Friday, July 1, 2011

Feminism and Me

I grew up in the seventies. The feminist movement was very much a part of the social context I was living in, even way out in the sticks of the Great Plains. All in The Family was forever making patriarchal men look like the joke they actually are. One Day at a Time and Alice gave us a realistic view of what being a single working woman was like at the time, while Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda presented to us the ideal of all life could be for a single working woman. Betty Friedan and Erica Jong were on our book shelf. I was reading "Diary of a Mad Housewife" and Redbook magazine in middle school. Helen Reddy was belting out "I am woman, hear me roar..." from the radio and record player.

Many of the messages were mixed. It's great to be a woman, but it really sucks to be a mother. It's great to have sex, but it really sucks to be pregnant. You can do anything you want, but if you choose to stay home and love on your kids you will go insane. You can do anything you want, but if you WANT to stay home and love on your kids you are a cowardly, dependent, woman-child. Look at Edith Bunker- your husband won't respect you, society won't respect you, and you'll get all vaque and clouded in your thinking. Smart women do not stay home and raise children. If the man is keeping women down, then children are the tools he uses.

Feminists will often deny what I'm about to write, but then the movement can't learn from it and move on toward it's higher objectives of equal power for women in society. So here's the big scoop, the reason for the backlash that brought on home schooling and patriarchy among other things. You ready?

We who were daughters, children during the seventies, got the message. The message we got was this: we were hated. Children are an obstacle to get around. Children suck. Caring for children is low, low, low on the feminist's list of things she might want to do with her time. There is nothing lower than child care, except maybe house keeping. We were a hindrance to our mothers' "higher" aspirations.

(This could even account for why so many view abortion solely in terms of cruel, selfish women "getting rid of unwanted children". My generation feels this acutely in our inmost being. In my experience, this is rarely the reason a woman chooses abortion. Women who choose abortion rarely do so flippantly, and it is often a heart-breaking decision based on compassion, for those who bother to research it IRL. Still, to a generation who grew up knowing we were considered an unwanted inconvenience to our mother's aspirations, it is easy to believe that this is the only reason women seek abortion. "Pro-life" propaganda exploits this to the hilt.)

Now my own problematic situation was further complicated by my mom's personality disorder. She would have been a mess to live with no matter what philosophy had been popular during my childhood. I have written on the blog that the only way my own childhood could have been worse was if my mom had been a home-schooling SAHM. That's because she would still have been completely self-focused and uninterested in meeting the needs of anyone's heart but her own. NPDs are just that way.

But the feminist movement is culpable in that they agreed with her that children were a pain in the butt and caring for them, both physically and emotionally, was beneath her and a waste of her time and life.

That is the fatal flaw in feminism, the way I see it. The idea that childcare is lowly and demeaning and not for smart woman is the real reason for the backlash against feminism that has filled churches across America and actually resonated with the hearts of both men and women.

We were those children.

We were those children, the ones considered unworthy of our mothers' time and talents. We were those children, the ones despised and looked down on as mere hindrances to our mothers' "true ambitions". We read it, heard it when our mothers' talked to other adults over our heads, and certainly felt it in the way our mothers' treated us. For some of us it was mere disdain at having to meet our needs. For others it extended to real rejection, persecution, neglect and abandonment- all in the name of a woman's "liberation".

Liberation from what? To a child growing up in the seventies it was clear to me that the liberation women wanted was liberation from the obligations of mothering. Feminists hated children, and hated mothering. Right along with the male workforce, women stated that child care was meaningless drudge for the lesser capable among us. There's a reason child care is still one of the lowest paid and lowest respected occupations among us.

And so I became a very different (and in my mind) more authentic kind of feminist- one who embraced her body and it's amazing capacity to create and nourish new life. I determined that not only would I use my incredible ability to bring forth life and nourish it from my body, MY children would be worth all of my time and talents. I determined to make an art and skill out of raising my children, in defiance of the way my mother and her generation had continually said we children were worthless crap.

