Monthly Archives: November 2012

Gay Bashing with “Therapy”

mmw-reparative-therapy[1]Gay “conversion therapy” claims men can overcome same-sex attraction by way of simple torture techniques.

Psychologist Douglas Haldeman says early treatments of the 1960s and 70s included:

Aversion therapy, such as shocking patients on the hands and/or genitals, or giving them nausea-inducing drugs while showing them same-sex erotica. In electroconvulsive therapy an electric shock was used to induce a seizure, with side effects such as memory loss.

Reparative therapy tells gay men to behave in ways that limit a full life, cutting off the feminine side that all of us possess. For instance, avoid art museums, opera, symphonies… and women, except for romantic purposes.

A group called Jonah has used techniques like having gay men strip naked in front of a counselor or having them beat up mother effigies. Now they’re facing a lawsuit for emotional damage and deceptive practices. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Co-founder, Arthur Goldberg once went to prison for financial fraud, and neither he nor “counselor” and co-founding partner, Alan Downing, are licensed therapists.

Former client, Michael Ferguson is now 30 and working toward a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Utah. He came to Jonah because his Mormon faith taught him that heterosexual marriage was a prerequisite for exaltation. When Jonah didn’t work, his counselors blamed him instead of their program, all of which lead to depression. He now says,

It becomes fraudulent, even cruel to say that if you really want to change you could — that’s an awful thing to tell somebody.

In “therapy” he was also required to beat an effigy of his mother, as his councilors claimed that homosexuality arises when “normal masculine development” is repressed by “distant fathers” and “overbearing mothers.”

I was encouraged to develop anger and rage toward my parents. The notion that your parents caused this is a horrible lie. They ask you to blame your mother for being loving and wonderful.

Another client, Chaim Levin, 23, was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community where being gay was “unthinkable,” he said.

Chaim attended $650 weekend retreats for a year and a half. He finally quit when his counselor told him to remove his clothes and touch himself so that he could, “reconnect with his masculinity.” (One wonders if his coach is a closeted gay homophobe getting his kicks.) Mr. Levin felt degraded, humiliated, and still gay.

The American Psychiatric Association says this “therapy” can cause “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior” while reinforcing “self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” That’s just what happened to Michael and Chaim.

Thousands of men have spent heaps of money seeking to please God or family, but without results. The only thing gay “conversion therapy” demonstrates is that sexual orientation is not a lifestyle choice.

The young men seek to avoid evil, yet a “therapy” that resembles gay bashing can only be called evil. Being gay is not.

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Guys Just Wanna Have Relationships?

Hand holding“All men cheat.” “He can’t keep it in his pants.” “Men only talk about beer, sex and sports.”

That’s Lisa Hickey over at The Good Men Project reciting stereotypes about the supposed sex-craved male. But stereotypes aren’t reality, she says. And she’s got backup from Wake Forest psychology professor, Andrew P. Smiler who recently wrote a book called, “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male.”

Smiler says it’s no wonder we think men are all about casual sex. Stereotypes abound and play out in pop culture. Walking through TV history we’ve got: Read the rest of this entry

Sexual Objectification, What is it?


Cross-posted at Ms.Caroline Heldman’s Blog and Sociological Images

This is Part 1 of a four-part series on sexual objectification–what it is and how to respond to it.

The phrase “sexual objectification” has been around since the 1970s, but the phenomenon is more rampant than ever in popular culture–and we now know that it causes real harm.

What exactly is it, though? If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, then sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.

How do we know sexual objectification when we see it? Building on the work of Nussbaum and Langton, I’ve devised the Sex Object Test (SOT) to measure the presence of sexual objectification in images. In it, I propose that sexual objectification is present if the answer to any of the following seven questions is “yes”:

1) Does the image show only part(s) of a sexualized person’s body?

