TV show tries to mould ladies from ladettes

by Jess McCabe // 8 June 2005, 12:59 am

Anyone who thought that reality tv couldn’t get any worse better brace themselves for Ladette to Lady.

ITV has really excelled itself with this. As the title suggests, the series takes 10 ‘geezer birds’ and attempts to transform them into ladies with perfect deportment and the skills to attract a society man, making them attend old-style finishing school. They are then eliminated when they fail to fully get behind this project to make their personalities more ‘acceptable’ and less tomboyish.

Some choice moments: One girl, a boxer, is expelled after being outed as ‘a bit of a feminist’. The girls are judged on the basis of their performance at a cocktail party, by eligible (read posh and rich) bachelors. One is shocked and appalled that one of the women is a gas fitter. (She is told she did surprisingly well at the party, but still wasn’t wearing enough makeup.) Another expresses contempt for a girl who’s never tried a prawn.

These women are being denigrated for failing to live up to some sort of ancient ideal of ladyhood, and the worst thing is that they are desperate to conform at the school. Despite efforts to ‘improve’ themselves, they are subject to degrading and insulting comments from the ‘teachers’.

The women are, undeniably, leary. But there is something unbelievably suspect about this attempt to make them conform to a classist and sexist idea of what it means to be a ‘lady’.

As Sarita Bhardwaj, the 26 year-old boxer who was the first to be kicked out, told the Sunday Mail, the tutors were “snobs”.

She said: “I was the only girl in there who stayed true to herself. The teachers were trying to turn us into Stepford Wives.”

Frida preview

by Jess McCabe // 7 June 2005, 3:27 pm

Check out The Guardian for a sneak preview of some of the self portraits due to go on show as part of the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Tate Modern.

(Some) women get rich

by Jess McCabe // 6 June 2005, 3:06 pm

While many women in the UK still face poverty, some are doing very well for themselves.

Brewin Dolphin Wealth Management has identified 360,000 women worth £500,000 or more, with a collective wealth of £292.88 billion and an average of £798,000 each.

Maybe it is because women make smarter investment choices than men.

Of course, all this needs to be kept in perspective – women still face a massive pay gap, of up to 40% and remain significantly more likely to be poor than men. Although it is great that some women are able to do well, this should not obscure the very real financial inequalities faced by large numbers of less well off women.

The Met are to re-examine the way they investigate rape cases, in response to evidence that the number of convictions is falling, The Independent reports today.

Only one in 20 reported rapes end up in a conviction, and an increasing number are being classified as “no-crimes”.

A Home Office report cites changing attitudes, as heavy drinking and drug use means that some rape victims recall little of the attack, making it near-impossible to secure a conviction.

Brian Paddick, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has been asked to head the review.

A spokesperson said: “We are carrying out a review concerning the numbers of successful prosecutions for rape. As part of this process, we will be reviewing the number of rape allegations which are [not classified as crimes] and trying to establish why there are variations between boroughs in this category.”

Teenage girls want to be glamour models, not teachers, doctors or nurses, a new survey has revealed.

As reported in Manchester Online, 63% of girls aged 15-19 would rather be glamour models than take up a profession such as teaching.

One quarter said that they thought lap dancing would be a good profession. Only 3% choose teaching.

The survey, which was run by, found that Jordan and Abi Titmuss are seen are role models, not JK Rowling and Germaine Greer.

The Lab spokesperson Fraser Lewry said: “Teenagers are witnessing the likes of Abi Titmuss and Jodie Marsh gracing the covers of their favourite magazines every day, so it is hardly surprising that they want to follow in their footsteps.

“Taking your clothes off is now more lucrative than ever and teenagers see it as a great way of making money and becoming famous.”

Insights into Porn in the Guardian

by Holly Combe // 4 June 2005, 3:57 pm

Tags: , , ,

Talking of sex… The Natasha Walter article about the portrayal of women in magazines like Nuts and Zoo is continuing to stimulate debate within London Third Wave. A variety of views have been expressed on how to define and approach pornography and the debate has evolved towards the wider issues that have led Walter to her re-think.