Much of the rest of the feminist message I did and still do embrace. Equal rights? Yes. Equal pay for equal work? Yes. The right to control her own body? Yes. But every time I start to think I can actually call myself a feminist, I run across disdain for my chosen career of SAHM and I think to myself,"Damn, they still think I am a worthless piece of crap. Eff you, feminism!"

How I wish it wasn't that way. I wish feminism could have room for those who embrace their reproductive capabilities. I wish feminism loved children, and were demanding honor and commensurate financial recompense for those who nurture, teach and mentor them- i.e. parenting and child care. I keep waiting for feminism to grow up to the point that they see that children and caring for children are intrinsically honorable and worthy, but I keep getting disappointed.

I always run into the feminist who loudly proclaims her disdain for SAHMs and children. It never fails. The woman on stilettos at my husband's office who looked down her nose at my children like they stank when we came up to see where Daddy spent his days? I would loved to have beat the holy sh** out of her skinny ass that day and I could have easily. His coworker who lived in our neighborhood and asked what I did, who responded to my proud declaration that I home schooled with a malicious "Oh, that's right. You don't DO anything."? I hope your husband leaves you, your kids grow up hating you, and you die alone and unloved like you deserve. (Yes, that falls short of loving your enemies, I know. So sue me.)

Last year, I picked up an awesome feminist magazine, Skirt, and I was really getting into the articles. They even featured a woman who was starting her career at fifty after staying home to raise her children, and they portrayed this in a positive light! I was so excited. Had feminism finally stopped hating children and denigrating those who loved them? My heart started to race with hope.

But alas, it was not to be. Shortly thereafter,in the same magazine, came the article from a woman complaining about how children are always demanding something (how dare they?), always have some sort of noxious substance oozing from their bodies somewhere, and how that particular author could never understand why someone would willingly carry a parasitic creature in her womb for nine months and then get stuck caring for it for the rest of her life?!? YUCK!

When I hear these ugly sentiments about children and mothering expressed, there is no way I cannot take it personal. I was that child!

Feminism that truly embraces the female body and ALL of its capabilities? Count me in! Equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, the right to control what happens to your own body? Hellz to the yeah! I would love to see a feminism that elevates the status of pregnancy and child care to the valued status it should be, as women who choose this are shaping the attitudes and ethics of the next generation. What could possibly be more important than that?

The feminism I see, though, still resents the functions of the female form. Rather than elevating the status of children and those who care for them, the feminism I see disdains these traditionally female roles and only honors social roles traditionally open to men. Any function in society that is clearly woman only- pregnancy or nursing- is considered icky and disgusting by feminist women in solidarity with the men they really wish they had been born.

Every time a feminist puts down pregnancy, child birth, child care and child mentoring (i.e. parenting) she is not only saying that she doesn't believe her children or potential children are worth her time, she is saying that all of us born to feminists are/were undeserving of our mothers' time and talents. If child care is so lame and icky, then those women who choose to care for children are losers. That message is undeniable.

And THAT is the weakness in feminism the patriarchy exploits! The prey on the hurt and resentment of the generation brought up hearing that they were a waste of a woman's time. The also honor the parts of our lives that we women embrace that traditional feminism mocks- pregnancy, nursing and raising children. It should not be this way.

When will feminism open her arms and embrace children? When will she stop despising women who understand that raising the next generation IS a noble and worthy pursuit? If feminism was our champion, the patriarchal religious establishment would be worthless to women.

Wouldn't it be awesome if feminists valued SAHMs and home schooling moms? It would totally rock if feminism was demanding that society value these traditionally womanly roles with the same value society ascribes to traditionally manly roles, like hard physical labor. Surely raising the next generation is more important in the long run than constructing new houses?

Alas, on another forum I frequent, I have recently heard the same old, same old feminist drivel from younger voices. Caring for children isn't rewarding, and people who say it is are lying! (No, we're not. Some of us actually do like it. Sorry to disappoint- again. But then since I started out one of those children myself, I guess I have always been a disappointment to feminism. Sigh.) Truly smart woman avoid pregnancy and parenting. Sucks to read that this is still the feminist party line.

