Feminism

About My Refusal to Debate You

There are, apparently, a bunch of Men’s Rights Activists (TM) who are very, very sad right now because I mentioned to a friend on Twitter that their “activism” consists mostly of shitting on women. Their response was to call my friend and me “dumb cunts” and “oversensitive,” and say that I had a “rape fantasy on an elevator,” referring to that time I gently suggested that men be more cognizant of women’s feelings at atheist conferences.

That Reddit thread has apparently inspired a new wave of men to pester me, none of whom apparently had the time or energy to learn what they should be angry about. Consider this email I received . . . or, I should say, that my male SGU co-hosts received, since the email is not addressed to me (as is often the case):

The following information was submitted via theskepticsguide.org Contact Form:

Reason: Feedback/Suggestions
Email: [REDACTED]@hotmail.com
First Name: Jason
Last Name: [REDACTED] Location: Kansas City, MO
Subject: Hosts
Message: I’m not sure if you have followed some of the feminist statements coming from Rebecca, but they are starting to take a non-skeptical turn.

http://twitter.com/#!/rebeccawatson/status/176708044607070208

I hate the types of conversations that typically occur on Twitter and Reddit. They are full of sarcasm (which that tweet I’m sure has some) and vitriol. But that doesn’t excuse someone who has made a business, as well as what I assume to be a personal goal, out of promoting skepticism and rational thinking.

I am a big fan of the SGU and other skeptical organizations. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I love the goals of spreading skepticism, rational thinking, and scientific exploration. I have enjoyed the SGU podcast for years and plan to continue to enjoy it and share it with my daughter.

One of the fundamental tennets of skeptical inquiry is to never assume a position/belief/etc. to be an absolute truth. That the best you can hope for is something more along the lines of “I have not been presented with evidence contradicting my claim. Yet.” Although I know that’s an oversimplification, the point is that open minded discussion must always be an option.

Sadly, I must now add a caveat to your program when talking with my daughter. I will have to tell her that Rebecca is a bad example of rational thinking and scientific exploration because she refuses to participate in rational discussion on topics she feels too strongly about.

I don’t know the person she had this exchange with on Twitter. I have no idea if he would support a rational discussion himself. But an outright and public refusal to even entertain the idea of a discussion? That’s sad and pathetic.

There are women who suffer oppression. There are men who are victimized by a biased court system. Both women and men have genital mutilations, reproductive right issues, and societal status issues. These issues are often complex and intermingled in larger issues. They all exist, in the same reality, at the same time. One does not exclude another.

As a single father I see this kind of crap every day. I have been lucky ONLY because my ex did not fight me when I went for custody in our divorce. I work hard to support my daughter and I. I make many sacrifices to make sure she has the best chances at doing well in life. There will NEVER be a point in my life where I will not support her as her father.

To have anyone, not just Rebecca, say that my concerns over how society views me as a man, how the courts treat me as a father, aren’t even worth discussing. That the fact that I even express concern over this issue is just another way in which I “shit on women”.

http://twitter.com/#!/rebeccawatson/status/176044892022259712

Again. Sad and pathetic.

Like I indicated above, this is a feedback email. I don’t expect you to “do” anything. I was just so insulted and disappointed to see these sorts of comments from one of the hosts in a show I respect and enjoy.

Alas, it’s true. Several men on Twitter demanded that because I am a skeptic, I must discuss men’s rights activism with them. I suppose that’s one of the problems with labels – people always want to twist them to suit their own purposes. So, I suggested to one of them that he stop thinking of me as a skeptic. I’m happy to drop the label if it means angry MRAs no longer feel they have a right to my time. I responded to the emailer above with this:

I am under absolutely no moral or ethical obligation to engage with every person who demands I debate them on Twitter, a social networking site that is specifically built to limit in-depth discussion of topics. You writing in to basically tell on me is what is truly sad and pathetic, as though you hope my co-hosts will lecture me or put me in the corner (please: it’s obvious that you’ve written in for a purpose. Don’t pretend you weren’t wishing they’d “do” something). Well, I’m sorry to tell you it doesn’t work that way. I am an adult who makes my own decisions, and my co-hosts have stood beside me while I’ve been attacked relentlessly by MRAs who are too stupid or angry to realize that I support men’s issues such as ending male circumcision and prison rape. And like most feminists, I believe that ultimate gender equality will result in women achieving equality in the workplace and men being seen as fully capable of caring for children, which will then lead to fair and just decisions in family courts.

