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Introduction

Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say

Destroying Myths, Creating Love

© 1999 Warren Farrell
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Warren Farrell, Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Love (New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999). Order on-line Audio Cassette

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Why Men Are the Way They Are
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Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say

Introduction

"A lie can travel half way around the world

while the truth is putting on its shoes."

óMark Twain

My Personal Journey

In my first book, The Liberated Man,1 I shared my feelings about the importance of independent women for secure men and the contribution of the womenís movement in fostering womenís self discovery. My motherís death, prior to the womenís movement, was due, in part, to not living at a time in which she was encouraged to explore all aspects of herself. And her death was doubtless part of the motivation that led me to spend three years on the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City, an experience that deepened my excitement about womenís potential. That was in the í70s.

As the womenís movement moved from mocked to mainstream, I increasingly sensed an anger toward men that permeated our culture as unnoticed as bacteria in water. Women were asking, "Why are men such jerks?" and "Why are men afraid of commitment?" and men were confused: Why would a woman want commitment from a jerk?

As women spoke, they wondered, "Why canít men listen?" As they pleaded for intimacy, they feared men cared only about sex. The 600 or so menís and womenís groups I had formed helped me to hear what was behind womenís anger and what men could barely say. The findings took the form of Why Men Are The Way They Are,2 written to answer womenís questions about men in a way that rang true for men. That was in the í80s.

I felt mixed emotions about these decades...as if they were the best of times and the worst of times between the sexes. The sexes have never communicated as much, nor have they ever divorced as much; they have never known so much about raising a childís self-esteem, and never left their children so destabilized; the male role (mostly) has never been so successful at expanding womenís life expectancy (by over 50% in the 20th century), yet never been so blamed for its neglect of women.

In retrospect, I saw the fifties as the decade of the family; the sixties, the decade of men (sex without marriage; freedom; questioning authority); and the last three decades of the millennium, the decades of women. Unfortunately, while the decade of men also released women (birth control, professional choices, sexual self-discovery), the decades of women are in many ways a dark age for men.

Since the beginning of the womenís movement, the suicide rate for women has decreased by about a third, while the suicide rate for men has increased by about 15%,3 yet weíve focused only on the damage to womenís self-esteem. Something was going on....

By the late í80s, the anger toward men had become institutionalized. It was dividing families, and poisoning love. The newest dirty word was not a four-letter word, it was a three-letter word: men. The womenís movement had done a wonderful job of freeing women from sex roles, but no one did the same for men. The more women gained advantages, the more its movement went from favoring equality to fearing equality. Big feminism became like big labor: Both started by correcting an imbalance; both became so preoccupied with getting protection that soon everyone near them needed protection from them.

I began to feel that as women spoke up and men didnít, men and masculinity were becoming demonized and the baby was being thrown out with the bath water. Soon I began distinguishing among the feminism I loved (what I now call empowerment feminism) and the two forms of feminism I feared (victim feminism and competitive feminism).

Empowerment feminism empowers a woman by encouraging her to develop all of her potential without regard to gender. It is the feminism I shall always support. Victim feminism focuses on how men and society systematically view women as second class citizens and incapable, and any accomplishments a woman achieves are despite these barriers. Competitive feminism does not stop with saying women have it bad: It says that women have it worse than men; womenís victimhood was caused by men. It arrives at these conclusions by exaggerating womenís burdens and understating menís. Competitive Feminism creates a male catch-22: if he says nothing, he looks like a deadbeat or oppressor; if he points out the exaggeration, he appears to be anti-woman.

Both Parts II and III are rife with examples of victim and competitive feminism, but with solutions as to how they can become empowerment feminism. If victim and competitive feminism have resulted in the last third of the 20th century being a dark ages for men, they havenít done so without men being a co-conspirator.

For six years I sorted out my feelings on these issues and worked to make The Myth of Male Power a new paradigm of men and power, and a more progressive male-female dance. I had come to feel that menís traditional definition of power did not give men real power. Men had come to define power as feeling obligated to earn money that someone else spends while he dies sooner. That felt to me like a better definition of obligation and responsibility. The Myth of Male Power redefined "power" as controlling oneís own life.