The other part of feminism- you can be and do whatever you want- still nurtures my own heart as I set out to start a career midlife. I do believe, as Helen sang, "if I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman." If only feminism would open their hearts to include children and caring for children, and give traditional women's roles the honor they deserve, patriarchy would dry up and blow away in a generation. I hope to help build that kind of world myself.

Peace and good will, SS

19 comments:

  1. Sadly, what you write it true--feminism is "up with women" at the expense of children and, largely, men. Patriarchy is "up with women and children" but only as assets of the man. Where is the -ism that is "up with children" as the spiritual and material future of humanity? As the investment in culture and civilization that they are and always have been? The world has NO greater function than the stewardship of the sacred trust with our continuity as a people, as a species, as a world. For all the kinds of wrong that ancient forms of patriarchy is, I think it does better at taking the long view than any form of social organization since. Agrarian and pastoral societies know intuitively if not consciously that renewal of resources is the only means of survival and that human capital is necessary. Perhaps life was less cheap when if when it was more easily lost.

    Socially as we move from tribalism to feudalism to industrialism to post-modern whatever-ism, we seem to carry with us the seeds of our own destruction even as we seek to improve on our conditions. We have yet to make that cosmic shift to global consciousness. The seeds of that enlightenment have been in every culture but unfortunately that is often what is left behind as culture changes.

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  2. "If only feminism would open their hearts to include children and caring for children, and give traditional women's roles the honor they deserve, patriarchy would dry up and blow away in a generation."

    I like that - and I think that is very true. I do think that second wave feminists went too far in disparaging these things, but then, you do have to remember what they were reacting against, and in that light their actions are fairly understandable. I have to say, though, that my experience with feminism today is that it DOES provide a place for honoring motherhood and children. Granted that I only came to feminism within the last few years, but feminism today as I understand it embraces female choice, which includes women's choice to stay at home, and it also embraces children and motherhood. I really haven't met any feminists who believe otherwise. Does this perhaps have to do with the difference between second wave and third wave? Perhaps it's just because we have different experiences, but I have found feminism to be VERY validating of my experiences as both a wife and a mother. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that in my experience feminism has corrected (or perhaps is correcting) this problem.

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  3. "Patriarchy is "up with women and children" but only as assets of the man."

    Ack! So true! And yet, I failed to see the misogyny and the threat behind it, because they were at least giving public honor to the valuable and worthy actions of carrying, birthing, nourishing and nurturing the next generation.


    It sucks that feminism has left that important recognition out of the party line. Their rejection makes women vulnerable to the open recognition of the importance of children and caring for children by the religious right. Even though it turns out in the end to be mere flattery on the patriarchs part, it is the only segment of society even giving lip service to children and caring for children.

    I really hope the next generation of feminism will open up and start honoring children and those who give them life and care. If that were to happen, it would take away a huge part of the appeal that the religious right has for women who love children.

    We would love to find our roles honored and valued outside of religion. It would break the stronghold with which traditional religious ideas traps women,because though they publicly honor SAHMs/mothering, in private they often treat women who choose that life with the same disrespect that stiletto-heeled career bitch showed me back in Florida.

    What's an intelligent women who understands the importance of children and nurturing children to make of it all? Like you wrote, no one is "up with children". Feminists should change that.

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  4. That would be incredibly great news, Libby. I would love that! Can you link to me to some feminist articles that embrace motherhood and accept SAHM as a valid choice? That would be water to a thirsty soul.

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  5. Great insights! Perhaps the failure of -isms is that they get stuck in a myopic view which precludes them--at their heart--from seeing a bigger picture. Feminism, as you point out, has a perfectly legitimate goal, but in focusing only on "the woman" the ideas become too small and therefore damaging. Same with patriarchy: Dads are important. True! But getting caught up in "dad" leads to horrible outcomes when the fact that a husband is to love his family as Christ loved the church--sacrificing Himself for her--is replaced by the idea that the dad is what the family is all about.

