GROWING STRONG 2016
GROWINg strong acknowledgement of country The University of Sydney is built on the sovereign land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. The creation of this handbook, the meetings of the Wom*n’s Collective
and our learning as students all take place on stolen land. Just underneath our lecture theatres and quadrangles lie sacred sites, walking trails and earth rich with tens of thousands of years of Gadigal history. The mortar holding together the sandstone of the main quadrangle is made from middens, special sites used by Indigenous people for cooking, with shell deposits built up over long periods of time - now crushed into cement, holding together the University’s monument to its British academic heritage. As both students and feminists, we are doubly complicit in the ongoing process of colonisation. As students, we pay tens of thousands of dollars to study at a corporate university which is embedded in the elitist history of academia. Racist research programmes, particularly in disciplines such as anthropology and human geography, have played an instrumental role in dehumanising and objectifying Aboriginal peoples and are called upon to legitimise deeply racist policy decisions. The history of feminism, too, is marred by racism. Larissa Behrendt, a Eualeyai/Kamillaroi writer and academic, wrote in 1993 that ‘Aboriginal women are alienated from the feminist movement. The movement has not been supportive of their needs. This will not change until the oppression of black women is acknowledged.’ Indigenous feminists have for decades articulated sustained critiques of the white solipsism of the feminist movement, but unfortunately these have not been responded to adequately by non-Indigenous feminists. This history tells us that we need to work actively, not only to include but to prioritise and centre Indigenous women’s experiences, from our place of privilege at university. Children are being taken at higher rates than any point in Australian history; one third of women in prison are Indigenous; Aboriginal women are 80 times more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted than nonIndigenous Australians. These experiences are the ones we must urgently respond to in our writing and our activism. We acknowledge that there are no truly safe spaces for Indigenous women under a colonial, capitalist system that continues to occupy their land illegitimately. Nevertheless, autonomous collectives can, and should, work to create spaces that are welcoming to Indigenous women, sistergirls and brotherboys. To the extent that these perspectives are missing from these pages and from our spaces, we have failed to create a properly intersectional movement. We pay respect to the many incredible Indigenous women in the Wom*n’s Collective, the Wom*n of Colour Collective, the Indigenous Collective and the SRC who strive to resist the interlocked systems of patriarchy and colonialism, and to elders past, present and future. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
the death of body positivity / catherine bouris
over and over / lane pitcher
i refuse to forget / ellen o’brien
growing strong playlist / wom*n’s collective
inner faux: the foe / courtney thompson
body image as a woman of colour / bridget harilaou
a lineage of great women / vicaella ulberg
problems with solidarity / lamya rahman
abuela linda / vanessa song
why i didn’t report my sexual assault / victoria zerbst
untitled / brigitte samaha
heterosexual men, here’s how to get me off / lily matchett
catcalling / yalda keshavarzi
on the nonchalance of white feminists / vanessa song
international citizens / maani truu
find us online
creative works by members, of the usyd wom*n s collective
facebook.com/usydwoco twitter: @usydwoco
Olivia Borgese / Tina Huang / Anna Hush / Sam Jonscher / Elizabeth Mora / Lane Pitcher / Lamya Rahman / Vanessa Song / Courtney Thompson / Katie Thorburn
Catherine Bouris / Siena Di Giovanni-Arundell / Bridget Harilaou / Yalda Keshavarzi / Lily Matchett / Ellen O’Brien / Courtney Pearl / Lane Pitcher / Lamya Rahman / Brigitte Samaha / Vanessa Song / Maani Truu / Vicaella Ulberg / Victoria Zerbst
Elizabeth Mora / Johanna Roberts / Brigitte Samaha / Vanessa Song / Courtney Thompson / Katie Thorbur n
GROWINg strong the death of body positivity catherine bouris content warning: fatphobia Like most social movements, it was bound to be watered down to appeal to the mainstream, but I don’t think anyone expected body positivity to lose this many teeth in what feels like such a short amount of time. A movement that was founded by fat (above a US size 16) women, a movement driven by the efforts of countless women of colour, a movement that encouraged radical self-love and challenged existing beauty standards, has become completely whitewashed. i-D magazine recently published a list of the ‘new generation of body positive pioneers’, and the majority of women listed are below the average US dress size, and fair skinned. The one woman listed who would actually be considered fat is Tess Holliday – she’s become the token fat woman for mainstream body positive advocates. No longer are fat women the focus of body positivity; instead, we get just the one representative, and fat women of colour get no representation whatsoever. I don’t blame these women personally for their becoming role models – it was inevitable. In a society that values thinness, conventional beauty, and fair skin, movements that don’t actively and continuously seek to challenge those standards are bound to fall into the trap of privileging those with ideal bodies above those without. The women that have now become the most prominent representatives of body positivity have bodies that may deviate from the norm in one way, but rarely in multiple ways – they’re either page 2
bigger than a size 2 OR of colour OR disabled, but rarely all three. And very rarely are they bigger than a US size 12/14, which, again, is the average size in the US, the UK, and Australia. The norms that these ‘pioneers’ are challenging are the fashion industry’s norms, which are widely considered flawed to begin with – just because a fashion designer calls you fat, it doesn’t actually make your size 4 body a fat one. Most fat women are already excluded from the fashion industry, and are more interested in challenging wider societal norms that come from everywhere – yes, the fashion industry, but also the media and the medical profession. In 2015, to be considered a ‘body positive pioneer’, there are still standards you have to meet. You must be conventionally attractive, feminine, have average or larger sized breasts, have hips that are wider than your waist, and have no visible stretch marks or cellulite. Reproducing standards that are impossible for many women to meet is not body positivity, it’s just harmful beauty standards in sheep’s clothing. Erasing the fat women and women of colour who paved the way for me to be even writing this piece because their bodies don’t meet the aforementioned standards is not body positivity, it’s doing exactly what wider society does day in and day out. It’s demanding that we conform to impossible standards, and then ignoring us when we can’t. For this reason, many fat women have abandoned the concept of body positivity. It is impossible for bloggers with small platforms and no financial support to compete with these new body positive giants, so many are finding it easier to simply let them keep body positivity. As my friend
2016 Ariel/@kiddotrue put it: “‘Body posi’ has been completely neutralized. It means nothing now. It is literally “all bodies matter” & not in a good way.” Body positivity stopped being radical a long time ago, but it’s hard to let go of something you nurtured from infancy. It’s hard to finally find a movement and a group of people who acknowledged that your body deserved better, and see it be neutralised to the point where it’s unrecognisable. For the women who have been writing and speaking about body positivity for years, I can’t even imagine how hard it’s been to see others receive credit for your blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately, this has become standard practice in social movements; just look at how women of colour have been erased from the historical narrative surrounding feminism, and how the new ‘leaders’ of intersectional feminism are largely white women, rather than the black women it was originally created to empower.