The research on The Myth of Male Power helped me ferret out what I came to feel was the biggest misunderstanding in my thinking as a feminist Ė my failure to understand that, historically, neither sex had power; both sexes had roles. Our fathers and mothers had responsibilities, not rights; they had obligations, not options. Women were obligated to raise children; men were obligated to raise money. Earning money was not male privilege, it was male obligation. Privilege was about options, like the option to raise children or raise money; it was the option to spend money.... That was in the Ď90s.

However, the breadth of The Myth of Male Power Ė explaining perhaps a hundred myths about men that created the larger myth of male power; explaining how our genetic heritage had come into conflict with our genetic future; proposing not a womenís movement condemning men or a menís movement condemning women, but a gender transition movement Ė neglected to counter some myths in enough depth to expect social change. And it neglected a method of communicating about these myths that could increase love without sacrificing honesty to do it. Myths first....

Some of the myths were so ingrained that thoughtful people could not be expected to drop them in response to a few paragraphs of explanation. For example, a conscientious feminist running a battered womenís shelter would fear subjecting vulnerable women to a new treatment plan based on a few paragraphs explaining why their treatment program was based on false assumptions about men. She would need more depth before she could make responsible changes.

In-depth redefining is important, but women canít hear what men donít say partly because of the way men say it. And partly because itís so difficult to listen to anything we donít really want to hear.

So Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say has to be about more than the substance of myths. It has to also be about process. The process of communicating difficult feelings; the process of listening to difficult feelings.

If I were to choose for myself a heritage of teaching men and women everything there is to understand about each other, or teaching men and women how to understand, I would choose the latter. The process is more important than the substance. The process is like learning to ride a bicycle or use a computer: The process will be useful even when the substance changes. The process is Part I.

The substance of Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say will put the process to the test. All of us give lip service to having an open mind. The substance of this book will ask us to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. Thatís Part II. More on that later.

Part I, then, is about the process it takes to understand someone who has a different perspective, be that person a husband or wife, a parent or a child, an employer or employee, a brother or sister, a Republican or Democrat.... And even more importantly, it is about the ability to not only handle personal criticism, but to create a safe environment for it.

My feelings that political agreement was less important than listening skills emerged in the late Ď60s and early Ď70s when I was in college (at Montclair State University in New Jersey) and during graduate school at UCLA and NYU. I was one of those Vietnam war protesters who was a civilian, a Civil Rights advocate who was white, a gay rights supporter who was straight Ė someone your dad probably wanted to wrap up in a Soviet flag and burn. It was no surprise to anyone that by 1970, right after the womenís movement surfaced in 1969, I was a male on New York Cityís Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women.

To my liberal friends, I was a certified liberal; to my conservative friends, I was a hopeless liberal. But to me, liberalism was never the issue Ė listening was. When, instead of listening, we pigeon-holed feminists as "bra burners," slandered African-Americans as "niggers," branded war protesters as "commies," and derided gays as "queers," I felt sad. It seemed to me that labeling was the lobotomy of our soul.

The gap between my friendsí and my desire to hear everyoneís story left my liberal friends aghast when I argued that even those on our enemy list deserved an equal opportunity ear. But this time the equal opportunity ear was not to hear the story of the gay black Communist Vietnamese female Ė it was to hear the straight white European-American male..., er, me. (Oh, my. Wasnít "he" the oppressor? Werenít we defending the oppressed?)

The problem was that listening to myself required more confrontation of self than did listening to the perspectives of gays, blacks, women, and Vietnamese Communists. Which made it deliciously tempting to indulge our standard escape from listening to men: "Havenít we been listening to menís stories for thousands of years?"

But among those men was my own dad. When all was optimal, dad left home at 7 to 8 a.m. and returned at 6 to 7 p.m. That optimal work week Ė of 55 hours Ė was when he didnít work overtime. Or have to take a second job. Or go to school at night. Often, though, my dad, and many of the dads in our neighborhood, put in a total of 60 to 80 hours per week with that combination of work, overtime, school, and commuting. Sometimes our home must have seemed less his castle than his mortgage.