    ~Luke

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  6. Shadow: I recently read a book by a woman who had a husband and high powered career, and then after her daughter was born she had her career take a back seat and worked part time from home. She wrote a book about her experiences working out the relationship between feminism and motherhood, and I thought it was excellent. It's called Reading Women, by Stephanie Staal. (http://www.amazon.com/Reading-Women-Great-Feminism-Changed/dp/1586488724)

    In addition, here is a Salon article saying exactly what you say here: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2006/02/06/friedan/

    I'll grant that this is something that is still being worked out, and that not all feminists agree. Some feminists do say that choosing to stay at home is illegitimate and not a choice at all, but I don't that those few represent the views of the vast majority of feminists. Feminism is in some sense an arena in which to discuss and debate women's issues, for we have learned that resolving them is far from simple. Feminism is about working that out, with the representation of a variety of voices.

    I plan to stay at home and work part time from there once I finish my PhD, and I have other friends who are ardent feminists who are making the same choice. Yes, there is still a ways to go here, and it is a battle to be fought, but I think that is a battle that is currently being fought, and that is proving successful, not one that hasn't started. At least, that's how it appears to me.

    A couple of additional articles:

    Here is a newspaper article by a feminist stay-at-home-mother which includes the quote "it is only when the feminist vision is fully valued that motherhood will be valued": http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=48JOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Q_0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=2477,7303712&dq=feminism+motherhood&hl=en

    Here is a link to an article discussing the Motherhood Manifesto, which aims at improving conditions for mothers in all situations: http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2006/05/05/revolution

    Here is an article by a career woman who puts motherhood first: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/03/02/putting_motherhood_ahead_of_my_career_open2011

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  7. Also, I really think there's something to your idea that patriarchy was allowed to flourish in part as a result of the second wave's dismissive attitude toward housework and motherhood. I had never really thought of it that way before! And I agree, feminism truly valuing motherhood and the choice some women make to stay at home will help decrease the appeal of patriarchy, and while I think that this is already happening, though it still has further to go. And I'm right there with you working to make that happen! Part of why I chose to have the term "feminism" in my blog title is that I want to help rehabilitate it from the negative image so many people seem to have it. It's really not what they think! Anyway, thanks for the food for thought!

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  8. Interesting reading, though I'm not all the way through the links yet. Very hopeful and encouraging in many ways. I am glad that there is a debate on the issue.

    I think home schooling was/is a feminist venture- a woman is doing all the planning, executing, evaluating and adjusting in the vast majority of cases.

    Perhaps the realization of this reality is what galvanized the patriarchy to take over home schooling. I think it was Karen Campbell who pointed out that religious men take over every endeavor pioneered by women in the church. Single women started the foreign missions movement (think Gladys Aylward and Lottie Moon) but were pushed out and marginalized by men once it got off the ground. Ditto homeschooling. (It might have been the ladies over at Wartburg Watch, if it wasn't Karen Campbell of "thatmom". I should've bookmarked the article!)


    On the other hand, the articles I've read so far do point out that the sentiment "SAHMs are bad, mmkay" (done in my best imitation of the school counselor from Southpark, Mr. Mackey) IS still around and some feminists are calling for that voice to become more strident and louder than ever. I agree with the author calling it out as foolish, but it is still there nonetheless.

    Hopefully future generations (maybe even yours!) will be able to convince their sisters the mommy wars should be abandoned and that child care is a socially valuable way to spend your time. Maybe even one day society will pay people who embrace child raising as a career with the financial payoff and honor such important work deserves.

    It would break patriarchal religions claim to the moral high ground on this issue, and it would give women more options in who to support politically as well. That would be wonderful for everyone, but especially for our children and those who value their company.

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  9. Ugh, my grammar in the above comment is atrocious.

    "it would give women more options in who about whom to support politically as well."