But those issues don’t actually matter to the MRAs who hound me day after day, tracking my every step online in hopes of catching a misstep, sending me rape threats and insults about my body, and writing in to my co-hosts as though I’m a child who shouldn’t speak for herself and needs to be reprimanded – they’re much more concerned with stopping uppity women like myself from suggesting that men be a little more compassionate toward the needs of women.

But you know what? I’ve actually changed my mind. MRAs have responded to that Tweet and taught me that they’re not just about shitting on women. See?
http://manboobz.com/2012/03/06/mens-rights-redditors-to-rebecca-watson-how-dare-you-say-we-hate-women-you-cunt/

I hope that one day your daughter has strong opinions on how she and her sisters should be treated with respect, and I hope when that day comes you do not join your fellow MRAs in calling her a stupid cunt.

I considered posting this just to have something I could link to the next time someone complains that I’m afraid or unwilling to debate them on some topic.

As chance should have it, today I was made aware of a horrific story in NYC involving an infant who died, most likely due to the herpes he contracted from a mohel who performed his circumcision. I Tweeted this:

How awful and pointless to die of herpes due to an unnecessary cultural & religious practice. http://nydn.us/z58uLi

And then, an hour or so later, this:

My previous update was super depressing, so here’s a note to say I’ve started a new Tree Kangaroo pinboard http://bit.ly/xxTke4

Within minutes I got this response from @home_made_man:

@rebeccawatson since you are unwilling to engage anything relating to HUMAN rights all I can say is that you are the worst kind of bigot.

I was stunned. Was he talking about the tree kangaroos? They are an endangered species and I do support their rights as living creatures in need of protection. Was he some kind of fundamentalist humanist who believed in the ultimate superiority of humans over other creatures to the point where any attention paid any other species is considered anti-humanist blasphemy?

While pondering that, I received this Tweet from @deadlyicon:

I am becoming less and less impressed with @rebeccawatson. The skeptical community needs a more mature and respectful female cornerstone.

That sealed it. There is definitely an anti-tree kangaroo faction amongst my audience of nonbelievers, and they are seriously fucking angry. Either that, or suddenly I’ve angered a whole new group of MRAs who are in favor of unneeded infant circumcision. This could blow the MRA community wide open.

Also, apparently the skeptical community has only one “female cornerstone,” and I’m it. Holy shit, are you guys in trouble! And are we talking a square building, here? For the skeptical community’s sake, I hope it’s at least a dodecagon. That’s a lot of pressure to put on three dudes and me. And hell, I’m not even a skeptic anymore.

Tree kangaroo featured image comes from Flickr user BelgianChocolate by way of Australian Geographic.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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87 Comments

  1. Well, tree kangaroos are filthy, dirty non-eutherians. I don’t know that we should be encouraging the aberrant beasts.

    Also, I don’t debates for the same reasons: what can I learn by giving morons an equal platform with me?

    1. You were totally rooting for Dr Oct in the spiderman films weren’t you…

      To Rebecca…

      Not sure there is anything more I can add that hasn’t been said already other than to stand up and say that you have one more supporter.

      As a middle-class white male I don’t have many of the problems that you face.
      I and others like me need these problems pointed out and I thank you (and your colleagues) for your work in doing just that.
      A new and different perspective is important and enlightening…
      The fact that this ‘new’ perspective is that of about 50% of the population indicates that there is still some way to go on this issue.

  2. Well, tree kangaroos are obviously dirty hippie commie tree huggers and are almost as dangerous as a woman who has a mind and speaks out…

    Meh, ignore the drunken frat boys…

  3. Thank Zeus this man is willing to step up and have the courage to tell his girl-child what sort of woman she ought to be to make it in this male-dominated society! However would she learn such crucial life lessons otherwise?