Reproducing standards that are impossible for many women to meet is not body positivity, it’s just harmful beauty standards in sheep’s clothing. Instead, many are turning to fat acceptance. Fat acceptance is still dominated by women who are properly fat, not fat-by-fashion-industrystandards fat, and it will likely stay that way, because the name ‘fat acceptance’, and indeed the entire idea, don’t go down as easily as ‘body positivity’. Being positive about your body is something everyone can get behind. Accepting fat bodies as valid and worthy of respect just as they are is less palatable, and therefore less likely to be whitewashed and taken over by the mainstream. Which is just fine with not-so-little old me.
over and over
lane pitcher I overshare Over dinner and drinks I overthink Overwhelmed by ‘On This Day’ I overdo Overdosing with my overpay I “overcomplicate” things You tell me I’m overpowering And overnight this friendship freezes Over I’ve overeaten I’ve overdone excusing you I’ve overexplained that I will overcome This overbearing overture of Overplayed snaps and overpriced support You can overcommit to overjoy but I overstep it when I’m over it Overhearing your opinions Over me I realise that I Overestimated you I’m overthrown Can’t just overlook This overcast Like you overtly do! And yes - maybe I am overkill; I overhate I overcompensate I overexpect
katie thorburn page 4
But it’s all because I overlove Which is my greatest oversight.
thoughtlines / elizabeth mora page 5
GROWINg strong i refuse to forget: the cost of forgiveness I’ve recently been reading “The Art of Comforting”, hoping to learn how to improve my listening and caring skills, to ensure that my presence creates a positive impact in the lives of friends, family, and strangers. To borrow from Val Walker, comforting involves “creating a sanctuary for someone in pain, a respite from the busy, indifferent world around us, just sitting down, listening”. Naturally, to me, comforting feels really good. I enjoy developing and practicing my comforting skills; I enjoy being present and engaged in assisting someone through a difficult period in their life. Borrowing a phrase from Oprah, when I comfort it feels like my personality is aligned with my purpose; it feels like coming home to myself. Part of being a comforter, as explained by Adrienne Dormody in “The Art of Comforting”, is engaging in communication with the other person “without assumptions and expectations, to be totally present to them”. An opportunity arose recently to put these theories into practice in an uncomfortable situation. A man I’d been talking to, but had cut communication with many months ago, contacted me with some bad news: his housemate (who I had briefly met) had died the week before. This man and I worked together; he messaged me on a Friday afternoon as I was busy rushing to get everything finished so I could leave on time for the weekend. The impact of his statement – one simple sentence, no introductory pleasantries – ceased any potential productivity; I ended up going home half an hour late. Our brief communication left me feeling strange and unsettled: listening to him and trying to understand and sit with his discomfort page 6
immediately made me feel better about myself. It felt as if I’d relinquished some anger; that in order to listen to him and comfort him, to be present and engaged in non-judgmental dialogue, I forgave him a little. I felt a little lighter, although tired. But as I drove home, later than expected, the lightness wore off, and the exhaustion deepened. I was reminded of exactly why I had angrily deleted his number and blocked his social media accounts so many months ago: he had a way of making me do all the emotional work in our conversations without ever giving me anything back. I had walked into the trap again under the guise of forgiveness. What is encompassed by this phrase ‘emotional work’, by ‘emotional labour’? It’s the work that goes unnoticed in our day-to-day public interactions, in the workplace, and in our most intimate relationships. It’s the work primarily undertaken by women that is expected to naturally spew forth from us. It’s keeping promises without being prompted to do so. It’s being present and engaged enough in a conversation to notice when the other person is bored, or uncomfortable. It’s offering to help organise a workplace event, and actually considering what will allow your co-workers to enjoy themselves, or at the very least feel secure. Emotional labour involves a whole host of actions and considerations, including those set out in Metafilter’s “Emotional Labor Assessment”. Trans women, Women of Colour, queer women take on extra emotional burdens, work extra hard. Compensation or reciprocation is not often willingly forthcoming, but should be demanded; the creators of and contributors to
2016 the #giveyourmoneytowomen hashtag on Twitter insisted upon literal payment for their emotional labour. Our work needs to be valued accurately; as articulated by Aurelia Guo in her presentation for Liquid Architecture, we can’t willingly put in effort for people who can’t pay us, either in reciprocal actions or in dollars and cents.
My attention and care, and that of the women before me, were never in question. Why do the hard work yourself when it’s always been done for you? While our remuneration is deserved, certain personal benefits can come from our emotional labour. Forgiveness has long been touted as improving the emotional and physical health of the forgiver. But while attempting to forgive and engage with the man that I worked with gave me an initial buzz, it wore off soon after. Was making myself so vulnerable really that beneficial when I received nothing in return? Had I just made myself open to allowing him back into my space again, leaving myself susceptible to once again having my emotional labour abused? The main issue in this scenario, and so many like it, was that there was no exchange of care between this man and myself. He did not spend any energy in trying to look after my emotional needs, in this conversation or any preceding it; yet there existed an expectation that I would willingly give my time to listen to him, that the words that soothed and comforted him would spill from my lips without pause. My anger grows as I marvel at the arrogance of his actions: dropping a statement like that – “you remember my friend? He’s dead now” – without even saying hey, or asking how I’m doing. Dropping a statement like that in the middle of a work-related conversation at the end of the week. Dropping a statement like that and knowing that death hits me so hard that
I’ll say the platitudes that he wants to hear, even though my visceral reactions to the death of my relatives went unacknowledged. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt – maybe he’s just not good at grieving, maybe he’s just not used to comforting people – but now I see clearly why that is – he never had to be good at that stuff. My attention and care, and that of the women before me, were never in question. Why do the hard work yourself when it’s always been done for you? It’s hard not to feel frustrated for myself for giving so much of myself again and again, but I’ve worked toward understanding my masochistic desire to be there for him. I wanted to forgive him because it feels good to be light and free of the emotional weight. I wanted to comfort him because it feels so good to soothe. I wanted to embrace emotional vulnerability and grant forgiveness from a non-judgmental place. But I also wanted my vulnerability to be reciprocated, not exploited. I wanted an acknowledgment of how laborious these interactions are. I wanted an acknowledgment of what I am owed by him, and by the men preceding him and around him and those that will come after, before my forgiveness is granted. In Walker’s words, I wanted to be “soft enough to be attentive and comforting, but also confident and dignified enough to be respected by others”. While I do enjoy comforting people, and I get a lot of joy and warm feelings out of it, unless I’m getting paid for it, I expect that it will be equally reciprocated. That expectation is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is an assumption, a misguided belief, that our forgiveness of wrongdoings will be forthcoming without any effort on their part. Forgiveness is not automatic; forgiveness involves labor in and of itself. Forgiveness is exhausting. There are people I refuse to smile at; there are people I refuse to be in the same room with. I refuse to relinquish my anger about the hours wasted on and the anxiety caused by these one-way conversations. I refuse to forget what I am owed. page 7
2016 inner faux: the foe courtney thompson The day I first had sex I was on my knees. The day I first had sex I ate a burrito for dinner. The day I first had sex I tried to suppress performance anxiety. The day I first had sex I failed to suppress performance anxiety. The day I first had sex only my top came off. The day I first had sex I struggled to hide my own jealousy. The day I first had sex I had coffee, twice.