Headless women, for example, make it easy to see them as only a body by erasing the individuality communicated through faces, eyes and eye contact:

We achieve the same effect when showing women from behind, which adds another layer of sexual violability. American Apparel seems to be a culprit in this regard:

Covering up a woman’s face works well, too:

2) Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object?                                                                                                       

The breasts of the woman in this beer ad, for example, are conflated with the cans:

Likewise the woman in this fashion spread in Details, in which a woman becomes a table upon which things are perched. She is reduced to an inanimate object, a useful tool for the assumed heterosexual male viewer:

3) Does the image show sexualized persons as interchangeable?

Interchangeability is a common advertising theme that reinforces the idea that women, like objects, are fungible. And like objects, “more is better,” a market sentiment that erases the worth of individual women. The image below, advertising Mercedes-Benz, presents just part of a woman’s body (breasts) as interchangeable and additive:

This image of a set of Victoria’s Secret models, borrowed from a previous Sociological Images post, has a similar effect. Their hair and skin color varies slightly, but they are also presented as all of a kind:

4) Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized person who can’t consent?

In this “spec” ad for Pepsi (not endorsed by the company), a boy is being given permission by the lifeguard to “save” an unconscious woman:

Likewise, this ad shows an incapacitated woman in a sexualized position with a male protagonist holding her on a leash. It glamorizes the possibility that he has attacked and subdued her:

5) Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person?

This American Apparel ad, with the copy “now open,” sends the message that this woman is open for sex. She presumably can be had by anyone.

6) Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity that can be bought and sold?

By definition, objects can be bought and sold, and some images portray women as everyday commodities. Conflating women with food is a common sub-category. This PETA ad, for example, shows Pamela Anderson’s sexualized body divided into pieces of meat:

And this album cover shows a woman being salted and eaten, along with a platter of chicken:

In the ad below for Red Tape shoes, women are literally for sale and consumption, “served chilled”:

7) Does the image treat a sexualized person’s body as a canvas?

In the two images below, women’s bodies are presented as a particular type of object: a canvas that is marked up or drawn upon.

The damage caused by widespread female objectification in popular culture is not just theoretical.  We now have more than 10 years of research demonstrating that living in an objectifying society is highly toxic for girls and women. I’ll describe that research in Part 2 of this series.

Cross-posted at Ms., Caroline Heldman’s Blog and Sociological Images

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Are Men More Homophobic Than Women?

There is plenty of bad news on the gay/lesbian front. Suicides, gay-bashing. At one point a gubernatorial candidate maintained that “homosexuality is not an equally valid option” but felt women having sex with horses was hot. Historically, men have been more homophobic than women. But why?

It’s common to think of gay men as woman-like. Some act feminine, feminine stereotypes abound, and gay men do often perform sexually like women.

The very idea that men might be like, or act like, women is pretty threatening to manly men. But even more so when manhood feels insecure.

Men acting anywhere in the realm of womanhood collapses the great divide between male and female. Seeming more the same, male dominance and status are at risk.

Further, if gays and lesbians couple together no one can be the male head of home. Another blockage to male dominance.

But in the last four years the level of homophobia among men has dropped drastically, according to a more recent Gallup poll. Today men are no more homophobic than women. What happened?

Importantly, women’s status has risen. If women and men are equal, then men acting like women isn’t the big threat it had once been.

But women and men haven’t achieved full equality yet. So what else is going on?

New York Times columnist, Charles Blow called a couple of experts to get insight into the change in men’s attitudes. He talked with sociologist, Michael Kimmel, who studies men, and Ritch Savin-Williams, Cornell’s Chair of Human Development and an expert on same-sex attraction.

Dr. Kimmel explains that,

Men have gotten increasingly comfortable with the relative equality of ‘the other.’ The dire predictions for diversity have not only not come true, they’ve been proved to be other way.

Additionally, as gays and lesbians come out of the closet people come to see that they are like the rest of us: our fathers and mothers, our sisters and brothers, our friends and coworkers. Who knew they were real people?