My own view with regard to the magazines Natasha Walter talks about is that marginalizing their content will not treat the root of the thinking behind them. I’d suggest she is being unrealistic when she says their editors might wonder how they got to “peddle such trash” or that readers will “look around for another point of view” if stores put these magazines on their top shelves. All this action will do is make Nuts and Zoo look rebellious and edgy and ultimately more appealing to anyone with a sexist agenda and an axe to grind.

She suggests that the one-dimensional representation of women in these magazines means that those of us who previously “didn’t want to get bogged down in debating the effects of pornography” should perhaps now be changing our strategy and rallying against it. On the contrary, I would say it simply highlights the banality of mainstream depictions of female sexuality in comparison to what is actually categorized as pornography.

These pictures simulate porn, whilst at the same time separating themselves from it by merely being “saucy” rather than “nasty” (explicit?) and it is disappointing to see Natasha Walter perpetuating this divide. I would say Nuts and Zoo actually belong at the extremely bland and limited end of porn (not to mention men’s magazines in general) so why is Natasha Walter judging them as a lesser evil? There are actually a wider range of people and preferences represented in the hardcore sex industry than there are in silly publications like Nuts and Zoo, so addressing the undoutedly “aggressively reductive” view of women in the latter by rethinking one’s views on all pornography (and the possibilities it holds) seems like a big mistake to me.

It’s not that those of us who disagree are being “insouciant” or that we don’t want to get “bogged down” in debating pornography. It’s simply that some of us believe pushing the debate in this direction is potentially damaging to our feminist goals. Natasha Walter does not mention outright censorship and I hope that any anti-pornography strategies she’d propose do not involve it. I would say paternalistic protection is not the answer and I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel Jarvie’s suggestion that encouraging debate about the possible sociological significance of the recent trends seen in Nuts and Zoo is the real way forward.

According to blogcritic Adam Ash, feminism urgently needs a pro-sex feminist. I think he means well but why does this have to be a position for a “poster child” who both loves and is seen to love “screwing men”? He also seems to have forgotten feminism’s long relationship with the fight for sexual liberation. How could he overlook The Female Eunuch or Germaine Greer’s involvement with Suck and Oz? And what about currently active writers and speakers like Suzie Bright, Carol Queen, and Jill Nagle? What about the debate that has been re-invigorated by the arrival of Scarlet magazine?

This is not a job for just one spokesperson. I believe a better approach would be for a number of us to mix things up and confound common expectations. For example, as a control-freak who finds the idea of being taken in hand a turn-off, I believe it’s very important that I also defend the rights of masochists. Another example is that I’d like to see women who get off on sexual submission to argue against the determinists and traditionalists who are usually behind the promotion of the idea that such a preference in a woman is part of the natural order of things. Those of us for whom conventional intercourse is not a necessary part of our sexual fulfilment need to step forward and argue against the censorship of material that actually shows this act. Just as importantly, those of us who enjoy vaginal penetration need to defend the right to not bother with it and, more to the point, be open about such a preference without being labelled as “dysfunctional.” In other words, I see anyone who doesn’t adhere to the tradition that we ought to have sex when and how it’s expected of us (i.e not too much or too little and not too hard or too soft) as a comrade in the fight for true sexual freedom.

Band together like that and we’ll soon gainsay those stereotypes.

A man’s iron?

by Jess McCabe // , 7:08 am

Argos are to market a range of irons designed for men, The Guardian reports.

Apparently, “real men want a real iron”. On the one hand, women still do a vastly disproportionate amount of domestic chores and efforts to change that should be applauded. But this is wrapped up in an indigestible bundle of sexist, gender stereotyping.

The “men’s” iron will have “extra power knobs and sleeker designs, some in black rather than the traditional pastel and white, in the image of a 4×4 car”, and will be described in macho language.

Eddie Kemp, Argos’ iron buyer, said: “A man’s psychology toward ironing differs vastly to that of a woman. Women want to get rid of creases while men want to destroy them.”

So far, so much gender stereotyping of the most basic type. More men are doing their own ironing, so iron makers must sell them “masculine” irons? Argos says it is helping men overcome the “stigma” of helping out around the house. We are in a very sorry state if we need to rely on irons that look like “space stations” for men to pull their weight, or if those irons need to be marketed in such a retrogressive, sexist way.