The day I first had sex I prioritized their pleasure.
The day I first had sex I was wearing a tampon.
The day I first had sex I was angry for my best friend.
The day I first had sex my favourite leather jacket was on the ground.
The day I first had sex I was not penetrated.
The day I first had sex my mouth was dry.
The day I first had sex I felt like less of a feminist.
The day I first had sex I made my emotional labour available.
The day I first had sex I was wet.
The day I first had sex I made my emotional labour exploitable.
The day I first had sex I didnâ€™t come. The day I first had sex I started to truly realise my internalised misogyny. The day I first had sex I started to actively ignore my internalised misogyny. The day I first had sex I felt proud I didnâ€™t gag. The day I first had sex I was on my knees.
GROWINg strong body image as a woman of colour bridget harilaou content warning: body image Some of my earliest feelings of shame and embarrassment relate directly to the expectations placed on girls of colour to reach never-endingly for unattainable white standards of beauty. At the age of five I distinctly remember being called a gorilla because of the hair on my arms and legs. At the age of twelve, I recall the names of the boys in my class who told me to shave my arms. My mother reinforced the necessity of removing my armpit hair, to ‘clean it up’, and by fifteen, I was waxing every inch of myself that I could afford. In Year 9, I remember being told to visualise the thing I wanted most in life. I am devastated and sickened by the fact that I imagined myself with thinner thighs. Not career goals, not wishes to help other people, just thinner thighs. I now pride myself on feminist principles that preach body positivity, but as a teenager my journey to good body image had not yet begun. I had no thoughts for loving my body when I took the food my mum had cooked for me and placed it straight into the bin wrapped in tissues to hide it, because it was fried and I wanted to lose weight. Or when I started running up and down the stairs of my house when no one was home, because I read in a book it would ‘sculpt your
buttocks’ (whatever the fuck that means). It disgusts me to know that I have felt immense pride and satisfaction at being told I am thin, and benefiting from thin privilege, when I now realise I was being complimented for taking up less space and having less of an existence at the denigration of larger women. The expectation that women occupy as little space as possible that we lose power over our own bodies by being told to be polite and dainty- functions as a tool to keep us subjugated and out of the way. A woman who has has been trained to forget how her arm can strangle a man twice her size is no threat. The impossibility of my body and my features fitting a Eurocentric ideal of beauty had not hit me when I was 13. I had my mother put liquid plastic on my eyelids to ‘correct’ them, because I used to obsess about the way they folded. Why were there two creases, not one? Why were they so small? Why wouldn’t they ever just look ‘normal’?
The expectation that women occupy as little space as possible - that we lose power over our own bodies by being told to be polite and dainty functions as a tool to keep us subjugated.
2016 This world tries to destroy every woman’s selfesteem, but the specific narratives around body hair, eye shape and skin colour target brown, black and Asian girls in such a destructive and revolting way that it is a miracle if we survive puberty with any self-love at all. Having come to the point where I remove none of my body hair, haven’t weighed myself in over 5 years and marvel in delight at the stretch marks on my thighs, I had almost forgotten how long it took me to get here. I had almost forgotten how 14-year-old me was crippled by the longing to look and to be white. So how did I get to this point where I can happily reject every single one of society’s expectations about me and my body? This journey must be recognised as a feat of absolute radicalism: that despite being bombarded with hatred, I could learn not only to feel good about my body, but to stop valuing it as the only way I could be a successful woman. For me, understanding the structural function of beating women of colour down was the key to my resistance. These tools of internalised racism and self-hatred force you to police yourself, and make you more susceptible to internalised racism and lateral violence. All mainstream rhetoric surrounding women and body image functions to make you miserable, pliable and full of self-doubt. Some days this rhetoric will do its job and you will feel horrible, and that’s okay. But if I can forget I have eyelid folds, chunky thighs and copious amounts of body hair, maybe you can too.
pressure / johanna roberts page 11
GROWINg strong a lineage of great women vicaella ulberg I come from a line of great women. Women with character, conviction and a fierceness that you find in strong open hearts. I come from a line of women who use words as fists to battle opponents. My grandmother, she lived through the eclipse that broke womenâ€™s rights. Felt with reason and clarity, Thoughts guarded in the mind. An independent woman in her own right. My grandmother was a Lady. Never went out wearing a skirt shorter than her knees. because her skin? She wore for her man and not herself. Stood at the altar and hoped that sheâ€™d alter The simplicity in her life. I come from a line of great women, One who battled her husbandâ€™s demons, as well as her sons. Found home in a country that promised opportunity in exchange for her voice. I come from a line of women, one who was taught to be silent. I come from a line of great women. My mother had never been more alive when music genres became lifestyles, Young people had voices and found comfort in cultural monogamy. My mother was passionate. Always thinking that she could save the world when what she really needed was to first save herself. She fell in love too young and as an adult cried too much. Her heart on her sleeve.
