daughters are my daughters and they will remain so- they will not turn into sons if they do “what sons do”. It’s infuriating how the world wants to put people in boxes.

Think about it – if a girl wears shorts and plays sports, she’s a tomboy. The dictionary meaning of that word is – “a girl who enjoys things that people think are more suited to boys”. That says is all – people think. So we are saying that if you do boy things (someone please define those for me), you’re a tomboy. I reject this outright. My children do “children things” – play in the park, climb monkey ladders, swim, play sports, chase each other around the house. They are kids and this is what kids do – they play. Who decided what activities are “more suited to boys”? Give a kid a ball and he of she will play with it – it has nothing to do with the gender.

As a mother, I see my kids play with girls and boys equally, and they do everything. There are boys who come over and play with kitchen sets, does that make them “girlie”. I don’t think so.

It’s all in the conditioning. We do it from the time they are born. We think a child would be inclined in one way or the other and we make those decisions for them. We hand cars to boys and dolls to girls, and then we hold up statistics to bolster our arguments on gender. As I have said before in a making a case against gender-based toys that Kinder Joy puts in their pink and blue chocolates, that we think we know better. But we don’t. My girls like the “blue-for-boys” Kinder Eggs, because they prefer the toys in them.

And no, they are not tomboys, they are girls, they are children who love to play, to create, to not want to be told what they should do. They are my daughters. If I had had sons, they would have been my sons. It’s as simple as that. Why is this so hard to understand?

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The Thing About Gender Stereotyping

gender

I was standing near a teller’s counter in my bank the other day, waiting to be served. It is one of those so-called new-age banks that make a big deal about service and customers, and adding value to peoples’ lives.

As I waited, I noticed big, cheery posters behind the counter extolling the various virtues of the bank. As is typical of such ads, they trumpeted their superior expertise in helping people achieve their dreams, whatever those might be.

One particular poster caught my eye – not for any design brilliance, because in that it was much like the rest (they pretty much merged into each other), but because of the message it sent out. I can’t remember details about the exact financial product this ad offered but, in essence, it asked you to plan for the future – to put away enough money for your kid’s requirements when they grew up, the time that you’d need it. It showed a father with his grown-up son and daughter. They were all beaming with joy at the camera – the son in his graduation attire and the daughter in, you guessed it, a wedding one. So while the son’s aim is to graduate from a good college, the daughter’s is to get married. I wondered if anyone else around me had noticed the blatant stereotype. Of course, no one had. They were keen to get the teller’s attention and get out of there. I did too, because waiting at a bank is stuff of people’s nightmares (unless you are my father, for whom it is a social outing, and who would never go a bank like mine where he could not exchange details about his grandchildren with the teller). But that’s beside the point.

The truth is that to the people who created this ad and the ones who approved it,
this did not strike as odd. Nothing in the image looked incongruous to them, which is why it made it to the walls of the bank, and many others. If, however, the images had depicted the reverse – that is a delighted father flanked by a daughter in a graduation hat and a son in a groom’s dress, it would have seemed inconsistent – inconsistent with the reality that is. And reality is a matter of perception.

Toe me, this is a typical example of how stereotypes seep so deep into our psyche that we fail to notice it, or imagine any other truth. A daughter must get married, a son must get a job – that’s essentially the message that this ad is sending out. And everyone seems to be alright with it. Not quite new-age if you ask me.

Let me take this a little further. If you look at the other advertisements of the bank in question, or most banks or financial institutions for that matter, notice how they depict men and women. If it’s an ad about net banking to pay shopping bills, you’ll have a jubilant woman celebrating the fact that she can hereafter shop from home. However, if it is one about paying taxes online, there will be a content looking man quite chuffed at the convenience – again, women shop, men pay taxes (because women don’t get numbers)

To take this even further, I now come to the much-talked about Rajdeep’s question to Sania Mirza about motherhood and settling down. Did he think about what he was saying? I doubt it (if he had, he would not have asked it). Which is my point – stereotypes creep into your being and influence your thought process in ways that you don’t even realize.

The ad at ICICI and the question that Rajdeep posed have one thing in common – they equate womanhood with marriage and children. Such are the perils of falling for stereotypes – you stop thinking, even as you believe you are.

And only when this changes, will perceptions about women change. Only then will women will be treated as equal.

It’s a long road.

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