Most interestingly, “virulent homophobes are increasingly being exposed for engaging in homosexuality,” as Blow put it. Evangelical Ted Haggard and George Rekers of the Family Research Council have both been outed. A while back, anti-gay megachurch pastor Eddie Long was accused of coercing young men into sex. Some are starting to see that spouting homophobia can be a front for the gay man inside. (Is homophobia acting to decrease claims of homophobia?)

Despite continued gay bashing, things are looking up.

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Woman, Not the Sum of Flawed Parts

anistonpubis[1]By Linda Bakke

Star Magazine. Full of faces covered by question marks, bodies sliced up. Women diminished to the details of their flaws, circled in bold. A dissection of celebrities’ body parts.

I was working as a receptionist at a hair salon when I discovered Star. I picked it up and paged through. It was awful. I could not put it down.

One article divulged a star’s “hairy secret,” detailing the frequency of her waxing regimen and suggesting her pubic area was overly hairy. A two page spread highlighted shameful “sausage fingers.” Another asked who had the worst toes.

It all oddly evoked the serial killers who keep articles – or worse, dismembered body parts – as trophies.

And what is the triumph here? A sensed superiority over the goddess’ faults as we lie in judgment?

And who can blame us? Their supposedly error-free bodies stress us out! Destroying them and their presumed perfection just might lift our spirits.

But maybe scrutinizing them only returns scrutiny to us, as the judgments tell us we must correct our own “blemishes,” whether buttocks, breasts, fingers or toes.

The message: women’s imperfections cannot be tolerated.

As we eat it up, we fail to see how we become victims, too, unconsciously nodding agreement that this treatment of women is acceptable.

While the pictures and text underline our preoccupation with facade over character, men’s bodily foibles are untouched by these tabloids. Who can imagine placing a man in such light?

Hopefully one day we will take on realistic and healthy expectations so that women will no longer be seen as the sum of flawed parts.

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Twilight vs. Porn

10886003_det[1]Women often worry that porn raises men’s expectations about what their bodies should look like and what they should do in bed. And why does he want to have virtual sex with those other women, anyway? So women can end up feeling like they’re not enough or not good enough.

Men may worry that Twilight raises women’s expectations for a “one true love” that is deep and intense with a man who only has eyes for her. Who can meet to such standards?!

Men craving sex with lots of women and women wanting sex with one true love. Funny how the visions are so often at odds with each other.

In fact, the appeal of Twilight for young girls may be the opposite of porn. Porn is all about getting sex. But as Edward yearns for Bella — yet avoids intimacy for fear of killing her in vampire bloodlust — Twilight is more like abstinence porn.  Sex without sex. As a writer for Psychology Today put it:

Let’s get back to the sex, or lack of it, which is what hooks girls on the first volume: female readers love that Edward sleeps beside Bella and apparently only wants to kiss her neck.

So in Twilight girls can imagine safe crushes on boys who love them, while avoiding all the complex, confusing and scary adult realities of sex.

But it’s not just naïve girls who fall for Twilight. So do their older sisters and moms. But while their male partners are turned on by hard-core porn’s over-the-top fireworks, Twilight is all about the subtlest sex. Here’s how a blogger at Huffington Post described it. Twilight is all about the:

building of sexual tension. So much so that when Edward brushes Bella’s arm, you can almost feel him brushing yours… They get to really know each other, their passion is allowed to build, we revel in the innocence, the time it used to take to truly build a relationship. Do you remember how amazing your first true kiss was?

A Salon blogger continues:

Instead of relying on tight shots of penetration, these books get their sexual spark from extreme emotional close-ups. The ‘money shot’ in these novels typically isn’t a geyser of bodily fluids but rather a declaration of love, or a man on bended knee.

I was struck by the male/female difference when I heard Meryl Streep and director, David Frankel discuss their movie “Hope Springs.” Frankel said the movie’s themes were universal because, “Who thinks they’re having enough sex?” But Meryl Streep suggested the nuances behind the desire:

If my team were here – women – they’d say it’s not necessarily sex, it’s what sex pulls from you… brings you to. It’s connectedness, it’s intimacy, it’s being known, it’s being seen, it’s being felt, it’s being wanted. The whole thing… But yes, you can reduce it to that part.