Eventually dad got his reward Ė managing a company in Holland. The company moved our family of five to Holland. Mom, though, found Holland too rainy and lonely. Dad responded by putting his company on notice, moving the family back to the US, and staying alone in Holland until he could join us. Once back in the United States, though, his age Ė and having just quit his last job Ė kept him from finding a job managing another company. He was soon selling Fuller brushes door-to-door so my sister Gail and I could go to college where, ironically, I would learn why he should be on my enemy list.

For years, I never asked my dad how he felt selling Fuller brushes. But once, he did tell me how empty he felt walking the street, banging on doors, persuading some woman it was worth it to buy a brush from him at twice the price of a supermarket; and how bad he felt that the promises to mom (his reasons for coming home late at nights and working weekends) had amounted to nothing. These realities were in such stark contrast to my theories of male privilege that it stopped me in my tracks.

And then I saw Mr. Longson, our next-door neighbor, die of a heart attack in his fifties. I began to wonder about calling it male power when he fulfilled his obligation to earn money his family spent while he died early. I realized that Mr. Longson and my dad had not had their internal stories and fears expressed, only repressed. To this day, I hear the stories of the women on my staff, but not those of the men who collect my garbage.

Removing my blinders, though, also removed my feminist support system. It was sad to feel that their support was dependent on my blinders. Feminists brought me not only my nurturance Ė my psychological support Ė but also my financial support. Removing my blinders severely damaged my financial success, but it deepened my soul as it forced me to confront the self-righteousness that sometimes seeped in as I viewed myself as "more enlightened," "unique," and "sensitive" for being "one of the few men" who could hear the perspectives of women. Hopefully, via that confrontation, it deepened those qualities in reality. And it certainly helped me distinguish between friends and political allies: Friends valued my integrity; political allies valued my agreement. It helped me understand that everyone had moccasins that needed a little wearing Ė even men.


Book cover
Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Love
by Warren Farrell
Review
Order on-line


Book cover
Dr. Warren Farrell


Related:

book cover
The Myth of Male Power
by Warren Farrell
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Review


book cover

Why Men Are the Way They Are
by Warren Farrell
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Comparing Warren Farrell to Susan Faludi

Here's an article comparing Warren Farrell's writing to Susan Faludi's new book Stiffed







Book description and reviews

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If Men Have Problems, Why Arenít They Speaking Up?

Sharing fears and feelings will happen more slowly for men than with any other group, because although men, like women, received love by solving problems for others, the process it took for men to solve problems involved a more complete repression of his own problems. A man didnít tell his sergeant in the army that he, too, had some perspectives and problems the sergeant should consider.... That would not have led to the man becoming the officer and the gentleman, but a failure and a reject, and he didnít notice many women rushing to a movie called A Failure and a Reject.

For men, success has always been the best preventive medicine to avoid the cancer of female rejection (...as well as everyone elseís). Success came from repressing feelings, not expressing feelings. For women, expressing weakness and fear attracted a savior; for men, expressing weakness and fear attracted contempt. Hearing a man complain makes a woman feel like a mother, not a lover. Complaining was part of womenís evolutionary heritage; for men, complaining is an evolutionary shift.

Women will not respect men until they speak up. But this does not mean women will respect men as soon as they speak up. The reason women ultimately respect a man who speaks up is because he must jump over hurdles, and his willingness to do it shows he cares, and his ability to do it earns respect. For example....

Some women say, when a man speaks up, that he must be a woman-hater. Thatís one of the hurdles. For a man thatís perhaps the most painful one because he is speaking up so his love for a woman can be more genuine. He feels like heís been hit below the belt, like women wanting to hear his feelings is a fraud. But for some women, criticism does feel like hatred. She has just expressed her feeling.

The first part of this book is about helping both sexes know how to take potentially destructive mutual misunderstandings like that and turn them into love. Ultimately this book is about both sexes speaking and both sexes listening in a radically different way. But prior to the "ultimately" there are reasons men are the silent sex, and men need to let women know their intent when they make a transition from suppression to expression.