2016 I come from a line of great women, One, who became her own warrior to battle her worrying. Sought approval from no one but herself. She was caring and compassionate, now aware that weakness could be strength. I come from a line of great women, Me? Presently in a time where the world is learning to correct their mistakes. So many voices are furiously shouting, not enough are listening. It’s a passion to be reasonable while my curiosity is guarded. Life is no longer a binary form and You and I? We are no longer obliged to choose. I come from a line of great women. One, who is determined to achieve written goals kept on her bedroom wall. She’ll struggle like her mother, her grandmother, all the women before her. But she’ll make it.
I come from a line of great women, nd I’ll use words as fists to battle opponents. A
GROWINg strong problems with solidarity in india and beyond lamya rahman As a South Asian female, I learned early on that my race is central to my experiences of gendered oppression. Being a part of the South Asian diaspora, I’ve also learned that my experiences aren’t equivalent to the experiences of my female friends still living in the homeland. Whereas in Australia my dark brown skin is exotified, in South Asia my friends face colourism at a much higher and more consistent degree. Recognising these kinds of differences whilst still showing support has been central to bridging the experiential gap between my friends and I. Binding us together now is a fundamental feminist interest to support the global plight of South Asian women.
argue that vilifying one group doesn’t necessarily excuse another, it doesn’t change the fact that these shame tactics are grounded in the false notion that India’s patriarchal customs pre-date to an ancient, long-standing Indian culture. Many of India’s patriarchal attitudes—such as the stigma around divorce and remarriage for females—are actually recent constructs extracted and enforced by the British Empire during the codification movement. Later British negotiations with native male elites made these constructs even more widespread among differing castes.
After the gruesome 2012 Delhi gang rape, practicing this kind of transnational female solidarity became more significant than ever. With Western media preoccupied in reaffirming India’s “rape crisis” and Delhi as its “rape capital”, Western feminists needed to show solidarity by re-centering mainstream dialogue onto Indian women and India’s feminist organisations. However, demonstrations of solidarity instead involved shaming India for its pervasive patriarchy. The Times’ Libby Purves described the West as “looking eastwards in disgust”.
Boxing India’s patriarchy into a simple deeprooted cultural problem erases the West’s long-standing colonial legacies on the gender politics of the country. In removing themselves, Western feminists not only otherise India’s struggles but confirm a sense of Western cultural superiority—a practice seen time and time again in the West’s colonial relationship with India. In 1927, Katherine Mayo declared the inherent backwardness of the Indian people to be the cause of female oppression. In 2013, Libby Purves wrote that “murderous, hyena-like male contempt” towards women is an Indian cultural norm. Both texts are decades apart, but the dubious nature of Western solidarity with Indian women seems to be timeless.
I find shaming as a demonstration of solidarity highly disconcerting. Demonising Indian men inadvertently positions rape culture and misogyny as an exotic ‘Third World problem’ when existing high rates of gender based violence in the West tell us otherwise. Whilst some Western feminists
Patriarchy in India is not a regressive and outdated version of patriarchy in the West, but rather a unique and complex phenomenon in its own right. Patriarchy is not a monolith but a male-dominated social order that manifests differently in various countries due to contrasting
2016 sociopolitical histories. Chandra Mohanty says it best when she states that Western feminists homogenise the notion of patriarchy, creating a “Third World Difference—that stable, ahistorical something that apparently oppresses most if not all women in these [Third World] countries”. This ‘Third World Difference’ is another defining factor in how Western feminists display transnational solidarity. By reducing the complexities faced by Third World women to male oppression inherent to their own cultures, Western feminists claim solidarity by pressuring Third World countries to emulate Western legal, economic and social reforms. Whilst I acknowledge that Western feminism has instigated reforms beneficial to women, importing reforms from one culture to another under the misconception that both cultures are facing the same issue—in this case, a monolithic patriarchy—will undoubtedly have adverse effects.
Boxing India’s patriarchy into a simple deep-rooted cultural problem erases the West’s long-standing colonial legacies on the gender politics of the country. Abortion reforms in India are a prime example. Where the original abortion reforms in England involved concerns around quality of life and a strong human rights discourse, the application of the same law in India was motivated by a population and infanticide crisis. Unsurprisingly, the consequences of the law in England and India were vastly different. Whilst English women enjoyed newfound legal control over their bodies, pregnant Indian women experienced little to no gain in self-determination. Patriarchal family laws, in
coexistence with traditional joint family systems, placed Indian women in even more vulnerable positions, in which their family or husband could easily coerce abortions. A pillar of freedom in one country can thus easily become a mode of repression in an entirely different context. Given that feminism as a whole benefits greatly from transnational networks, re-evaluating demonstrations of Western solidarity with women in India and beyond is of the utmost importance. The issues raised in this article around Western feminist solidarity are all interconnected to the broader idea of the colonisation of feminism. When demonstrations of solidarity position Western feminism as the dominant political force, the complexities and nuances of feminist issues in Third World countries such as India are colonised and appropriated. Feminism then restricts itself from moving beyond borders and the goal of establishing social equality among women across the world becomes unnecessarily more difficult. Hence while bell hooks stated that ‘feminism is for everybody’, the reality is that unless Western feminists partake in non-colonising transnational feminist solidarity, the most significant benefits of feminism will only ever be for Western women. page 15
love your vulva
[respect the bodies that belong to others] / katie thorburn
2016 abuela linda My abuela spits words Like her tongue is dancing, Dancing la Cumbia with a Furling and unfurling fervour That drives a passion deep within her soul, A soul untempered by the heat and fire of her heritage. My abuela’s words are designed to sing In time with the rhythm of her beating heartBeating and beating incessantly, Like the constant pulsing of a merengue beat, That reminds me of standing on my abuela’s shoes Just to keep in time. My abuela speaks English, like an unsure child. Words stumble and catch on her languid tongue, Not used to the flatness Or the lifelessness that sticks to each syllable. Her words emerge, broken and tired, Because English forces my abuela to control her dancing tongue, Her tongue, so desperate to sing in the rhythm of itself.
vanessa song When my abuela spoke to other parents Her English jarred and skipped over important phrases Vegetables, becoming ‘e’basketballs’, Cleaning becoming ‘clining’ And the Beach becoming ‘the Bitch’ The rolling of her r’s and fire in her belly Making the English language almost unrecognisable. My cheeks would burn with indignation and shame, Shame for being anything other than blonde haired and white skinned. I was ashamed to have been packed food with too much garlic, too much salsa, too much Cumbia, too much oomph. Whilst the pretty little white girls opened their pink little lunch boxes to their cleanly cut sandwiches and technicoloured treats. I was ashamed of my abuela’s inability to make her words dance like they did in Spanish. Her words in Spanish that became vessels of life and passion in the safety of her home.