For many women, a guy can do the exact same moves and it can feel like nothing if you don’t feel emotionally connected to him, and it can be off the charts amazing when you do.

I suspect the female/male difference is due more to nurture than nature, but it’s a pretty strong pattern. Fortunately, not all men and women fit these molds. Some girls do just wanna have the fun of porn sex and some guys do seek consummate love. Or, what’s wanted may change with context.

But too often, like star-crossed lovers whose pairing is “thwarted by a malign star,” it’s an unfortunate trick of nature – or society — that men and women so often sexually connect at cross purposes.

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Overcoming Scars of Abuse

Today I am reposting a story of one woman’s recovery (still in progress) from her traumatic ordeal of childhood sexual abuse. This story comes from HumanitysDarkerSide, and I hope it might help others.

By HumanitysDarkerSide

Broadblogs wrote an article called Why We Have Sex based upon the findings of CM Meston and DM Buss at the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas. These two researchers wrote an article called Why Humans Have Sex in 2007. In their article Meston and Buss cite 237 reasons that students at UofT had listed as their reasons for having sex.

I commented on Georgia’s post and ended up being asked if I would like to write something about my own experiences and the effects of medication on myself.

One of the reasons being listed for having sex in Meston and Buss’ article is force. Sometimes sex isn’t a voluntary thing and in my case the force happened at a very early age and seriously messed up my head when it came to anything sexual. Well, not just that, as anyone who has run into PTSD will attest to.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress syndrome is a strange thing. It is basically a severe reaction to trauma expressing itself in as varied manners as re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal—such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance.

In my case I experienced pretty severe nightmares and hypervigilance (and probably some anger). As I was 7 when the whole thing started, this was normal to me and I thought most people experienced life the way I did. Turns out they don’t. Some who get PTSD as adults remember life before and a state of non-PTSD. In some ways I would imagine that could be worse (although maybe not). Depends on the trauma and the psyche of the person struck down with it.

I would guess that most people would see me as a boring person with a weird sense of humor. It is that strange sense of humor that has carried me. After the awkward teens and early twenties, I came to realize that life was just one gigantic joke and the only defense was to laugh at it. Laughter has been my friend throughout my life, laughing at myself and the world and it has gotten me through some rough spots (my psyche).

Anyways, I got married and when I met my husband I was a virgin (well except for CSA that is). I’d seen some porn, read books with sexual content and talked to people. But, you know, people just don’t talk about sex and death – the two great taboos in life. I didn’t get that sex could even be pleasurable and was afraid during sex. I wanted it, got horny and all of that, but when it came to actually doing it, well.

Thankfully, my husband is the kindest, gentlest and most patient person on this planet and he worked with me and tried to make things good for me. But you know, there is only so much you can do on your own. Poor guy, living with a CSA survivor is not easy. No matter how optimistic a person is, having trouble with your sex life just hurts both parties.

I tried psycho-therapy. Hah, what a joke. Talking through the effects of PTSD as something that was supposed to help. Sometimes I wondered if I or my therapist was in need of help.

Then I found my psychiatrist – my voodoo queen – magician galore. Granted, it took years and years before I did find her, but this is my miracle person. We used three tools in getting acceptance of myself into my mind, heart and body. Cause you know, CSA people just don’t have a healthy view of themselves.

Tool one was cognitive therapy. Folks, this stuff actually works. It really does. What happens is a re-wiring of the way you think of yourself and the world. Yes, it is an ongoing process and some parts will probably have to be a life-project, but it works. I can now do this all by myself because I know how it works.

Tool two was EMDR. What the hell is EMDR, you ask. Before I tried it I put it in the same category as homeopathy. But it’s just a kind of hypnosis light. It should be tried with a therapist that knows what on earth they are doing and it does not work for everything. However, research in Holland and Germany shows that it is good with PTSD. Just do a search on Google for Dutch and German research on EMDR and you will have plenty of articles to choose from.