As Pauline Maclaran, who specialises in gender marketing at De Montfort University, said to The Guardian: “It is stereotyping, but it’s being very blatant about it. It says women can’t deal with technology and it’s deliberately saying that the higher end of the market is for men.”

On a different note, Julie Bindel reflects on coming out and Channel 4’s adaptation of Julie Burchill’s Sugar Rush.

Meanwhile, in Uganda, Human Rights Watch are campaigning for the parliament to pass legislation which would outlaw marital rape and give girls and women greater equality.

The Domestic Relations Bill is seen as the first step in helping Uganda’s women, 40 per cent of which have been the victim of domestic violence. Human Rights Watch reports that many women are raped by their partners, putting them at risk of HIV.

In one horrific case, “Hadija Namaganda (a pseudonym) told Human Rights Watch that she tested positive for HIV in 1994. For years, her husband, who was HIV-positive, had routinely forced her to have unprotected sex with him and beat her viciously. He once attacked her so violently that he bit off half of her left ear. When he lay dying of AIDS and was too weak to beat her anymore, he ordered his younger brother to beat her for him.”

Unbelievably, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has delayed the bill because it was “not urgently needed”. The bill has already languished for a decade, as politicians argue over whether it is possible for rape to occur within marriage.

A women’s rights activist in Bahrain faces trial this weekend, and the possibility of 15 years in jail, for publically criticising family judges.

Ghada Jamsheer leads the Women’s Petition Committee, which campaigns for reform of Bahrain’s family law. She has been accused of three seperate counts of criticising family judges, and a criminal charge from the ex-husband of a divorced woman she helped.

Reuters reports that Human Rights Watch has urged the Bahraini government to drop the charges, calling the multiple lawsuits a “blatent attempt to silence her and undermine the reform efforts she spearheads”.

The courts, which deal with family cases such as divorce, marriage, custody and inheritance, follow no fixed statute, only the judge’s interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence.

Human Rights Watch say Ms Jamsheer has been targeted after reporting dozens of incidents of judges mishandling cases.

“Women Who Have Abortions Again and Again”

by Lynne Miles // 31 May 2005, 3:59 pm

If I may, I’d like to take a moment to refer you to a fascinating blog entry (and ensuing discussion) over at Volsunga.

It centres around a “shock, horror” article in the ‘Daily Hate’ about the increasing number of women having abortions for “lifestyle reasons”. Gets a strategic early dig in at career driven bitches and wheels in Anne Atkins (one of my least favourite social commentators) for the prosecution.

It’s a pretty horrifying article all round, and I urge you all to read it. But I’m not sure I could express my distaste any more succinctly than Ms B, so I probably won’t try.

Fiction gender gap persists

by Jess McCabe // , 12:07 pm

A new report has revealed that men know that women are writing important books, but don’t want to read them, the Observer reports.

The report, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Orange prize for fiction, which is only open to women writers, found that “fiction by women remains ‘special interest’, while fiction by men still sets the standard for quality, narrative and style.”

The report revealed that men were still less likely to have read a novel by a woman than by a man. In contrast, women read books by both genders.

The report found that: “Pressed for a preference, many men also found it much more difficult to ‘like’ or ‘admire’ a novel authored by a woman – for them ‘great’ writing was male writing (oh – apart from Jane Austen, of course).

“No wonder, then, that each year when the winner of the Orange Prize is announced a chorus of disappointment goes up from ‘mainstream’ critics: how could such an undistinguished book have won?”

Never Get On A Bus in Calcutta

by Lynne Miles // , 11:28 am

A new move by the Indian state of West Bengal to employ women as bus conductors (only the second state to have done so) has been a resounding success (scroll down!). Although only 33 of over 1,600 conductors are women, their more professional and polite attitude to work has resulted in such positive feedback from passengers that the Calcutta State Transport Corporation are considering employing only female bus conductors in future.

Being almost entirely ignorant of gender issues in the Indian workplace I\x92m not sure whether this idea is forward thinking in a "women can excel in the workplace" way, or slightly more regressive in a "women are best at doing jobs where they have to be pretty and subservient" way. I\x92d be really interested to hear more from people who actually know what they\x92re talking about here!

Noted towards the bottom of the article, and perhaps of more pressing human concern, is the observation that public bus drivers in Calcutta regularly break the speed limit, and that many are addicted to drugs and alcohol. So if you do find yourself needing to get from A to B in Calcutta, consider walking.