It quells the heat, And so pasión becomes passion Calor turns to heat And cultura turns into something she is forced to lock away in order to assimilate, Into a place, she is unsure she wants to belong.
“Why can’t you talk like the other parents?” I ask indignation and anger, preying on my insecurity. She looks at me, with tenderness in her eyes, “Mija, para hablar Inglés como los gringos es como olvidar mi cultura y mi alma. Preferiría morir”.
I remember being a kid And not understanding Why the kids in my class would point and laugh
[(Mi hija) my daughter, to speak English like those foreigners is like forgetting my culture and my soul, I would rather die.]
GROWINg strong why i didn’t report my sexual assault victoria zerbst content warning: Sexual assault I left my partner Greg’s* house around 11pm and began walking home when I ran into some friends who had just won some wine playing trivia at the local pub. I only knew two people in the big group but I ended up going drinking with them before we all went back to one of their houses. After a while I became tired of socialising and drinking, so I asked if I could crash at the house while the rest of them took tabs and kicked on. A few hours later, the guy who lived there came back and crashed next to me. He was in no mood for sleep and hoped I wouldn’t be either. He repeatedly tried to touch and rub up against me. Then he repeatedly tried to put his hands down my pants. I kept saying no. I kept saying stop. I just wanted to sleep. This guy wasn’t intimidating or strong but he was persistent, needy and very, very high . After about 15 minutes of pushing him away and begging for him to let me sleep, I got angry, and left. At 4.13am I walked the long way home across the Inner West, deliriously tired and unwilling to process what had happened. Those 15 minutes had not been scary. The scary stuff came the next day. I saw Greg the next day and told him what had happened. I think I was moderately blase about
the whole thing and even described it as a massive inconvenience. Greg was furious. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t furious. He told me I had to report this to the police, that this guy could not get away with what he did. What if he does this to someone else? Didn’t I feel a responsibility to other potential victims of sexual assault? I hadn’t felt like a victim until that moment. I hadn’t even called the experience Sexual Assault. As soon as he said Sexual Assault I felt a huge weight fall over me, but I still didn’t want to go to the police and make, what I perceived to be, an unnecessary fuss. I just wanted to forget about the whole thing and move on. I felt ashamed. I was too afraid of going to the police. I was worried the guy would say nothing had happened. I was worried that I would have to relive the experience in front of some middle-aged coppers. I didn’t think I would gain any closure from reporting what had happened and I didn’t feel like I had gone through enough to warrant help from a social worker or psychologist. But the words ‘Sexual Assault’ still hung over me. Was I really letting people down in my silence? Was Greg right? Should I have been brave and gone to the police about the sexual assault, not for redemption’s sake, but to deliver some kind of social message? Was I too weak to stand up
2016 for myself ? Should the guy be able to just get away with it? Greg was surprised by my inaction. I had never been afraid to speak my mind or stand up for myself before. I was grateful that my partner took Sexual Assault seriously, but I had to remind him that the experience belonged to me. I had to deal with it in the way that made me feel comfortable. I am still not sure if I did the right thing. I still feel guilty that I didn’t report my assaulter. I feel guilty that I did not have the courage to tell this guy what he did was so wrong and that he should never do it again. I know there are countless women out there who have been sexually assaulted and don’t know what to do next. They don’t know how to report the people that hurt them. Or, like me, they are too frightened to do so. Writing about this whole experience is the only way I can feel strong again. I am hoping that someone reading this might feel less alone. Every experience of Sexual Assault is different and while it is important to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, you need to look after yourself first. Do what you feel you need to do in order to get through it all and then maybe a week later, a year later, a decade later, you can think about ways you can help other survivors.
If you have experienced sexual assault, or are unsure about a sexual encounter and need some guidance, information, or an avenue for legal recourse or support services, please call the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017 or head online to nswrapecrisiscentre.com.au.
GROWINg strong untitled Building 307, 5th Avenue, New York, New York, was actually a collection of little separate buildings beehived for the convenience of the postman and those receiving letters inside. Like the popular haircut of the time, it was tall and obtrusive – drawing mostly the attention of bridge-and-tunnelers who, in the immemorial manner of gauche tourists, crane necked at the red and gold interior from the pavement. At its entrance stood a pair of clown faced porters who, for the most part, facilitated all the fruitless conversations between the people who passed between its doors and forgot hourly the unspoken rule of being seen and not heard. On the twelfth floor, in front of a floor length mirror stands a young woman contemplating a scarlet dress. She walks tippy-toed around the room and unhooks the dress by the tall window, letting it slide casually to the ground. She lingers there, taking between her fingers a cigarette, and watches the crowds mill about Central Park. It is nearing 7 o’clock, and she still hasn’t chosen a dress, wondering if it will really matter to this lawyer or banker or whomever it is mother has set her up with. Walking back around to her wardrobe, cigarette wedged precariously between her lips, she pulls out another silk dress in a leopard shade and draws an upward flick at the corner of her eyes with a kohl pencil. Languidly, she picks up her purse off her vanity, letting the cigarette drop from her lips, an overturned bottle of nail polish remover remaining unseen. She walks towards the door, heels denting the polished oakwood floor. It is a quarter past seven.
fire! Across the hall to the young woman, in room 126, an old man shuffles head foremost to the peephole. He is awaiting the arrival of his daughter. He sees the woman in the leopard dress leave her room, and mulls over doing the same. Choosing the right smoking jacket (they all cease to fit his wire frame) will probably use up a similar amount of energy to opening a jar of pickled herring, he thinks. Hence he ends his onerous venture from the rocking chair, as a commotion is heard outside.