Tool three was medication. People, you know this, but it cannot be stated enough times. No new psychological medication without therapy. There are side-effects with every bleeding medical product out there and you might need help coping with them.

At first we tried beta-blockers. My god. The first time I tried them this super-tense feeling in my chest lessened and I fell asleep from sheer relief. I’d walked around being hyper-alert all of the time and that really isn’t good for you. My world changed, but tension around sex was still high. No wonder, as this was my major trigger.

Then a miracle happened. And I am serious about this. A major miracle happened. My psychiatrist suggested that I try something called venlafaxin – an efexor depot medication. Instead of being scared every time I had sex I was loving it. Sure, it had taken years for me to get there and my husband had had to endure my pain for a long time, but I have actually gotten to experience the joys of having sex. How cool is that? And we all know that my husband has been having the time of his life along with me.

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What Women Want: Twilight

twilight-eclipseA lot of men take my women’s psych course because they want to know what women want.

Maybe they should watch Twilight instead.

A woman I know of named Tracie Lamb was surprised that her daughters were more engrossed in Twilight than in their Hawaiian vacation. She knew the book series had soldover 100 million copies and that the films have made about a billion dollars. Curious, she started reading and became absorbed, herself. Wondering about the book’s allure, she made a record of what made her “tingle” and amassed a cornucopia of “invaluable information for the opposite sex.”

Here are her musings from a piece called, Wanna Know What Women Want?”

Women want to captivate the men they love as Edward is captivated by Bella. He gazes at her. He watches her sleep. A sexy waitress flirts with him, but he only has eyes for his love:

She smiled at him again. “You have a nice evening.” He didn’t look away from me as he thanked her.

Later he tells her, “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever known. You fascinate me.”

Edward also listens to Bella, and he wants to know everything about her.

He seemed engrossed in our conversation… He says, “I want to know what you’re thinking – everything.”

Edward is completely devoted, telling Bella that, “You are my life now… I will always want you forever… You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.” (Well, love has been described as being like a drug.)

And instead of being on a quest to satisfy his sexual hunger he seeks to control it because he wants to protect Bella. (He fears he will drain her blood with his vampire instinct unless he controls himself.) That may make him sexy-safe for girls who are just discovering their sexuality, but his desire to protect, generally, is itself a strong draw. He’s not just strong, but his strength is directed at aiding his love. He’s always there for her. And she is more important than his own self and his own wants.

Now mind you, women may want to take care of themselves and their men, but they also like a man who takes care of them and who makes them feel safe and secure. So it goes both ways.

Edward’s brand of love may not appeal to every woman, but it sure appeals to a lot of them.

Tracie concludes with these words:

When a man looks at a woman, he sees the woman. When a woman looks at a man, she sees herself reflected in his eyes. What’s important is not how you look to her, but how you look at her and how you look out for her. It’s how you make her feel: fascinating, cherished, protected.

Next week: Twilight vs. Porn

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Vibrators & Women’s Sexuality are Out of the Closet

Vibrators, once steeped in shame and secrecy, are going mainstream. Does this mean women’s sexuality has thrown off the covers, too?

As a culture, we are of two minds.

Vibrators were once illegal in several states, including Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, or found only in seedy sex shops. But as the New York Times reports, today they may be purchased at your neighborhood drug store. Out in the open, even Oprah has pitched the helpful tool. And who can forget the “Rabbit Pearl” popping up in Sex and the City?

And yet, they aren’t quite out of the closet.

As one seller described the problem, “I can sit with my 10-year-old daughter during prime-time TV and watch a commercial for Viagra,” she said, “but I can’t advertise our OhMiBod fan page within Facebook.” Nylon Magazine won’t run her ads and the Small Business Administration refused her loan application because vibrators are a “prurient” business.