For example, a man needs to let a woman know that his intent in speaking up is to have a more intimate relationship with an equal partner Ė that to not speak up is to treat her like a child.

If a man is not speaking up out of a need to protect he is creating something worse than a parent-child relationship: He becomes like a permissive parent who soon finds himself needing protection from the child who knows no oneís perspective but her or his own. This is what menís silence has created both individually and socially.

It is not the men who confront women directly that women need to fear; it is the men who fear confronting women because they donít think thereís any hope, they "know" sheíll never understand, or theyíre unwilling to risk the possibility she will call him "woman-hater." When men do not speak up it demonstrates a blend of fear of women and contempt for women with a lack of courage. That cannot co-exist with truly loving a woman as an equal partner.

In contrast, a man who speaks up is engaged. A man who is engaged cares. He has hope. He is risking for the hope of intimacy. But a man needs to let a woman know that is his intent. Sheíll recognize the truth in it. On some level she already knows it. She just needs to know he knows it, and that thatís where heís coming from. She needs that assurance.

Another hurdle: When Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) researched Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives, she "asked my male listeners to write or fax me suggestions for the stupid things men do. I got thousands of responses of the most moving, vulnerable, meaningful material. But women have not been open to hearing it.... Women feel angry and threatened by menís feelings. They donít really want men to be sensitive, just sensitive to their (womenís) feelings."4

Both sexes fear confronting their partner. When I first became involved with the National Organization for Women, women would invite me for dinner and ask me to share my feminist perspectives with their husband so they could be shielded from his response. Similarly, men who are honest often find the honesty costs more than it was worth. A single man or woman can afford to weed out of their lives someone who cannot handle who they are. But for couples with children itís more complex....

Some of Americaís most powerful men have personally shared with me how their own life matches the experiences about which I write but they shudder with the thought of sharing this with their own wives Ė "if I disagree with her, itíll just cause trouble.... I canít just consider myself; we have children too." When the worldís opinion leaders feel they cannot differ with their own wives....

Fortunately, many women feel supported when men speak up. And many women are feeling so strongly about the need to create a better world for children that they are speaking up even when men are silent. The man in charge of the 1-800-FATHERS hotline told me more than half the calls they received were made by women.5 Often the women was a second wife who saw how much her new husband loved his children. She was angry at him for placating his ex, and shocked that the system could allow his ex to prevent him from being with them. In many cases she felt that she and her new husband could provide more balance for the children than could a single mom alone. This woman is perhaps the first to experience how the Second Wivesí Club loses when the First Wivesí Club wins.

Millions of women will be second wives. And millions more wonít because the man they love is still in shock at his last transition from husband to a member of the menís auxiliary of the First Wivesí Club.

Feelings and Data

I like feelings a lot more than data. Yet thereís a lot of data in this book. Many women will be tempted to say, "Why canít you just tell me how you feel Ė I can listen to that. That means more to me than a statistic."

How men feel is crucial; but if a man said, "I just donít feel men are more violent to women than women are to men," most women would just say, "Sorry, youíre wrong," and dismiss him as an ignorant chauvinist.

Without responsible, concrete information, we get stuck in the quicksand of self-fulfilling prophecies. When the society has no awareness that men are battered by women in significant numbers, we donít develop hotlines, so we donít hear menís feelings; we donít develop shelters, so we donít hear menís feelings; we donít train social workers to be sensitive to men who get hit first, so they develop treatment programs based on what they can see. Without responsible new information neither sex nor any social worker can be asked to alter a working paradigm. And that only occurs if we care enough to let it in.

The best hope of knowledge is the creation of caring. Until Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, we didnít have enough knowledge to care about the insecticides that poison our food. Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say, about the "silent sex," provides the knowledge to care about the myths which are the insecticides that poison our love for men. It will succeed only if it inspires others to share their stories. The numbers help men know they are not alone; they help women know that these are not just my opinions. It takes the personal stories and the numbers for a critical mass to care. And caring creates the search for solutions.