fire! Tiny pieces of ash float on the meniscus of the nail polish remover until the whole burnt end of the dying cigarette crumples, setting it alight. The vanity glows and sends embers to the ceiling, catching ablaze, and masking the whole room in white smoke. *** So, he is an advertising agent. The young woman’s lips press together as the taps her fingernails, unpainted, against the table. She rolls her eyes backwards in her head as she breathes out, listening to a dry story about his work for an apparently very reputable Madison Avenue firm. The light inside the restaurant is dim; she wouldn’t have spent half the time getting ready if all that could be seen was the sheen of his
2016 waxed hair. She continues tapping her fingers, wondering how many hours will pass before she will be home. Her whole apartment is on fire, a gradient off the scarlet red dress which has already turned to soot. In a 9th floor apartment, just adjacent to the elevator, a man in a sharp grey suit takes another sip, cringing at the bitter taste. The room is static, as if before a storm; the molecules in the air cease to oscillate. He reaches to a side table, picking up a leather-bound briefcase. Among many loose papers, a couple of fifty dollar bills and a money clip, he finds his address book with the number of a young employee. The boy, with terrible waxed over hair, is supposed to be manning the phones from 7 onwards. At the opposite wall, he unhooks the receiver, dials and waits. Not a man accustomed to hearing more 5 rings, he slams the receiver back into place, picks up his coat and hat, and opens the door vehemently, shirttails untucked.
A mere two streets away, the young woman stands in the negative space of a streetlamp awaiting the arrival of a taxi. She glances at her nails; disappointed she hadnâ€™t the chance to repaint them, and from her silk purse produces another cigarette. Her date emerges and stands by her in the light, chatting inanely. She pulls off his coat, covers her bare shoulders with it and smiles. He stops mid sentence and resigns to a cigarette also. A fire truck wails distantly as the taxi slides up to the curb. The ground is wet and ablaze with the reflection of the fire like a terrible beast spitting out hundreds of people. Exposed to each other by the stark glow, they pack tighter together, like herrings in a jar. Intermittently cameras flash, stealing images of a man in a grey suit crying, his finger quivering towards the flames that are his 9th floor apartment. Among the crowds an old man clutches his daughter and laughs freely as if the flames were dancing for him. Building 307, Fifth Avenue, New York? The young girl sits glassy eyed as the taxi pulls up, she slides out; her lips open and a cigarette falls to the pavement.
The old man is coughing in fits of smoke as he staggers through his door into the open hallway. Immediately and, as if by an unseen force, he is taken by the updraft in to the pulse of people scouring for exits. He looks at them all through his milky eyes, his veins pulsing fat like black slugs. Like a degenerating machine he walks ever slower the right foot, and then the left, towards the stairs. Suddenly the white crescent of a face meets him opposite the direction of the crowd, like a fish flowing upstream. Clutching his wrist, his daughter finds him and they catch the wave downward. ***
GROWINg strong heterosexual men, here’s how to get me off lily matchett I’m a woman who can love sex. Can being the pivotal word. Though, after ten years of being sexually active, it’s become blatantly obvious that sex for a woman can often be unsatisfying, objectifying and disempowering. Although I speak only from my own experience, I have noticed common threads emerge in stories told by other female friends. As a feminist searching for gender equality, voicing these experiences may help to challenge practices that perpetuate rape culture and replace them with ones that see women empowered by their sexual encounters. Finding a man that treats me with respect and has the capacity to satisfy my sexual desires has been incredibly difficult. Predominantly, I’m writing to educate heterosexual men who do not realize how their sexual practice disempowers women. In order to do this, I’ll revisit some of my key bedroom moments that have created, or destroyed the possibility of, satisfying sexual interactions. The prevalence of male-on-female coercive sexual behaviour appears to me to be the toxic, lingering hangover of assumed patriarchal entitlement to my female body. My body IS me and mine. Sex and coercive sex are distinct, but for a long time in my life they have seemed dangerously blurred. Coercive sex should not be the norm. As a young woman, I felt ill equipped to assert my sexual and bodily rights. Do I have any? What are they? What could happen and how do I protect myself ? What if it’s my friend who’s initiating the coercive behaviour? Where were these conversations? No discussions transpired page 22
to educate me on navigating coercive sexual situations, just the old ‘don’t get into a car with a stranger’ every once in a while. No mentor was there to guide me on how to handle pressured sexual acts, preserve my boundaries or help me understand the power and complexities of my consent. I now think this is poor form. We have a social responsibility to better educate people of all genders from a young age on individuals’ boundaries and the inappropriateness of coercive behaviour. This education is far more important than other things we learn in our youth. Sexual activity is buckets of fun when it’s safe, but when it trespasses into coercive, invasive or violent activity, one person leaves the room wearing an armor of distrust, violation and victimhood. The perpetrator may continue this practice unperturbed. Such practice is unnecessary and preventable. These days I have zero tolerance for coercive sexual behaviour. This should have always been the case, but it took some self-motivated feminist education and a respectful partner for it to really ‘click’. I may not want to kiss, have sex with or play in a particularly rough or kinky way with someone and that’s great. I now know that all these things require my permission; I have no obligation to comply. Heterosexual men, if you proceed to treat my body like an object you’re entitled to, my turn on will dramatically switch to off. From then on you’ve lost all my respect, so to circumvent this, read on. Never pressure, presume, demand or go ahead with anything without my permission, this is my body and my choice to make, not yours.
2016 If I’m still ‘on’, next is foreplay. Foreplay, my friends, is as essential as ricotta to ricotta cheesecake. Be creative - if your movements feel like a recipe we’ve all used a thousand times, it will rouse as much excitement within me as finding a moldy orange at the bottom of my backpack. I understand that this skill can take time to develop, so I don’t expect mind-blowing sex the first few times, just effort and patience. If you’re still in my bedroom and we are entering a vibe fit for penetration, definitely ask explicitly for my consent first and always wear a condom unless I request otherwise. If I’ve said yes and you’re not wearing a condom, haven’t asked about contraception and are trying to get in there anyway, oops, you just lost my respect. More worrying than your own lack of self-responsibility is your presumption that I’m happy and willing to accept your STIs as well as future motherhood. Not your choices to make, buddy. So if we’ve come this far, you’re wearing a condom and I’ve given the green light for penetration, bravo! It’s not over yet, though. If this is our first time together (or one of few) it’s important to check in with me to make sure I feel comfortable, that I’m not in any pain. You could even ask me if I enjoy our tempo. If any other kinky ideas come into your mind, they must also be communicated and approved by me before you proceed. The more you communicate with me, the more comfortable I feel and the more able I am to let go and have fun. Letting go is key to my orgasm, so work with me. If our sex becomes purely about reaching your climax as a final destination, I will feel sidelined, unattended to and used. I’m a part of the fortunate 50% who were gifted a clitoris. Keep attending to it during our intercourse, and we are most of the way there. Interactions after sex are also important. Respect and appreciation for me should not end when sex is finished - don’t drop the ball now! Post-sex, I’m still a human being. We just shared something pleasurable (hopefully), so treat me with dignity. Don’t ignore me in a way that suggests you ‘got what you came for’ or I’ll end up feeling as
treasured as our used condom that’s festering in the corner bin. Feeling used and objectified is just some of what I’ve experienced in the bedroom as a result of embedded sexism and assumed patriarchal entitlement over women and their bodies. Underneath both the subtle and obvious coercive sexual practices some men use in the bedroom lies an insidious disempowerment of female sexuality. We’re sick of putting ourselves back together again afterwards. These interactions flood our streets with a rape culture that make women like me (who have the capacity to love sex) want to stay at home and signpost our doors with ‘do not enter’ or ‘nunnery’.