      1. Oh, so your another one of those evil conniving manipulative placento-centrists with your "tree of life" and GAS (Golden Afterbirth Syndrome). I'll have you know we at MGTOW (Monotremes Going Their Own Way) aren't going to be taken in by your evo-psych tricks.

  4. Rebecca: Thank you, as always, for the work that you do. Before today, I didn’t know how friggin’ cute tree kangaroos were! If we didn’t have people like you putting up with assholes like that, I never would have known how adorable they are.

  5. Rebecca, it’s obviously the best use of your time to repeat the same things over and over and over again to people who really don’t care about your opinion at all and just want you to shut the fuck up. Just give in already.

    Seriously, though, I take the same tack with people who want to yell at me about how the music industry is clueless and doing it wrong. Being the public social media face of a record label, I get people offended I won’t engage in debate. You get tired of saying the same things over and over again.

    But, obviously, that’s fairly benign in comparison to what you’ve detailed over the last year. I don’t get threatened with rape or have my opinion denigrated because of my sex or how I look.

    Like PZ, there’s the occasional crazy death threat, but, y’know.

  6. //No no, you have it all wrong. You see women get a special place in society, they can have sex with whoever they choose, they get picked over men for jobs, they get the jobs for just being women. Men get none of these priveleges and are the victims here.

    And because I’m so oppressed, I’m going to mock-threaten you with sexual violence to stop it.

    Wait, what? You won’t debate me? My points are so totally logical and I’m totally civil, why can’t your stupid b***h face see that?//

    Yeahhhhhh, that speaks for itself.

    1. *looks back at own comment

      Well, that came off as a rather glib. I spent about twenty minutes trying to say something supportive, and I went with that? My support is with Rebecca and the skepchicks, and I’m constantly disgusted and saddened by the behavior of these asshats who denigrate women under the guise of equality.

  7. Funny how people forget that you’ve probably had more “discussion” about these issues in the last year then they will have in their lifetime. This kind of thing reminds me of those poor Physics professors who get floods of “Unified Theories” from people who’ve never taken a Physics course. Whereas you’ve spent years reading, thinking, and discussing these topics, goddammit, they have an opinion!

  8. Yeah, I was following that yesterday and was horrible confused. It seemed like the MRA folks were talking a pro-circumcision stance. I figured they just hate you so much that they didn’t bother reading and reacted before thinking. Like, you know, good skeptics?

    Yeah, I don’t understand the world they live in. It’s gotten to Republican levels: if they complain about something, there’s a better than even chance that what they are complaining about isn’t something that you’ve done, but something they’ve done and have repressed.

    They say you don’t want a debate? It’s probably them that don’t really want the debate, they just want to yell at something. You aren’t skeptical enough? No, probably they are too close minded and emotional to bother reading and considering their own positions.

    Like, I bet almost none of them will read the bit you wrote up there “And like most feminists, I believe that ultimate gender equality will result in women achieving equality in the workplace and men being seen as fully capable of caring for children, which will then lead to fair and just decisions in family courts.”

  9. their eagerness to goad you into an argument is blatantly transparent. I mean c’mon, they should at least wait until you say something that wouldn’t make them look like horrible people if they disagreed with it

  10. It is a shame that chauvinists (male or female) feel they can speak for their gender and fail to understand what feminism stands for. These juveniles are misguided if they think they speak on behalf of men. The language used towards you, in of itself, demands a non response. To engage with dolts such as these would only validate their ignorant position. Keep up the great work Rebecca.

  11. As Consolidated noted so long ago, I am embarrassed by white males who claim to speak for white men everywhere. MRA’s in my experience do not care about the issues they claim to be advocates for (the men who do care about those things are advocates, not activists), their primary goal seems to be to ‘put women in their place’. I think the world has had quite enough of that, thank you. Go Rebecca!

    1. I know, right?! Have you noticed that the main two MRA talking points seem to be:

      1) We’re discriminated against by feminazi-run court systems that refuse to grant us custody of our kids as though we were less-than-devoted parents or something.

      2) We should be entitled to cut off all child support whenever we want. We feel entitled to this by a principle we call “retroactive abortion.”

      Does. Not. Compute.

  12. So, according to a bunch of apparently rational folks who feel very strongly that your feelings are irrational, if you feel strongly about something you can’t think rationally about it.