Ambivalence over tools and meds that enhance women’s sexuality reflects the larger cultural view. On the one hand the media glamorizes women’s sexuality. And plenty of porn approvingly portrays women with voracious sexual appetites.

But porn is off-limits. And women are told “Keep your legs together,” as if open legs were an open invitation.

Male sexuality is something to brag about, but female sexuality is something to hide. Men are praised as players and pimps. Women are called sluts, whores, tramps, and skanks… What positive word applies to women who enjoy sexuality?

Slang for penis and vagina says a lot, especially “cock” and “down there.” Cock: Cocky, boastful, swaggering. “Down there”? Unspeakable. Shameful.

This all reminds me of Zestra’s difficulty getting ads on TV for a product that arouses women. TV networks, national cable stations, radio stations, and Web sites like Facebook and WebMD all resisted. Yet “An erection lasting more than four hours” is O.K.?

Is it any wonder that sex surveys find mixed experiences among women when it comes sexual pleasure?

Indiana University’s comprehensive survey found that while 91% of men had an orgasm the last time they had sex only 64% of women did. These numbers roughly reflect the percentage of men and women who say they enjoyed sex “extremely” or “quite a bit”: 66% of women and 83% of men. Only 58% of women in their 20s had “the big O” on their last occasion.

As I’ve recently posted, 30-40% of women report difficulty climaxing. Women who lose virginity are also likely to lose self esteem, largely because they’re so focused on how they look (bad, they apparently think) and so unfocused on the sexual experience. And one-third of women under 35 often feel sad, anxious, restless or irritable after sex, while 10 percent frequently feel sad after intercourse.

On the other hand, many women do enjoy sex a lot, and frequently orgasm.

Does all this reflect that ambivalence, with enjoyment perhaps affected by which message gets most drilled into a woman’s mind?

Women’s sexuality kept in shadow and suspicion has an effect. Time to come out of the closet!

Ms. Magazine cross-posted this May 16, 2011 I first posted this piece May 9, 2011.

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Women’s Rights: Distracting, Shiny Objects?

With all the rightwing nuts running about, I must make a post mortem on the election and women’s rights. Which would be comical, if it weren’t scary. Ok, both.

Let’s start with Katherine Fenton, scolded for asking how the candidates would ensure equal pay for women in the second debate. All hell broke loose in Wingnut-Sphere where the “femanazi question” was deemed illegitimate and Fenton became the “Whore of Babylon” inciting “Twitter hate masturbation” as Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon put it.

Nearly every Republican congress member knows better, having voted down the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The loony right’s insensitivity to rape has been widely panned, but deserves a brief review. Representative John Koster cavalierly called it “The rape thing.” Mike Huckabee sees rape as an alternative baby delivery system and Paul Ryan minimizes rape by calling it a “method of conception.” In fact, Paul Ryan co-authored a bill with Todd Akin (victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant) to narrow the definition to “forcible rape.”  Richard Mourdock found forced pregnancy through rape “a gift from God” and told folks to “get over it.”

Feminist, Caroline Heldman wondered how pregnancy from rape could be a gift from God if raped women can’t get pregnant?

Meanwhile, Republicans voted time and again against contraception and abortion (even to save a woman’s life) even though contraception prevents abortion.

And if women die because they can’t get the procedure legally and safely, who cares, says Mississippi State Rep. Bubba Carpenter:

They’re like, “Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.” That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over. But hey–you have to have moral values.

Laws that lead to women’s deaths are moral?

In other news most of the GOP refused to protect all women in the U.S. from domestic violence.

And, they pushed to block cancer screenings and HIV testing for underprivileged women.

Women’s rights just aren’t important says Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney.  They’re just “shiny objects” that are used to distract voters from real issues as he explained to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

Mitt Romney is pro-life. He’ll govern as a pro-life president, but you’re going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people’s attention from the Obama performance on the economy.

First it’s women as objects. Now it’s women’s rights as objects.

These guys haven’t got a clue. And they lost, big time.

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