Coercive sex should not be the norm. When I do have safe and respectful sex (which is currently thanks to my fabulous partner), my day is extraordinary. I want more women to have great sex and extraordinary days. I fear many are trapped having the kind of sex I used to have, which leaves you feeling dissatisfied, objectified, used or abused. I think heterosexual men require a better sexual education than porn, which is largely manufactured for male pleasure. Here’s to skill sharing! We need all hands on deck to empower women further and realise feminist goals of equality. Gendered experiences of sex, sexuality, courtship, objectification and violence indicate how peoples’ individual sense of equality and self-determination is progressing over time, so why not converse about it more? Let’s put an end to biting our tongues and covering our ears during conversations that address the bedroom nitty-gritty. There’s too much to gain from collaborative teaching and learning in this heated, vulnerable arena. I suspect some modifications to the code of conduct are required to make the bedroom a more inviting and invigorating place for everybody to enter. page 23
GROWINg strong catcalling
content warning: street harassment Recently I was walking past a building site I encounter daily on my way to uni. My routine is always the same: as I approach the site, I look to my right and pay close attention to each car passing by. I look behind me, a couple of times more than necessary to make sure the bus has yet to arrive, and I scroll aimlessly through my phone re-reading old messages. I’ve developed these habits for one reason only: to avoid the overpowering gaze of the men as I walk past the area. Making eye contact only encourages them, looking through them does little to change their actions. No verbal objectification is evident. No crude words have been exchanged. No sign of catcalling at all. Still, here I am, walking on the street, left with the same outcome – feeling embarrassed and small as a result of these reinforced expressions of dominance over me, from a pack of men twice my age. In 2014, the Daily Telegraph conducted a street harassment experiment in Sydney, in response to a similar experiment in New York Shoshana Roberts was filmed with a hidden camera for 10 hours as she walked through Manhattan, and experienced a barrage of unsolicited comments. In contrast, the Daily Telegraph congratulated the men of Sydney for the lack of heckling model Roelene Coleman experienced: the Australian men were lauded as “noble” and “gentlemanly”. Not only does this perpetuate the idea that men deserve to be commended for not treating women as sexual objects, but it also limits street harassment to verbal slurs. Watching a woman until she feels uncomfortable or standing close enough to exert male power is not a compliment, it is a threat. Being thrown inappropriate comments is unacceptable. Receiving unsolicited judgements based on our external appearance is dehumanising. These expressions of dominance reinforce the myriad of other ways in which men have power over women on the basis of our gender. Still, we all shrug it off, day after day, readily accepted as a cultural norm. Whether it’s distancing yourself from that group of schoolboys edging too close for comfort at the bus stop, whether it’s looking at the ground so as to avoid eye contact with the guy staring in your direction or, in my case, whether it’s being unable to eat your banana until after you’ve passed the construction site without feeling degraded: small experiences accumulate relentlessly over time. We are expected to view these actions with either flattery or disregard - as little more than a woman’s place within the constructs of society. In order to move towards gender equality, the smallest of incidences need to be taken seriously by both men and women and acknowledged for what they really are: sexism.
commonplace / vanessa song
GROWINg strong on the nonchalance of white feminists Recently a girl in my gender studies ‘Sex, Violence and Transgression’ tutorial went on a long rant about all the strong, independent women who affected her conversion into a truly working class feminist activist and how they led by example in their militant style of activism and advocacy. As yet another example of feminism centred around a white, able-bodied, middleclass experience of womanhood, this made me livid. The modern feminist movement, whilst seemingly progressive, is nevertheless riddled with problems of exclusion and discrimination. There are extremely limited parameters of inclusion in the movement, making mainstream feminism often inapplicable, tokenistic or inaccessible to a wide range of people. Whilst the historical efforts of feminists in general should be celebrated and exalted as major stepping stones in the fight for equality, I believe that there are innumerable issues that need to be addressed before we can consider the fight over. I believe in a better movement than the one we are currently working within. The feminist movement I want to be a part of has no room for the abject denial of the challenges facing people of colour or those that identify as anything other than white able-bodied, middleclass women and men. I have met too many ‘feminists’ who are content to attend rallies and hold up posters with brave feminist words, but don’t spare a thought for those who do not feel comfortable attending rallies where people are en masse, or have physical disabilities preventing them
from doing so. On many occasions, I have been shamed for not attending rallies and marches that purportedly defend my right to be. Of course I respect and admire those who choose to attend rallies and marches, but those who cannot do so should not be shamed and excluded. For me personally, it is not a lack of interest but mental illness that prevents me from engaging with the activism that white feminism demands of ‘legitimate feminists’. White feminism also partakes in a specific brand of idealism, which is not only tokenistic but actively excludes and disengages a wide range of women from actively engaging in the movement. Example: you love T-Swizzle and the sexual liberation movement. Your biggest feminist goal is the economic equality of women, and women of colour are indebted to your activism. Did you answer yes to any or all of the above? These identifiers seem superficial, but when analysed at a deeper level, they are indicative of the privilege and racism on which this idealism is founded. Firstly, Taylor Swift is not the saviour of women. Her feminism is a capitalist illusion that only serves the interest of her brand, so the next time you decide to sing ‘Bad Blood’ at the top of your lungs because you think it’s an appropriate theme song for your angry girl gang, please know that there are a select few of us who know you are full of shit. Taylor Swift does not represent the interests of women, and exalting her as a feminist icon is insulting, exclusionary and belittling.