Anger toward men is perpetuated as much by menís blindness as by womenís. If a person doing a survey on housework asks a man what housework he has done in the past week, and he has just remodeled the house, he may say "none" because he doesnít consider remodeling the house to be "housework." If a man had just come back from a camping vacation and he drove the family everywhere, and the person doing the housework survey asked him about his contributions during the week, chances are he would not mention his time driving, setting up the tent, packing the car, or organizing the trip. Heíd be as likely to say, "None Ė we were on vacation." As men learn to explain their contributions, women see how men contribute, feel more like a partner than a slave, feel less used and more loved.

The hope of this book (if a book can have hope) is that by doing the hard work of gathering, documenting, double-checking, publishing, and publicizing data that has fallen short of the public consciousness, millions of men will not fear being thought of as fools when they share what they would otherwise fear might be an isolated observation. And millions of women will discover who men are. A woman who understands her dad discovers she was loved more than she knew, which allows her to love her husband more fully and nurture her son more completely.

The Goals of Parts I, II, and III

Our poor socialization to effectively give and receive personal criticism does more to destroy families than any other weakness. Why? Handling criticism is the Achillesí heel of us mortals. The more we love someone the more difficult it is to handle criticism from them because we fear it means losing their love. Ironically, when we canít hear criticism from them, we lose their love; when we can, we strengthen their love. This book seeks to strengthen that skill so there will be stronger marriages and fewer divorces.

Am I being redundant when I say stronger marriages and fewer divorces? No. Many marriages that are legally together "for the children" are minimum security prisons for the parents. Togetherness is usually better for the children than divorce, but "minimum security prison togetherness" is still an inferior role model for teaching children to love. Strengthening our skills at giving and receiving personal criticism creates both stronger marriages and fewer divorces. And better parenting.

I have put more emphasis in Part I on hearing personal criticism well than on giving it well because therapists are good at helping people give criticism effectively, but have spent less time helping people handle criticism that is badly given. Many therapists are by nature sensitive and oriented toward protection, so guiding people to be sensitive in the way they criticize comes more naturally than teaching people to handle criticism given badly. Problem is, almost anyone who is criticized tries to "kill" the criticizer before they are killed by the criticism, so criticism is almost always given back badly even if itís given out sensitively. In Part I, I will explain why that is true and what to do about it.

Part Iís real goal, though, is to do more than refrain from killing the criticizer. It is to feel genuine compassion for the person doing the criticism. No. It is more than that. It is to predictably feel genuine compassion for the person doing the criticism. So the person criticizing can depend on a safe environment. Your incentive? You give this to a partner who is giving it to you Ė so your incentive is also receiving a safe environment for expressing your most upsetting fears.

Youíll notice that the fourth chapter is about how to get men to express feelings. This chapter will surprise you with the confluence of contradictory messages we send men about feelings: the number of ways we undermine men expressing their feelings even though we say we want men to express feelings. It is the first chapter that makes clear how menís external world affects menís internal world. It makes clear what we can do about it personally, and, because the influences are also external, politically.

Most books dealing with relationship or personal issues steer clear of political issues. The assumption underlying Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say is that that is a cop-out. When we learn to communicate at home by talking while others are talking, or debating more than listening, we tend to become politically more rigid Ė we develop a "hardening of the categories" and are attracted to political ideologies and religions that make us right and others wrong.

Even more important to this book, politics and social attitudes affect our personal relationships. If you have a dad who grew up during the depression, you know he still has a thing about saving money, and that affects his relationship with your mom. A woman growing up in the fifties was much less likely to even think of becoming a corporate executive than if she grew up just twenty years later. And that difference affects her selection of a husband and the way she and her husband raise children.

