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Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities


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http://www.comicmix.com/columns/2012/07/10/emily-s-whitten-geek-culture-no-really-were-not-more-enlightened/

 

I think that she makes some really good points. Some of the things she talks about are things that I have seen here on the Hero Boards and in many other geek communities.

 

Enjoy,

Tasha

 

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Emily S. Whitten: Geek Culture – No, Really, We’re Not More Enlightened

 

by Emily S. Whitten on July 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm Posted In: Columns

 

Whitten-Column-Art-1207101.jpgThe first time I went into an actual comic book store by myself as an adult, I went in more to browse than with a specific purchasing goal in mind. I was walking by stores, and lo, there was a comic book store, and I’d just started reading comics, and wanted to read more, so I went in, ready to find things to read and buy them.

 

Having read a few paper comics as a young child and watched a lot of comics-related cartoons and movies while growing up, but not having read comics as an adult until a few months prior, naturally I was familiar with very few of the names’ in comics (i.e. writers, artists, or what-have-you); or with every good book or character. I had no clue who was writing or drawing which book, or what I should try first, which comics were classics, or any of that; only that I was interested in picking up some good stories. I was, in other words, a prime target for a canny salesperson who could have helpfully loaded me up with all the great stories I should read right away. I’d probably have bought them all, and the storeowner could have retired on the spot. But it didn’t happen.

 

When I entered the store, the (male) sales clerk ignored me completely for about the first twenty-plus minutes, as I stood nearby looking rather overwhelmed at the varied selection, instead helping three different men first (one of whom came in after me). I actually tried to get the clerk’s help with a polite “excuse me” a few times, but his response was a brusque, “Just a minute” before turning to ask Guy Number Three if he needed help. (Note: It was not just a minute.) Finally when there were no other customers in the store he turned his attention to me. I asked him if he had any recommendations for a good trade to pick up. A short conversation ensued. I can’t remember the exact words several years later, but if I had to do a play-by-play of the conversation and what I felt like was happening in its subtext (and I wasn’t imagining this based on some idea of how I’d be treated; it was completely not something I expected to encounter) it would go like this:

 

He acted like recommending a book to a woman who was unfamiliar with comics was some sort of huge chore and he really had better things to be spending his time on; but when pressed, recommended Watchmen. I asked him what it was about, since it was sealed in plastic and he didn’t want it opened by someone who might not buy it, and he said, oh, it was by Alan Moore (but still did not tell me what it was about). I indicated that I’d never heard of Alan Moore. He indicated that clearly I must be some sort of poser imbecile (‘You’ve never heard of Alan Moore?’), not an actual rare Female Comics Geek, because comics geeks know who Alan Moore is.

 

I indicated that I’d read a few issues of Runaways that I liked, after a suggestion made by my boyfriend. He indicated that now everything made sense. I was a Girlfriend Who’d Read A Comic Once. Not an actual Geek. Just a Girlfriend who’d accidentally wandered into the store without her Geek Man. He half-heartedly recommended I just look around at a few things and maybe I’d find something I liked – this being made a bit difficult by the trades being in plastic you weren’t allowed to open without permission. Then he walked away. Just left me standing there in an otherwise empty store, still clueless, in the midst of the bewildering selection of Stories I Couldn’t Browse Through Without His Permission, feeling very unwelcome and slightly ashamed to not already know everything about every comic, ever.

 

Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything that day. The guy made me feel so unwelcome and so much like I was bothering him just by being there that I didn’t even want to go to the check-out line to interact with him again, and I’m not a timid person. At all. Now, you could say, “he was just a rude guy.” Well, he was. But he was rude to me specifically because I was a woman and therefore clearly not a serious geek. I know this because I watched him interacting helpfully and not-rudely with the three male customers who he helped before me, one of whom had also asked for recommendations. I know this because I had a whole conversation with him in which he made me feel, both subtly and not-so-subtly, like I was unwelcome in the store and unworthy of his time because I was a woman and therefore not knowledgeable about comics like his male customers. I know this because I still remember how it felt to be unexpectedly treated like a second-class citizen by someone whose job it was supposed to be to help me.

 

Why am I talking about this now? Because it wasn’t an isolated incident. Ridiculous as it may seem, even now, when I know much, much more about comics and the industry, when I’m actually known by some people for how big a fan I am of comics and a particular character, I still occasionally encounter the attitude that I’m somehow here in the Comics World by accident or as a Secondary Character in the whole show; not because I love it with as much passion as any guy out there.