Actually, I prefer mine warm

by Catherine Redfern // 29 May 2005, 5:06 pm

There are some new Fosters billboard ads out at the moment showing people trying to keep their lager (sorry guys, but it’s not beer) cold by holding their pint underneath something which casts a shadow. One shows a bride and groom, the groom with what I can only describe as a smug laddy expression, holding his pint under the bride’s veil, she shooting daggers at him with her eyes. Nice.

But that’s par for the course. I noticed another ad recently from the same series; what was very unusual was that the pint holder was a woman. What was interesting was that she was holding her pint underneath the chest of a extremely “well endowed” tall woman wearing a very tight fitting dress.

We practically never see women drinking beer in adverts: in fact in many they are explicitly excluded. For a prime example see Young’s frankly pathetic “It’s a Ram’s World” campaign (click on “advertising” at the top to see the ads, which probably set back CAMRA’s laudable but slightly misguided   attempts to attract women to real ale by several decades).

Is it cynical of me to wonder why the only time an ad shows a woman drinking beer or lager, she just happens to be doing so in a way that would probably be seen as rather sexist if it were a man?

On 17 May, we reported on a Guardian article that highlighted the pay gap between weekly earnings (i.e the fact that women’s median income is 53% of the median income for men).

I would like to draw attention to the gap of 14.4% between women and men’s hourly earnings because it seems to me this comparison may be a more relevant figure for highlighting gender disparity. The statistics quoted in the Guardian piece include all working men and women and it is that low because lots of women work part-time.

Like Madeline Bunting, I believe society needs to change the current work ethic and develop a culture that allows people (regardless of gender) to demand greater flexibility. More employers need to recognise the value of work life balance, if we are to achieve this goal. This is a huge task and any major change will be slow but I genuinely think we would see greater productivity, as our time would be valued by the hour rather than how much of our lives had been given up for the sake of our jobs. Part of my argument is that there would be less resentment from employees and a real desire in the majority of those involved to make this system as rewarding as possible for everyone (i.e employers have much to gain from challenging the overwork culture that we currently take for granted).

I also believe there would be positive results for both sexes. Men would be freer to have lives outside work and be more involved in the home environment and employers would no longer be able to punish women (as a gender overall) because of our previous greater tendency towards such a way of life. Women in heterosexual partnerships would no longer be expected to be the main child-carers or “have it all” (i.e “do it all”) because the sharing of responsibility would be made easier for everyone. Partners used to manage on one full-time wage so why shouldn’t it now be possible to manage on two part-time ones?

Sordid Japanese men make sex-ed comic a best-seller

by Jess McCabe // 27 May 2005, 9:56 am

Grown men have made a best-seller out of a realistic sex-education manga comic book aimed at elementary school girls in Japan, Mainichi Daily News reports.

Men, generally in their 30s, obsessed with manga depicting young girls’ sexuality are called Otaku in Japan.

The article quotes one writer as saying: “Moe is a word the otaku use to describe the thrill people get when they see pretty, two-dimensional girls, mostly in media such as anime or manga. ‘Moetan,’ a collection of English vocabulary words aimed at helping kids prepare for entrance exams (with the main character being a little girl getting ready to try and enter junior high school), sold 150,000 copies, so the otaku market knows no bounds.”

Hopefully some young girls will also end up reading the book as well, though, as the manga itself has been lauded for its realistic portrayal of emerging sexuality.

The Pill may permanantly damage sex drive

by Jess McCabe // , 9:22 am

The contraceptive pill may permanantly damage women’s sex drives, new research has revealed.

It has long been known that taking the Pill led to a loss of libido, but it was thought this was a temporary effect that wore off once you quit.

Dr Goldstein, an author of the report, said: "There\x92s the possibility [the Pill] is imprinting a woman for the rest of her life."

The Times reports: “A research team at the University of Boston, Massachusetts, studied 125 young women attending a sexual dysfunction clinic. Sixty two were taking oral contraceptives, forty had previously taken them and twenty-three had never been on the Pill. The team measured levels of a substance called sex hormone binding globulin \x97 which inhibits testosterone and blocks its effects \x97 every three months for a year and found that it was seven times higher in users of the Pill.