2016 The sexual liberation movement is great, but it caters mostly to those who are privileged enough to be exalted for their sexual choices (e.g. white middle and upper-class women). There are countless women who can never be ‘as liberated’ as Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones simply because of their socio-economic status, sexuality or race, and this is the central problem of the sexual liberation movement. Where Samantha becomes a sexually liberated feminist icon, a lower-class woman of colour becomes a slut. On average, women earn 22% less than their male counterparts, around 78 cents for every white man’s dollar; However the realities and challenges facing women of colour are so much more dire. Hispanic and Latina women earn around 54% and African American women earn around 64% less than their white male counterparts. Economic equality cannot and will not be achieved unless you address the fundamental issues surrounding the socioeconomic statuses of people of colour. Women of colour do not owe you shit. The only reason women of colour activists are not as well known and exalted is because their white counterparts are systematically provided with more forums to speak and be heard. To assume that feminist women of colour have not been as predominantly active in the feminist movement is utterly insulting and demeaning. These issues lying beneath the surface of mainstream feminism often go unrecognised and unchallenged. If we are ‘progressive’ enough to attend rallies and bear feminist posters with brave feminist words, but not progressive enough to defend the voices of those most marginalised in our society, I am unsure whether or not I want very much to do with this modern feminist movement.
MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE bullshit flavia dzodan
To those who remain uninspired to speak out in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Until these fundamental issues within the feminist movement are addressed, and the political framework can embrace a wealth of diverse experiences and identities, it will never achieve its aims. page 27
GROWINg strong the international citizens maani truu In a world where you can be a citizen of a country you have never set foot in, what does the future of national identity look like? Walking towards immigration at London Heathrow airport, my two passports in hand, I join the line of returning Europeans. It doesn’t matter that this is my first trip into the Northern Hemisphere. I hand over my maroon passport, and in response I receive a warm “welcome back”. Another anomaly in the life of a dual- citizen. A new generation of young people has emerged, those who are using their heritage and legal right to citizenship for the ability to move freely across the globe. I have two passports: one Australian and one Estonian. Having lived my entire life in Australia, I don’t have a tangible connection to Estonia. Considering this, it is strange that this is a country that includes me in their census. Dual-citizenship is relatively new. It was only 2002 when Australia removed all restrictions on dual citizenship, meaning that Australians could attain citizenship in a second country while retaining their original passport. Even now, it is not recognised in all countries, and is often regulated by certain conditions. Dual-nationality, however, is becoming more accepted throughout the world, with it even possible to hold three passports, from three countries, at one time.
With the acceptance there are a number of advantages for eligible individuals. For those who are dual-European citizens, the creation of the European Union (EU) greatly expanded the benefits of holding multiple passports. Now, not only does dual-nationality allow for freedom of travel and work between two nations, a passport holder of a EU member is able to travel and work throughout all other 28 countries, revolutionising what it means to be a AustralianEuropean dual-citizen. The impact of EU on dual-citizenship can be seen in the case of Estonia, where in 2004 (the year Estonia was made an EU member) the number of passport applications exploded as hundreds of young, third-generation Australians of Estonian heritage “came out of the woodwork”, as Vella Pihlak, honorary Vice-Consul of the Estonian Consulate at that time, described it. This sudden influx of new applicants suggests that for many, their motive was not personal identity but because it opened up options for work and travel. Estonia is not an appealing travel destination for most of the Australian youth; many may have never even heard of it. They have, however, heard of a few cities such as Paris, Rome or London. Talking to Zac, an Australian-Polish dual-citizen, I discovered he saw his passports in much the same way I did. “As lovey-dovey the feeling of connectedness with my Polish heritage is, what’s more important is the ability to travel and work freely within Europe,” he said. Despite placing greater importance in the practical benefits of his
2016 passport, Zac, who is planning to use his Polish nationality to move to London, also argued that it is important in retaining that part of his heritage. “I definitely feel like it’s cemented that part of me, that I am both Australian and Polish.” Unlike Zac and Myself, who have yet to use our passports in their countries of origin, Liam, a first-generation Australian, has recently returned from a yearlong stint working in the United Kingdom, where he holds citizenship. “Knowing I could live freely in 20 odd countries in Europe, for 200 dollars that is something I want,” he says, “I just filled out the form and 2 weeks later got an envelope in the mail. It was scary how easy it was to be able to move to a new country. But it was cool.” Given my observation that people like myself, Zac and Liam were a growing number, I expected a harsher response from Katrin Kanarik, the current Charge d’Affairs of the Estonian Embassy in Australia, when I spoke to her about the situation. Rather than an abuse of rights, she sees Estonian dual-citizenship as rectifying the mass migration of Estonians caused by World War II. “I cannot imagine any Estonian saying that people who were forced to escape the country would not be entitled to keep their Estonian citizenship” she said “If you have this legal right, why not take it?”
But what does all this mean for the future of citizenship on a global scale? Szabolcs Pogonyi, a professor in political theory, claims that the growing tolerance of dualnationality is signalling the weakening of state sovereignty, which may lead to the “emergence of transnational, post-national or cosmopolitan norms.” While it remains to be seen how this emerging generation will affect the global society, it would be difficult to argue that this is not the way we are heading. “I think in a few years time, travelling will be different”, says Kanarik, Arguing that in the future the restrictions for Australians travelling in Europe may no longer exist. Currently Australians, without a visa, are only welcome in Europe for three months at a time. While the freedom of movement within the EU and the normalising of dual-nationality have made borders more open, our movements are still restricted. Just recently, however, Estonia has been the first ever country to introduce e-Residency, a transnational digital identity, available to anyone in the world. Just days before, Katrin had issued her first e-Residency card, which allows the holder to virtually conduct business in Estonia. According to Katrin it is about permitting people to “establish their relationship with the Estonian state” regardless of their location, therefore making physical, national borders arbitrary. The introductions of measures such as this suggest that citizenship and national borders are not as simple as they once were. We are living in a world where citizenship is no longer defined by location within or allegiance to a particular country; a world that allows dual- nationals to exist without any physical connection to their nation-state. Perhaps, nationality no longer defines us the way it used to. We, the international citizens, are evidence of this.
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