 

For example: a year or so ago, I was attending a con and ran into a male acquaintance of mine who is on the creator side of the industry and who I’ve known for awhile. As we stood near his table at the end of a row in Artist’s Alley chatting and catching up, out of nowhere he said to me “So, where’s the guy?” I had no idea what he meant, and replied with a blank “What?” His response: “Well, you’re always here with one of the guys [in the industry]. I was wondering who you’re here with this time.”

 

Now it’s true that when we met I was introduced to him by another “one of the guys” who is a friend and happened to be walking the con floor with me. It’s also true that often when I’m at a con, I’ll hang out with some of the industry folks, because I naturally gravitate towards creative people who share my interests, and they tend to be on the creator side of things; and it’s true that most of these people are men. But I’ve actually never gone to a con with a man, and was surprised that this was the impression my acquaintance seemed to have; that I always tagged along with some guy, rather than being excited about and planning a trip to the con all by myself because I love comics and comic cons.

 

And frankly, this made me a little angry. In response, I asked him to look down his row – a long Artist’s Alley row of artists and writers – and tell me how many women he saw. The answer? Not one. In his row of maybe twenty-plus creators, there wasn’t a single woman. Gee; no wonder so many of my creator friends and people I walk around cons with are male.

 

Now, this man is a nice person; and he wasn’t intending to be offensive. But he expressed an attitude that I’ve not only experienced myself but seen pop up regularly all over the comics and geek fandoms – that somehow, women who are in geek fandom are the secondary characters in the all male show, there in one way or another because of a guy (or, worse, there just for guys to look at). It ties into the attitude of the comics store clerk, and bothers me for several reasons.

The first one is that I like to hang out with other geek women. I have a number of geek friends who are women, and we have great times together. The more geek women out there, the better, in my book. But attitudes like the above – either actively rude dudes who treat you like you’re unwelcome and an idiot because you are a woman and therefore, at best, a n00b, and at worst, a poser; or nice dudes who blithely assume that you’re at a con with a dude instead of because of your own interests – are not the kind of thing that will encourage women to get into or feel comfortable in geek fandoms. These attitudes propitiate a self-fulfilling prophecy: treating women like this may in fact turn women off to comics or getting more involved in the fandom.

 

The second reason this bothers me is that these attitudes are examples of a larger problem regarding treatment of both the female characters in comics and female fans. That problem is so large and multifaceted that Gail Simone based a whole website around just part of it, and you see it being discussed, consistently, from multiple angles and spurred by multiple separate incidents, all over the internet. (For a fun time, Google “comics misogyny.” Whee.) It involves objectification. It involves violence. It involves dehumanization. It involves belittlement and aggression towards women and dismissal of female opinion. It involves experiences I myself have had that bordered on harassment and that I don’t even feel comfortable discussing in a public forum. It’s a problem so large that I can’t even fathom a way to encompass it in one column, which is why I’m choosing to focus on just part of it here.

 

The third reason is that while all this is going on (and trust me, it is ongoing) geek culture seems to think it’s actually super-progressive and feminist in comparison to the rest of the world, and is sometimes obnoxiously self-congratulatory about that fact, while misogyny floats around unchecked in our geek content and culture. (Seriously, read that link for some current examples of the awful stuff that’s happening right now, such as the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, which actually made me shudder in horror.)

 

When geeks are called on the existing misogyny, they get super defensive. I’ve seen every excuse or justification under the sun used to try to explain the negative behavior in a way that makes it okay and shows geek culture is still more progressive. Or, alternatively, I’ve seen people try to put it all on women. (One of my favorite excuses for geek misogynistic behavior was some guy saying that, see, the reason geek guys have these attitudes towards women is that so many of them were rejected by women when they were younger, and picked on for being geeks, and blah blah blah they had to walk uphill both ways in geek snowshoes while women taunted them and pelted them with Nintendo controllers from the sidelines or something. To which I say, Shit, son – you think being picked on for being different is something that only happens to geek dudes? You think girls never get rejected by boys for being weird or geeky? Are you seriously that dumb? Put on your big boy pants, get over yourself, and stop blaming girrrrrls for your problems.)

 

The attitude of self-congratulation or denial that there are problems here makes me angry, especially when held up next to the actual, real-life experiences of myself, my female friends, and people like Sarkeesian. Geek culture may be coming at things from a different angle (which sometimes results in its own, unique brand of negative treatment of women, woo), but it’s not really more progressive, and it’s actually worse a lot of the time because the refusal to acknowledge the problem leads to it becoming more firmly entrenched and accepted.