Levels declined in women who had stopped, but remained three to four times higher than those with no history of using oral contraceptives.”

Mexico murders finally to be investigated

by Jess McCabe // , 8:25 am

The Mexican government has finally taken action to investigate the notorious Juarez murders. The murders were first discovered in 1993, when bodies were found in the desert and by the roadside. The city has seen 350 women killed, and families accuse local police of failing to properly investigate the crimes.

Many of the women were poor workers and mothers, employed in the industrial city, just south of the Texas border. Some may have been sexually motivated.

But a highly critical Amnesty report has finally embarrassed the government into action. The attorney general’s office is reported to have set up a unit of 30 people to investigate the murders.

Buffy academics descend on Yorkshire

by Jess McCabe // 26 May 2005, 2:18 pm

Buffy experts are set to flock to Huddersfield University in Yorkshire, to attend a three-day conference on how the show could be used as a teaching aid, Yorkshire Today reports.

Anyone who fancies attending the conference, which is already attracting academics from around the world, might want to bone up on some of the critical works already dedicated to the show. There is even an online journal, Slayage, dedicated to studying Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I can also recommend Sex and the Slayer: a gender studies primer for the Buffy fan.

Teenage pregnancy is in the news again. Just as the furore started to die down over these sisters, aged 12, 14 and 16, who all gave birth within a couple of years of each other, the new children and families minister, Beverly Hughes, has warned that the Government will not meet its target of halving teenage pregnancies by 2010 if parents do not help.

She has called for parents to talk openly with their children about sex, as more and more evidence has piled up showing that sex education and discussion with parents is the best way to get teenagers to defer their first sexual experiences, and use contraception.

It seems parents do understand that discussing sex with their kids is important – in 2001, a whopping 85% said they thought there would be fewer teenage pregnancies if parents talked more openly with their children about sex, relationships and contraception.

But in 2003, another survey found that half of young people said they received little or no information on these issues from their parents.

Meanwhile, the latest sex education gimmick involves using TV plot lines to teach kids about relationships.

Worryingly, one of the examples quoted in the BBC involves a false rape claim story on Grange Hill. Surely sex eduation lessons should not be re-inforcing the myth that the vast majority of rape claims are false.

PhDiva not one for female solidarity

by Lynne Miles // 25 May 2005, 2:28 pm

Dorothy King, self-titled PhDiva ("we wear Manolo Blahniks but we also have doctorates") is angry about academic women who "whinge about life\x92s challenges rather than getting up and doing something about them". Indeed, she thinks that those women "should learn that supporting other women, rather than abusing men, is more likely to further her cause".

In an article in today\x92s Education Guardian, Dorothy makes the case for "beautiful and brilliant" women such as herself and her friends getting out there and fighting for whatever it is they believe in, (as opposed to simply writing about it). The argument centres around a comparison between one female academic\x92s article criticising the lack of female comment writers on the LA Times, and Dorothy\x92s friend (and fellow PhDiva) Dr Jennifer Smith who is an academic and, apparently, ace networker, trying to raise a million dollars to vaccinate African girls against HPV. Which is, quite clearly, a fantastic thing to do.

Underneath it all, I think Ms King is trying to encourage women to get out there and do something, to use their brains to change the world for the better, and that\x92s laudable. But the tone of the article is, at best, divisive and, at worst, catty. Most annoyingly, she believes that the reason there are less female political comment writers is nothing to do with the editorial process, and everything to do with the fact that "women do not publicly express strong opinions as willingly as men" \x96 and never questions why that might be. Lack of role models, perhaps? Or maybe it\x92s just because when they do, other women vilify them for being whingeing harpies and berate them for not schmoozing on yachts with Ms King and her PhDivas?

Pitcairn men’s sex abuse appeal rejected

by Jess McCabe // 24 May 2005, 10:27 am

Six men found guilty of a series of sex attacks over a 40 year period, from the Pacific island of Pitcairn, today had their appeal rejected.

The tiny island only has a population of 47 and has been under British juristiction since 1838. Which makes the men’s defence argument that they were not aware they were subject to UK law even more ridiculous.

The men, including the island’s mayor Steve Christian, are indeed arguing that their convictions should be overturned because they did not know raping underage girls was illegal.