The difference in politics and attitudes facing a soldier returning from Vietnam than that facing a soldier returning from World War II, affected these menís attitude toward themselves and every one in their lives. And the everyday personality of millions of men (in contrast with their female peers) was molded by the political decision to require only men to be drafted or become conscientious objectors, thus forcing every 18-year-old boy into either interpreting patriotism as requiring his disposability, or experiencing a crisis of conscience that would pit him against the US government. That choice between disposability and powerlessness was called a rite of passage into manhood. That same choice still exists only for our 18 year old sons (who must still register for the draft or pay a quarter million dollars and be barred from federal employment for the rest of their lives).

Today we have a social and political attitude toward men. Or, as our kids would put it, when it comes to men we have an "attitude." Part II shows how that political attitude affects our personal lives. How, for example, as it exposes us to headlines about women doing more housework, but not men doing more remodeling, painting or gutter cleaning, a woman becomes resentful as she picks up his underwear. Because she sees no headline saying sheís not doing half the painting, gutter cleaning, or repairs (e.g., "Study finds Women Complain, Men Repair"), nothing modulates her resentment. As she hears menís perspective and also understands the underlying process that has cut her off from menís perspective, she has the opportunity to deepen her love for men and raise her son more effectively.

Part II does more than give us examples of myths that create anger toward men Ė it makes us aware of what we need to ask before we can determine whether we are being told the full truth when we hear the news. Why, for example, do we believe that men batter women more than women batter men when weíve had extensive research to the contrary for a quarter century? Clarifying these myths is like cleaning filters, allowing us to breathe the air but not the pollution, like the thresher that separates the wheat from the chaff.

Part III allows us to see the results of that anger in the form of man-bashing, and the biases of the institutions that disseminate it: what I will call "The Lace Curtain."6 The Lace Curtain is the tendency of most major institutions to interpret gender issues from only a feminist perspective, or from a combination of feminist and female perspectives. As we look closely at the anger, it is apparent what women are angry about and what we can do about it so our children donít inherit it.

In brief, Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say is asking men to take the primary responsibility for, first, doing the hard work it takes to get in touch with their feelings, then for speaking up in the first third of the 21st century just as women did in the last third of the 20th century. But it suggests there are powerful reasons men have difficulty revealing their real vulnerabilities to the women they love Ė reasons powerful enough to make it predictable men would reach the moon before they expressed their feelings. Until we understand the relationship between the personal, social, political, and biological wires, we wonít be able to disentangle them for our sons or ourselves. Fortunately, we donít need perfect answers to make progress.

It is my hope to strengthen our resolve to destroy man-hating before it destroys our sonsí and daughtersí relationships, and the lives of their children. It is not my hope to make man-hating politically incorrect, but to add the information and emotional perspectives we need to dissolve the hatred that creates it.

It is my hope that by both exposing the myths about men and exposing the process that creates those myths, I will contribute to stopping a process that is leaving our children without fathers and our sons without self-respect; that is dividing the sexes and poisoning love.

It is my hope that by making the environment safe for men to speak up, men will be inspired to be in touch with their feelings, do their homework, learn to speak with love, and then speak. As for me, I will do this less than perfectly. I will be just like the men you love.

Nothing helps my ability to communicate more than hearing from my readers. Write me, teach me, grow me. Write to me at:

103 N. Highway 101, PMB 220
Encinitas, CA 92024

and check out:
www.warrenfarrell.com

#

  1. Warren Farrell, The Liberated Man (NY: Random House and Bantam, 1975; NY: Berkley, revised 1993).
  2. Warren Farrell, Why Men Are The Way They Are (NY: Berkley, paper, 1988).
  3. National Center for Health Statistics, 1996, based on estimated number of suicides calculated using 1993 U.S. population figures and suicide rates, as cited by Peter Brimelow, "Save the Males?" Forbes, December 2, 1996, p. 46-47.
  4. Interview of Dr. Laura Schlessinger in September of 1997 by Barbar Hoover of The Detroit News in "'Dr. Laura' Examines Why Men Do Such 'Stupid' Things To Their Lives."
  5. George Mc Casland, discussing calls during the early '90s.
  6. Term coined by Nicholas Davidson, author of The Failure of Feminism (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1988).

Top Ten Predictions About Women and Men

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Comparing Warren Farrell to Susan Faludi

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Book description and reviews

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