 

All this self-congratulation equals no confrontation of the issues that exist. I have no immediate solutions to propose, but the sooner we actually meaningfully acknowledge and confront these issues, the sooner we can truly be the more progressive cultural group that we clearly feel we should be. I hope we get there someday.

 

So let’s all take a moment to ponder how to make the world of comics more awesome and friendly to us geeky women who love it and, until next time, Servo Lectio!

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

I've got a theory about the amount of sexism in geek communities: Lord of the Flies.

 

When poorly socialized people form communities, asshats will tend to congregate.

 

A corollary to this is that asshats also tend to rise to the surface, and are thus very visible.

 

We got lucky here on the Hero Boards, I think. Best. Geek. Community. Ever.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

I know. But that was the quickest "get in the kitchen" joke I could come up with on short notice.
Yeah, I get that. I only make those kinds of jokes with people I know very well or even intimately. I would not dream of cracking wise, in that manner, to somebody I know very informally and only through a forum.
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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

I agree that the HERO Boards are astoundingly open, well-mannered, and cool.

 

I also agree with everything that the author said in the article.

 

Theres a game store here in my town, and Id been there many times over the years Ive lived here. The guy who is usually behind the counter isnt exactly what Id call a "friend" of mine, but he was a genial business acquaintance. Hed say "hi" to me and be generally helpful, and my attitude toward him was generally positive, overall.

 

And then I heard a female friend of mine, who is absolutely a legitimate Gamer Girl (shes been gaming since the late 70s / early 80s), say some angry things about the "jerk who works at [insert Store Name Here]".

 

I said "You dont mean [Name], do you? The guy with the glasses? hes always been cool to me..."

 

"Of COURSE hes cool to YOU! Youre a guy, and you spend like $100 a month in there!"*

*(This is an exagerration on her part, but an understandable one) (And may also be completely accurate)

 

Apparently she had gone in a few times with her husband, and had noticed that he was kind of generally dismissive of her. But recently she had gone in by herself, because she knew that something she was interested in had either just come out, or was just about to, and wanted to pick it up if it was available, or put it on order if it was not.

 

Just like in the article, this guy basically ignored her for a little over half an hour, until she practically grabbed him by the arm and said "AHEM!"

 

And just as was described, he treated her in an AMAZINGLY condescending fashion, and at one point said something that was so patronizing and dismissive of her (because she, as a woman, COULDNT be a "real gamer") that she felt that she needed to spell out for this guy that SHE HAS BEEN PLAYING ROLE-PLAYING GAMES AND READING COMICS LITERALLY SINCE BEFORE THIS ASSHAT WAS BORN. And that she was furious at her treatment of her. And that she would not be coming back here again.

 

I was gobsmacked to hear all of this; the guy she described was like... the goatee-wearing Mirror-Mirror universe version of the guy I (thought I) knew.

 

And THEN, as I was saying "Are you SURE its [Name]?!?", another of my female gamer friends who was there at the table said, "Oh yes. Definitely. Hes done that to me too. I absolutely hate that guy." And then told us of HER several bad encounters with the little creep.

 

Ive since checked with every female gamer /comics fan I know in the area, and they ALL say that he treats them, and all women, like they are unwelcome aliens; simple-minded creatures who cant possibly undertsand the complexities of HIS world of comics and RPGs (poor things *pat pat pat*)

 

Needless to say, I have stopped going to that shop, and have advocated that my friends also stop going there. Instead I drive up to "The City" (about 30 miles away) to do my shopping at a place called "Games HQ", where to my knowledge they do not have that kind of B.S. attitude.

 

Sidebar 1: I HATE those "get in the kitchen" jokes. They arent funny, and they actually just seem to exacerbate the exact problem we are talking about. I know Pattern Ghost was speaking in jest, but its sad how many people who make those "jokes" are not.

 

 

Sidebar 2: I avoided using the name of the store and the name of the guy, because I dont want the Hero Forum to be open to any kind of legal action in case the guy reads this. I named Games HQ because I have only good and positive things to say about them, which I think makes it OK to name them directly).

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

I've got a theory about the amount of sexism in geek communities: Lord of the Flies.

 

When poorly socialized people form communities, asshats will tend to congregate.

 

A corollary to this is that asshats also tend to rise to the surface, and are thus very visible.

 

We got lucky here on the Hero Boards, I think. Best. Geek. Community. Ever.

 

From what I have seen. Those with privilege/power can't see things from the viewpoint of those without power. So even geek guys can't see how they treat women is bad. That's why we always see some arguments of "reverse discrimination" whenever we talk about gender issues. Some of the nicest guys come up with some of the most offensive arguments when we start to talk about gender discrimination.