However, they remain free until the Privy Court in the UK can hear their appeal. The defence will argue again that Pitcairn has never been under British control and therefore our legal system does not apply.

Women quoted less in the media

by Jess McCabe // 23 May 2005, 9:37 pm

Women are cited far less frequently than men in news stories, a report out today reveals.

The study, by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, surveyed nearly 17,000 news reports from all types of media excluding radio, magazines and local TV stations. It found that women were quoted in 33% of news stories, while men were quoted in 76% of stories.

Once more, reporters were more than three times as likely to cite two or more men within a news story as to cite a comparable number of women


The study, as reported in is about America, but speaking from personal experience I’m sure the same is true here in the UK.

While power (political, economic, social) resides disproportionately in one section of society, it is only to be expected that this will be reflected in news coverage.

And then there are journalists, who bring their own set of assumptions to the table.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the think tank which carried out the study, said:”These numbers are really striking. I didn’t expect that women would have made as little progress as these numbers seem to suggest in terms of becoming sources and being references in the news.”

100 most beautiful women not sexy enough?!

by Jess McCabe // , 3:59 pm

The Times today published a truely unpleasant column, ripe with sexism, by Richard Morrison. (Thanks to Londonist for pointing this one out).

Morrison comes across as a randy old man, as he salivates over “so much female leg, tit, tum and butt” on the London Underground, “that it\x92s damn difficult for a chap to keep his mind on his su doku”.

Once more, the excuse for all this is for Morrison to claim that Harpers & Queen’s list of the 100 most beautiful women must have been compiled “by women for women” because some of the women don’t adhere to his own personal concept of sex appeal.

If the list wasn’t made up by women, then it must have been made by gay men. Or, as Morrison puts it, “interior decorators, hairdressers and Judy Garland devotees”.

In his own words: “I must say that the list has its peculiar aspects. For instance, I am second to none in my gratitude for Virginia Woolf\x92s novels; I find them much more effective than Mogadon. But to hail that beaky Bloomsbury visage as one of the surpassing beauties of the pre-First World War era (along with four grim Russian grand-duchesses) is a dreadful slur on Edwardian women \x97who were a vivacious, bedhopping bunch by all accounts. As for the decisions to anoint Barbra Streisand and Vanessa Redgrave as two of the 25 most luscious birds of the 1960s and 1970s, or that histrionic Greek diva Maria Callas as one of the top totties of the 1950s \x97 these are surely acts of eccentricity bordering on the certifiably loony.”

As it happens, the list is actually pretty much your staple conventional beauty-a-thon, making Morrison’s comments even more a) ridiculous and b) offensive, as he wants to narrow down what is already a very narrow set of arbitrary standards to his own view of women – “leg, tit, tum and butt”.

Meanwhile, Londonist also points out there is a brilliant Frida Kahlo exhibition on at the Tate Modern at the moment, an icon of the 20th century. Lover to Diego Rivera and possibly Trotsky, some of her most famous paintings were self portraits that display her own unconventional beauty.

Suffrage, equal pay and feminist celebrities

by Jess McCabe // 22 May 2005, 10:11 pm

Women in Kuwait have finally won the vote – although not in time for the upcoming election, unfortunately. The Guardian has some very interesting excerpts from the world’s media on the issue.

In Jordan, the American first lady made one of her first forays into public speaking, taking the opportunity to promote for women’s rights – both political and economic – in the Middle East. The sentiment behind the speech was good, but the audience could only muster a “polite, although unenthusiastic, response”.

Meanwhile, the French government has launched a new attempt to close the gender gap – reakoned to be 25% between women and men in full time work – setting a five year deadline for equal pay. The Guardian reports that critics of the new bill say it is toothless – it represents yet another attempt to get employers to close the gender pay gap themselves.

Interesting side note – apparently Chirac once said his ideal woman “served the men at table, never sat down with them, and never spoke”. Not a feminist then.

But if you’re wondering who is, then this is the place to look. Emily Wilson sparked contraversy – again – in her Guardian column, by naming the, frankly pretty repugnant, Julie Burchill as one of the most interesting feminists alive today. Readers wrote in with their own suggestions from the obvious – Julie Bindel, to the less obvious – Baroness Brenda Hale, the first woman to become a Law Lord.

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