    Holdupwaitaminute!

  13. Oh boy. I think this proves that it doesn’t matter what you say they will attack you. There is no reason for you to engage in a debate with someone when they are not listening to you. The MRA’s are not looking at any substance or truth in what you are saying, they are just looking for way to twist it into something negative.

    Oh and long live tree kangaroos!

    1. I am not sexist AT ALL, but don’t you think you skepchicks really aught to STFU and get back in the kitchen? – TokenTroll

      There, happy now Marilove? ;)

      Rebecca, I’ve been reading this blog of yours since the very early days, and this and Bad Astronomy are the only skeptically based blogs I still read with any regularity. So just let me add my privileged white middle-class male self to your list of supporters. I grew up thinking some of the same things these dumb-ass MRAs are saying, but this blog has long since educated me that women are very far removed from their stereotypes! Keep fighting, but only on your terms.

    1. Exactly! What the SkepKangaroo *really* wants is for kangaroos to get first dibs on the best trees. Then the koalas get what’s left over, if anything at all. Looks like the only-recently-solidified Marsupial Rights movement has already splintered. If you’re for kangaroos, you’re against koalas.

  14. Asshats! These MRA asshats must be stopped, especially since they keep claiming to represent all men. I’ve got news for them: they do not represent me.

    Also: Yay to all arboreal marsupials!!! (take that, you stupid ground dwellers)

  15. I was having some inspiration problems writing Act II of my yet to be published play “The Penis Monologues”. Act II has the working title “To have one, perchance being one”; however after reading Rebecca’s post I think I have a pretty good notion of where I’m going to go with the story. So Rebecca if you’re no longer a skeptic you can always be a muse(ing). Perhaps I’ll even write a kangaroo penis scene…, in a tree!

  16. The MRAs versus kangaroos made me think of someone I know who complained about panda bears getting so much attention for conservation. She said it wasn’t fair that the big cuddly animals get the money, just because the other endangered creatures aren’t as cute. She said we should just let the pandas die and concentrate on more important animals. I tried to explain to her that panda conservation is actually good for a lot of those other creatures (who share the panda’s habitat), but she wouldn’t listen. She seemed convinced that helping one group must be at the expense of another group, and logic would not sway her.

  17. The degree of entitlement necessary to assume that any woman anywhere owes any man who demands it their time and attention is one of the cornerstones of misogyny.
    Scoldy boy is thick as a brick and I sympathize with his daughter.

    1. No, don’t say that. Just because he’s an ass to Rebecca because of his own unexamined privilege does not mean that he can’t be everything his daughter needs him to be, and it’s just as shitty to call men bad fathers for their politics as it is to call women bad mothers for theirs.

      (He’s still pretty dumb, but there are a lot of pretty dumb people who still manage to be decent parents.)

      1. But the thing is, he has explicitly stated that he is telling his daughter that a main female skeptic role model for her (since apparently he & his daughter listen to SGU together) is actually NOT a critical thinker and is NOT to be emulated. He is overtly brainwashing his daughter against outspoken women. Even if she cottons on to the fact that he is grotesquely biased, and if she realizes what he accuses Rebecca of accepting “irrationally” actually has reams of social science and behavioral psychology evidence to back it up, she will know that she can’t turn to her dad when she’s having problems with these issues, she will be afraid he will lump her in with those “irrational” and “overemotional” women if she ever needs to disagree with him, etc., etc. Either that or she will completely internalize her “less-than” status, strive to please men around her by being “fun!” and lash out against women who speak up against the problems she knows, on some level, that she is dealing with too.

  18. I don’t understand why it is that everything you say provokes such a negative reaction. It’s almost like you could say that kittens are cute and you would be accused of killing kittens. It must be terribly exhausting to be you some days. I’m pretty sure I would not handle it as well as you have. Kuddos to you for putting up with all this crap. For what it’s worth, I think you are doing great work. Keep it up.

    1. To a certain extent I think that Rebecca is a victim of her own success. She is good at what she does and she makes it look easy even though it isn’t.

      Some people look at her and think “she’s no more qualified to speak about this than I am.”

      Then the little green monster jumps right on their head and they start hating.