 

Now I am not calling anyone out specifically. This just seemed to be a good post to quote when posting my opinion.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

Get in the kitchen and bake me some paragraph breaks! ;)

 

ha ha, not funny! :P

 

Sorry about the bad formatting. I fixed as well as I could. Please DO click the link so that Comic Mix gets page count/ ad revenue. They are a pretty darned good site for all things comic related. With essays from some of my favorite comic authors.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

Yeah' date=' I get that. I only make those kinds of jokes with people I know very well or even intimately. I would not dream of cracking wise, in that manner, to somebody I know very informally and only through a forum.[/quote']

 

I would. I trust my fellow forumites have a sense of humor. Or at the least, that I won't get strung up for my natural wise-acre-ness.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

ha ha, not funny! :P

 

Sorry about the bad formatting. I fixed as well as I could. Please DO click the link so that Comic Mix gets page count/ ad revenue. They are a pretty darned good site for all things comic related. With essays from some of my favorite comic authors.

 

 

My humor isn't the best on a good day, it's worse when I'm working into the wee hours. =)

 

Found a lot of interesting links off that site and the sites it linked to in the article. Thanks.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

When geeks are called on the existing misogyny' date=' they get super defensive.[/quote']

 

On the other hand, more times than I can remember, when a guy has tried have a discussion on sexism in RPGs, there will be instances where any seemingly rational argument he makes gets shot down by "white male privilege" or "privilege". It is almost like the term is used a trump card of sorts.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

 

Needless to say, I have stopped going to that shop, and have advocated that my friends also stop going there.

 

Did anyone report this guy's behavior to the owner or manager? Might save some gas just to get him fired.

 

Sidebar 1: I HATE those "get in the kitchen" jokes. They arent funny, and they actually just seem to exacerbate the exact problem we are talking about. I know Pattern Ghost was speaking in jest, but its sad how many people who make those "jokes" are not.

 

Sorry if I've offended you or Nolgroth or anyone. Clearly, I jest. I'm way less sensitive to these things than most people. I do, however, agree that my jokes aren't that funny. Plus, I trust that folks around here know I'm not the passive/aggressive type. I'm the aggressive/aggressive type. =)

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

From what I have seen. Those with privilege/power can't see things from the viewpoint of those without power. So even geek guys can't see how they treat women is bad.

 

I think this is true. I think, in general, people just have a hard time seeing things from someone else's point of view, and a harder time admitting they're wrong. I think it's magnified a bit in geek circles, because many geeks view themselves as intellectually and/or creatively superior beings, so clearly it's the rest of the rabble who must be wrong.

 

That's why we always see some arguments of "reverse discrimination" whenever we talk about gender issues. Some of the nicest guys come up with some of the most offensive arguments when we start to talk about gender discrimination.

 

I hate those "reverse X" terms. If it's discrimination, it's discrimination, if it's racism, it's racism. I don't like the implications of tacking "reverse" on these behaviors, as they're harmful from either direction, regardless of which side of the power dynamic they're on.

 

Now I am not calling anyone out specifically. This just seemed to be a good post to quote when posting my opinion.

 

=)

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

As I read this, I had the growing conviction that I'd read it somewhere before. An old piece you'd just found, but still vald and relevant. It wasn't until I clicked the link to the Anita Sarkeesian story that I realised it was a new piece, that I couldn't have read it before.

 

And yet I have. Another geek woman facing exactly the same situation in a different shop.

 

What will it take? More female staff in FLGS/FLCBSes would be a start - and a good one. Accessibility - not just for people with disabilities (though wheelchair access would be great), but a sense of open-ness and encouragement of fresh blood in the geek world, a chance to share and explain why we love what we love to others, no matter their sex, colour, creed or orientation.

 

Some more open content in our source material would be better too, both comics and games. Lesbian characters who don't feel like they've been dreamed up by a 15-year-old with a box of Kleenex close to hand (ew), or introduced with some great song and dance in a cynical attempt to garner column inches and get free advertising by masquerading as inclusive (I'm looking right at you, DC). Gay characters, bisexual (male, as well as female - give me more Captain Jack Harkness, please!). Give us all the colours of the rainbow.

 

Tasha, thank you for posting this. I'm WASP, cis, straight and male, and the kind of crud this article talks about goes on all the time in our geek culture. It's wrong, and there is no valid justification for it.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

On the other hand' date=' more times than I can remember, when a guy has tried have a discussion on sexism in RPGs, there will be instances where any seemingly rational argument he makes gets shot down by "white male privilege" or "privilege". It is almost like the term is used a trump card of sorts.[/quote']

 

I'd hope that here on these boards we're rather more mature and open to debate than many other boards I've seen. I'm pretty confident that we are.