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  10. I'm pretty sure that was actually one of the demands of the second wave - wages for housework, or something like that.

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  11. I always felt very important during my childhood even though neither of my parents stayed home. Homeschooling actually isn't the best for kids. It's best for them to get care by professionals, in an environment where they can independently develop meaningful relationships with other kids and adults. Staying home is sort of selfish and controlling. And there is no way for a parent to provide the same quality education as a team of professional teachers. It's got nothing to do with feminism. It's about children's rights.

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  12. Also: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/juliette-frette/the-stay-at-home-feminist_b_529437.html

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  13. Anonymous, you are sure opinionated, which I can respect. I am too! But you are so wrong about home schooling.

    Home schooling isn't the best for all kids, I'll grant you that much. But it absolutely can be the best for many, for a year, two years, or even their entire elementary and secondary education.

    Home schooling does not mean keeping kids isolated at home or unable to develop meaningful relationships with other adults and children.

    Not only is there a large home schooling community in this big city area in which we live, but our neighbors, coaches, personal trainers, private instructors, and folks from our religious community all provide meaningful adult interaction for my children. They make friends in the neighborhood, on their sports teams, at church and in their other activities (some home schooled).

    I am an excellent teacher. In fact, I charge $25 an hour to tutor other peoples children, and I never lack for clients. Most of my clients are publicly schooled students. I have never had an unsatisfied client yet, and I have been tutoring six years now. As far as that goes, I am an expert, with fourteen years home schooling under my belt.

    I would love to have my children respond to your uninformed and prejudiced comment about home schooling. My oldest is a junior in college and under contract with the USAF upon graduation. She consistently makes the dean's honor roll and has time for a social life. She also tutors for extra money. She tutors Japanese.

    My son is too busy hanging out with friends, working on his Spanish for his upcoming trip to Dominican Republic with the Center for International Educational Exchange. He wrote an essay that earned him a $2500 scholarship towards the expenses of his trip. He also needed a letter of recommendation from his teacher. His speech club coordinator wrote it for him. Her words:

    "We have a very diverse group of young people from all walks of life, with many different religions and ethnic backgrounds. Each student must deliver at least 10 speeches on topics of their choice. These have included impassioned speeches about the environment, anti-bullying, human rights (including gay rights), musical interests, anti-drug use, etc. *********** has been with our Gavel Club for two years. *********** is very popular and manages to get along with everyone in the group. He has mentored new members and shows great leadership potential...
    I would recommend him without hesitation and wish him luck in his future endeavors."

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  14. One of the things that really should make more feminists more interested in motherhood, homeschooling, etc is that that childrearing, domestic work, and all the typical elements of most SAHMs' lives are devalued because they are still seen as primarily women's concerns.

    That said, I've seen a lot of feminists in my age group (mid-late 20s through 30s) who are mothers and are passionate about both motherhood and feminism. Several of them are stay at home moms, and a few are homeschoolers or unschoolers as well. Maybe it's because I'm drawn to crunchy, attachment parenting, and birth advocate type people, but I see a lot of concern about how feminism needs to do more and relate more to the needs of mothers and pregnant women, and how women who choose stay at home motherhood should be respected and supported, not shunned or judged.

    Here's a long interview with a woman who wrote a book on feminist motherhood:
    http://feministreview.blogspot.com/2008/05/reclaiming-feminist-motherhood.html

    And a blog post with questions for feminist mothers and links to their responses in the comments:
    http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/what-does-a-feminist-mother-look-like/

    There are also quite a few feminist moms who blog - off the top of my head, I'd suggest searching for "The Feminist Breeder", "Raising My Boychick", and "First, the Egg"

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  15. Thank you so much, Raine! I'm pretty crunchy too, at least in my sentiments. I love the idea of attachment parenting, but I could never get the sling to work for me. Ditto doulas and natural birthing, letting the 4000 yr old mother within help me along, but both my babies were breech! Finally, I love the idea of wholesome homemade foods, and home ground grain tastes so much better, but in the end sales, coupons and Sam's Club rule the day I shop for groceries.