      Never mind that, while she doesn’t have a degree in science, she does her homework.
      Never mind that she does have a degree IN COMMUNICATION.
      Never mind that the ease that she shows comes from practice, and personality, and overlooking some really horrid shit to keep from crying in a corner.

      These people are what we call, what’s that word? Oh yeah, MORONS.

  19. You know, when I first took a gender studies class, I wanted to do a paper on sexism as it applies to men, because I feel like there actually is a lot. Mainly in that men are constantly pressured to be big, muscular, emotionless, woman-hating, violence-machines.

    In look for like-minded individuals, I foolishly tried searching for “men’s rights” hoping to find a community of men who are sick of being held to such bullshit gender standards. Instead I found the MRA crowd, who largely only reinforce the bullshit standards. So disappointing.

    1. I agree about the stereotypes.

      When I had kids I realized that we were supposed to raise our daughters to be strong emotionally secure women, and to raise our sons to not be serial rapists. Despite them being tiny tots, there is that dichotomy.

      Fortunately I seemed to have succeeded. But truthfully it was not that difficult, because most little boys do turn out to be decent human beings. Or perhaps being decent runs in our family. My father is a lovely gentleman, as is my brother and his son, and so is my husband and all of his uncles. I don’t think that is so out of the norm. Being a serial rapist is out of the norm, and should not be assumed on every young man.

      And the MRA guys are a bit out of the norm. And it is very sad.

    2. When I was young, foolish and libertarian/conservative (okay, forget “foolish”–I was a douchebag), I used to find all sorts of cases of anti-male sexism, many of which are actually valid cases of misandry.

      When I finally got sufficiently tired of the taste of my own tonsils and removed my head from my ass, I learned a stunning truth–almost all of those legitimate claims would, in fact, be best fought against in a world… with more feminism. Everything feminism advocates–elimination of the patriarchal privilege, developing a more egalitarian society–would end all of those genuine issues in the course of realization.

      Gods, I’d love to go back in time and kick my college-age self in the head. While I was at it, I’d hand him the “Nice Guy” essay from Heartless Bitches. He could’ve used that, too.

  20. “I don’t know the person she had this exchange with on Twitter. I have no idea if he would support a rational discussion himself. But an outright and public refusal to even entertain the idea of a discussion? That’s sad and pathetic.”

    No, it isn’t.
    Every person has the absolute right to say NO.
    No, thank you. I don’t want to.
    It is neither sad nor pathetic. It is healthy boundary enforcement.
    I have sympathy for his daughter because he said right up front that he intends to teach her that she has no right to say no, thank you, I don’t want to.

  21. The skeptic in me is honor-bound to acknowledge up front that the following is purely anecdotal.

    Way back in the dark ages when my first wife and I were getting divorced, a dad of one of my daughter’s friends came at me at school one day. “I hear you’re getting divorced. I can help you protect yourself.” At the time, I had never heard of the MRM, but he was off-putting from the get-go. He had that kind of wild-eyed intensity you see in the street-corner evangelists screaming about how Jesus is going to set us on fire forever unless we bend over and take his unconditional love up the hooey RIGHT NOW.

    But I was new to this stuff and a little fragile, and I let me drag me to a meeting of … well, really creepy guys. Really angry creepy guys. We’re talking high volume spittle emissions.

    My divorce was about as amicable as it could be. We had a couple of kids to worry about, but we worked together using a thing called mutual respect and came up with a plan we are both comfortable with.

    Turns out, according to the MRM guys, that was COMPLETELY WRONG. Apparently I had been screwed over by my evil ex, who was taking me to the cleaners and using my kids as weapons, blah blah blah.

    At first, I tried to figure out what they were so on about. They kept talking about wanting to see their kids more, how much support they paid, and how it was a big screw job. But then I picked up other subtle details. Things like, “well, I missed the school play because was in Cancun with my girlfriend.” Or “Well, I have to work late.” The bitching about not getting to see their kids because of how evil their ex was always accompanied some excuse for why they missed a visit.

    That’s when it hit me. These guys want credit for taking care of the kids without actually taking care of their kids. If fact, they will do anything they can to NOT take care of their kids, all the while complaining how the system conspires against them. It’s just sickening.