 

However, privilege does exist, and those who have it do have a rather blinkered worldview because of it - because the privilege buys that luxury. If you're white, male, cis, straight and follow whatever's the majority belief in your area, you max out your privilege stat.

 

I tick all those boxes, with the possible exception of the last (I was raised Anglican, and live in a very tolerant, open Muslim country where the rulers have donated land and money to build churches, Sikh temples and meeting places for other faiths*).

 

If you have privilege, it's very difficult to imagine life without it. Sometimes you get a glimpse - I found myself the only white face in a black community in Kenya when someone shouted, "Hey, mzungu (European/white), what are you doing here?" I was actually being guided round to thr houses of several of my mother-in-law's friends, and I was glad she was with me. I now know no harm was meant be the question - it wasn't meant nastily, but I didn't know that then, and it was shouted. I was nervous. Everyone around me seemed calm, but inside I was nervous.

 

If you talk to someone from an ethnic minority, that little glimpse of nervousness I experienced is something they've learnt to live with all their lives. One of the reasons we live where we do is so that my black and mixed-race sons do not grow up in an environment where they learn to live like that - and I am fully conscious of the irony that my privilege, in part, buys them that luxury.

 

* No synagogues, though. Maybe if peace ever comes to Israel/Palestine on terms the Arabs can accept, there will be. But not yet.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

I think there are multiple elements to this mindset:

1. A lot of geeks tend to be poorly socialized, period. More to the point, they often have little to no socialization experience with adult women, let alone women who share their geek interests.

2. Ego and arrogance and geekier-than-thou elitism are a commonplace among the geek community, IME. Or, at least, "there's one in every crowd". This will be exacerbated in the presence of a perceived "noob"(even if that perception is wildly inaccurate).

3. Some guys never really grow up when it comes to women. For a lot of male geeks, every day is another day in junior high school, when girls would walk by and alternately either mock them or ignore them. So they have this kind of built-in unresolved/misdirected rage/resentment thing going on. Compounding this, the sexual hangups of some male geeks are legendary. They turn women(or some niche subset) into sexual fetish objects and become almost completely incapable of relating to them as people, let alone people who share their interests.

4. Related to all this, because they knew few or no girls who were interested in geek stuff--and perhaps the only ones who kinda sorta were had geek boyfriends--they grew to regard women as "geek dilletantes"[sic] and therefore unworthy of the respect they would give a "fellow" male geek.

 

The best way to counter it is to rebuff them directly, lay out your "Geek CV", give them a few pointers on how to address you(along with whatever choice words may come to mind), and in the case of geeks in customer service positions, talk to their boss about their attitude problem. You really shouldn't have to do that, but sometimes a good swift kick is what some folks need to get right. :)

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

On the other hand' date=' more times than I can remember, when a guy has tried have a discussion on sexism in RPGs, there will be instances where any seemingly rational argument he makes gets shot down by "white male privilege" or "privilege". It is almost like the term is used a trump card of sorts.[/quote']

Especially on certain gaming sites (which won't be named, but has a predominantly purple color scheme).

 

I'm a male, who's very much a feminist, but some of those arguments piss me off. Like a recent discussion of sexual assault, where any suggestion that a woman can take certain precautions (such as self-defense training and such) is shot down as patronizing.

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

Sorry if I've offended you or Nolgroth or anyone.
Let's be frank. You did not offend me in any way. With my own wife, I have used such jokes before because I know that she can take it and then dish out a reasonably joking-spiteful response. I do try to be exceedingly polite with acquaintances* though and I am not sure about Tasha's sensitivity to that sort of thing. This is not the first "sexism in geekdom" discussion that I have seen her participate in so my first guess is that she might very well be sensitive to to the topic. Hence why I would be very cautious about using that kind of humor with her.

 

Thanks for being cool about it though.

 

*With varying degrees of success. :)

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Re: Interesting article about Sexism in Geek Communities

 

Needless to say, I have stopped going to that shop, and have advocated that my friends also stop going there. Instead I drive up to "The City" (about 30 miles away) to do my shopping at a place called "Games HQ", where to my knowledge they do not have that kind of B.S. attitude.

 

Was it the owner, or an employee? Did you tell them why you are no longer patronizing their establishment?

 

Our local gaming store probably doesn't have that problem, since of the five employees, three of them are women. And they are gamers. I was talking with one of them about our respective WoW characters while she was painting some Warmachines figures. I've discussed various games and geeky stuff with the others (and the guys too).

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