    I guess you could say I am a crunchy sympathizer? =D

    I look forward to reading your links. You younger generations give me so much hope for the future! This is as it should be. Keep making us mamas proud. n_n

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  16. The feminism that I have come to know absolutely is about elevating motherhood to a position of respect - as Libby says, this is one of the chief concerns of the new wave. It does slip under the radar, though, because it's often framed differently now.

    I consider all of the following the fruits of feminism:
    -Family-friendly work policies that allow flexible, part time schedule and parental leave to both fathers and mothers
    -Steps taken toward accessible, affordable, quality childcare for fathers and mothers
    -Financial assistance for mothers going back to school before or after children are grown

    I think my generation prioritizes family over work, broadly speaking. We are very discontented with the framing of work and family as opposites and hate to choose between them. We also hate having to choose one because it's expected of us as women or men. My partner, for instance, does not want to be defined by his work even though he cares about it intensely. He also wants to be a friend, mentor, and family member. He doesn't want to devote 80 hours a week to being a breadwinner. We both think it's a terrible way to live.

    Workplace policies like maternity leave were a start, but they're being expanded as growing numbers of men also resent the idea that their wives are the only ones who get to spend time with their children. Men increasingly want to be active fathers.

    Feminists overwhelmingly support these moves toward a new concept of work that empowers parents. They also support the right of men to stay home with their children if they choose - and this needs to happen, I think, to erase some of the gendered stigma of stay-at-home parenting.

    I think feminists do support SAHMs, but they do it in a way that is not overtly about *mothers*. They support active parenting by both sexes. The SAHM is not called out specifically because feminists want to support SAHFs too.

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  17. Lolz There is very little help for anyone going to college these days except Pell grants and loans. I have never seen anything esp. for mothers returning to school. If there's support out there for that, it's not a reality yet.

    I've known several SAHFs. My son's best friend had a SAHF, but like me, he's returning to the workforce now that our boys are out of high school. I have met two home schooling SAHFs, and my daughter is interested in marrying one if you know any smart, cute guys in their twenties interested in that kind of arrangement. :p (She'll kill me for typing that if she ever reads it. She doesn't need mom out there looking for potential boyfriends. She can find all she needs on her own, thank you.)

    I still will not tell anyone I'm in school with that I have been a SAHM, much less home schooling. All the other women my age in school have been working all along and simply want to compete for better jobs. I'm not letting anyone know, because I think that both my instructors and my fellow students will change their whole attitude towards me from one of acceptance to one of contempt. I've just seen it too often to believe everyone is really okay with a woman choosing to be a SAHM.

    Now men, I have no problem with knowing. In fact, they seem to actually support the fact that I'm out there working on new goals after staying home for a season.

    I wish everyone was as supportive as you and Libby, Sierra (and some of my other online friends) but that's just not been my experience in real life. I even had the pediatrician's office staff and the orthodontist's office staff turn up their nose when they ask where I work (or more commonly, what do I do) and I say home educator or full-time at home. I get a much better response when I say I tutor high school and middle school students. True enough,anyway, and a LOT more socially acceptable to working women!

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  18. I'm sorry that you've had such poor treatment, and I hope my generation manages to eradicate some of that entrenched mentality. It's frustrating, because the problem is not the women who stay home, it's those who want to make staying home the only option for women. It's a bit like punishing Muslim women for wearing burqas when the problem is the culture that tells them they have to.

    I did want to address one thing, though:
    "If there's support out there for that, it's not a reality yet."

    They do exist, though they aren't everywhere. There is a women's center at my local university that gives scholarships explicitly to women who have had breaks in their education for more than four years. Most of the recipients turn out to be mothers - not all SAHMs, of course, but many are. These scholarships, free career counseling and grants for financial difficulty are some of the sources they provide for women going back to school. So there may not be many such places or sources of help, but some do exist.

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