    It is possible, I suppose, that there are MRAs who aren’t petty, self-absorbed emotional infants. But I have yet to meet one.

    So this is a roundabout way of saying I’m another middle-aged white guy who understands why you don’t want to debate them and who appreciates the good work you do here, on SGU, and elsewhere. Thank you, Rebecca. Thanks to all the Skepchicks, and everyone else who contributes here..

  22. Breaking News! Rebecca Watson gets fired from own blog! Allegedly took time to reply to MRA bigot! Women everywhere looking for new voice! Rick Santorim steps up to tell them what to think!

  23. Ahhh. I know this! It’s the ol’, “You are a skeptic. THEREFORE you must listen to and fully consider my bullshit and discuss it with me to my satisfaction or I will call you a not-skeptic and tell my daughter bad things about you,” card.

    I feel bad for that guy’s daughter, as I feel for any child whose parent uses them as an emotional chess piece.

  24. Jason,

    As the father of two 30-something daughters, and a survivor of 25 years of emotional abuse from one particular woman who’s now an ex-wife, I have a piece of father-to-father advice for you.

    For your daughter’s sake, stop projecting your anger towards your ex-wife onto all women and leave your failed personal relationships out of your daughter’s life.

  25. What you would debate with MRA anyway? When you take away the goals common to feminism, (and not their caricature of feminism) what is left is an alien autopsy level conspiracy theory that men’s rights are being trampled. Quick tell the 80% of men in Congress and the House! I guess they have all been distracted by the tree kangaroo lobby.

    (not that want to debate anyway.)

  26. “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – Rebecca West

    1. I just realized the quote is incomplete. I copied from a censored source and didn’t realize it.

      “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”
      – Rebecca West

    1. SPLC is a great organization. Thanks for reminding me and I appreciate their "hate map" (even our so-called liberal Massachusetts has plenty, just look at the story you linked to). I'm a bit disappointed they don't list women's rights as a category since they are one of the best sites out there for education of that issue.

  27. Hey folks-

    Civilized debate starts with the understanding that the purpose is to move the cause of truth forward. An invitation to engage in debate, therefore, must be offered in good faith, with the acceptance that one side may actually lose the argument, or that no side will win. The MRAs approaching Rebecca are just as bad as the creationists approaching Dawkins – they only want to bring their opponent down, and care little for uncovering the truth by winnowing away misapprehensions. Therefore, Rebecca is under no obligation to engage with them.

    What’s more, invitations to debate must be polite, and refusals accepted without prejudice. In the absence of this, no one in their right mind should ever engage in debate. A wise debater will well know what to expect from an invitation that lacks good will and proper form – basically, an invitation to be crucified by a kangaroo court!

  28. I’m not crazy about the “skeptic” communities that appear to comprise mostly men (and their yes men) continualy puffing up themselves and bashing anyone who *gasp* does not ironically worship Richard Dawkins. As someone in the sciences, they also demand I call myself an atheist even though I am not. I blogged about this but won’t bore you with the details and I don’t usually self-promote but I wish the atheist community would take this into consideration, so I put in the links.

    My friend calls men like this, “pity whores”. They want everyone to believe they are vitcimized every time a woman speaks up for their rights. You can tell the sane men from the pity whores because the latter will at some point rip off their clothes and run down the street screaming (metaphorically, online, for example by saying rude or threatening things to women).

    Just call the goon squad and go treat yourself to a latte until they go away.

    http://inthebarberry.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/my-secular-life-part-2/

    http://inthebarberry.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/feminism-and-my-secular-life-part-1/

  29. It doesn't do one any good to debate with antagonistic interlocutors. Considering the antagonizing responses you received and the ones I have seen from certain Men's right activists, I think avoiding debate is often an appropriate decision. Debate on discussion, especially when the subject is a sensitive issue, should be carried out with sympathetic, understand, and intelligence and should not become belligerent bickering over prestige. I used to visit the Men's rights section of reddit and was grateful for the few reasonable participants, but there seems to be a larger community dedicated to deriding feminism at any opportunity, often overgeneralizing it and misinterpreting people's motives. For that reason I stopped reading that forum.

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