Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

3 Dec


I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know any better. I can tell that she’s angry at me, and I don’t know why. Later that day, when my mother comes to pick me up, the babysitter hugs me too hard and says how jealous she is because she only has sons and she wishes she had a daughter as sweet as me.

One day when we’re playing in the backyard he tells me very seriously that he might kill me one day and I believe him.


I am in the second grade and our classroom has a weird open-concept thing going on, and the fourth wall is actually the hallway to the gym. All day long, we surreptitiously watch the other grades file past on the way to and from the gym. We are supposed to ignore most of them. The only class we are not supposed to ignore is Monsieur Pierre’s grade six class.

Every time Monsieur Pierre walks by, we are supposed to chorus “Bonjour, Monsieur Sexiste.” We are instructed to do this by our impossibly beautiful teacher, Madame Lemieux. She tells us that Monsieur Pierre, a dapper man with grey hair and a moustache, is sexist because he won’t let the girls in his class play hockey. She is the first person I have ever heard use the word sexist.

The word sounds very serious when she says it. She looks around the class to make sure everyone is paying attention and her voice gets intense and sort of tight.

“Girls can play hockey. Girls can do anything that boys do,” she tells us.

We don’t really believe her. For one thing, girls don’t play hockey. Everyone in the NHL – including our hero Mario Lemieux, who we sometimes whisper might be our teacher’s brother or cousin or even husband – is a boy. But we accept that maybe sixth grade girls can play hockey in gym class, so we do what she asks.

Mostly what I remember is the smile that spreads across Monsieur Pierre’s face whenever we call him a sexist. It is not the smile of someone who is ashamed; it is the smile of someone who finds us adorable in our outrage.


Later that same year a man walks into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and kills fourteen women. He kills them because he hates feminists. He kills them because they are going to be engineers, because they go to school, because they take up space. He kills them because he thinks they have stolen something that is rightfully his. He kills them because they are women.

Everything about the day is grey: the sky, the rain, the street, the concrete side of the École Polytechnique, the pictures of the fourteen girls that they print in the newspaper. My mother’s face is grey. It’s winter, and the air tastes like water drunk from a tin cup.

Madame Lemieux doesn’t tell us to call Monsieur Pierre a sexist anymore. Maybe he lets the girls play hockey now. Or maybe she is afraid.

Girls can do anything that boys do but it turns out that sometimes they get killed for it.


I am fourteen and my classmate’s mother is killed by her boyfriend. He stabs her to death. In the newspaper they call it a crime of passion. When she comes back to school, she doesn’t talk about it. When she does mention her mother it’s always in the present tense – “my mom says” or “my mom thinks” – as if she is still alive. She transfers schools the next year because her father lives across town in a different school district.

Passion. As if murder is the same thing as spreading rose petals on your bed or eating dinner by candlelight or kissing through the credits of a movie.


Men start to say things to me on the street, sometimes loudly enough that everyone around us can hear, but not always. Sometimes they mutter quietly, so that I’m the only one who knows. So that if I react, I’ll seem like I’m blowing things out of proportion or flat-out making them up. These whispers make me feel complicit in something, although I don’t quite know what.

I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I am asking for it. I feel dirty and ashamed.

I want to stand up for myself and tell these men off, but I am afraid. I am angry that I’m such a baby about it. I feel like if I were braver, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. Eventually I screw up enough courage and tell a man to leave me alone; I deliberately keep my voice steady and unemotional, trying to make it sound more like a command than a request. He grabs my wrist and calls me a fucking bitch.

After that I don’t talk back anymore. Instead I just smile weakly; sometimes I duck my head and whisper thank you. I quicken my steps and hurry away until one time a man yells don’t you fucking run away and starts to follow me.

After that I always try to keep my pace even, my breath slow. Like how they tell you that if you ever see a bear you shouldn’t run, you should just slowly back away until he can’t see you.

I think that these men, like dogs, can smell my fear.


On my eighteenth birthday my cousin takes me out clubbing. While we’re dancing, a man comes up behind me and starts fiddling with the straps on my flouncy black dress. But he’s sort of dancing with me and this is my first time ever at a club and I want to play it cool, so I don’t say anything. Then he pulls the straps all the way down and everyone laughs as I scramble to cover my chest.

At a concert a man comes up behind me and slides his hand around me and starts playing with my nipple while he kisses my neck. By the time I’ve got enough wiggle room to turn around, he’s gone.

At my friend’s birthday party a gay man grabs my breasts and tells everyone that he’s allowed to do it because he’s not into girls. I laugh because everyone else laughs because what else are you supposed to do?

Men press up against me on the subway, on the bus, once even in a crowd at a protest. Their hands dangle casually, sometimes brushing up against my crotch or my ass. One time it’s so bad that I complain to the bus driver and he makes the man get off the bus but then he tells me that if I don’t like the attention maybe I shouldn’t wear such short skirts.


I get a job as a patient-sitter, someone who sits with hospital patients who are in danger of pulling out their IVs or hurting themselves or even running away. The shifts are twelve hours and there is no real training, but the pay is good.

Lots of male patients masturbate in front of me. Some of them are obvious, which is actually kind of better because then I can call a nurse. Some of them are less obvious, and then the nurses don’t really care. When that happens, I just bury my head in a book and pretend I don’t know what they’re doing.

One time an elderly man asks me to fix his pillow and when I bend over him to do that he grabs my hand and puts it on his dick.

When I call my supervisor to complain she says that I shouldn’t be upset because he didn’t know what he was doing.


A man walks into an Amish school, tells all the little girls to line up against the chalkboard, and starts shooting.

A man walks into a sorority house and starts shooting.

A man walks into a theatre because the movie was written by a feminist and starts shooting.

A man walks into Planned Parenthood and starts shooting.

A man walks into.


I start writing about feminism on the internet, and within a few months I start getting angry comments from men. Not death threats, exactly, but still scary. Scary because of how huge and real their rage is. Scary because they swear they don’t hate women, they just think women like me need to be put in their place.

I get to a point where the comments – and even the occasional violent threat – become routine. I joke about them. I think of them as a strange badge of honour, like I’m in some kind of club. The club for women who get threats from men.

It’s not really funny.


Someone makes a death threat against my son.

I don’t tell anyone right away because I feel like it is my fault – my fault for being too loud, too outspoken, too obviously a parent.

When I do finally start telling people, most of them are sympathetic. But a few women say stuff like “this is why I don’t share anything about my children online,” or “this is why I don’t post any pictures of my child.”

Even when a man makes a choice to threaten a small child it is still, somehow, a woman’s fault.


I try not to be afraid.

I am still afraid.


The author, age 7


1,238 Responses to “Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence”

  1. misterjimmy May 27, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    This is powerful, disturbing, brave and wonderful. Thanks, Shanan, for writing this and posting it. It should be published in a newspaper, on the Op-Ed page. Or on the front page. I am sorry you have had this violence in your life. I am sorry there are so many sexist pigs. I am sorry there are any sexist pigs.

  2. Edan Chapman May 28, 2016 at 1:28 am #

    This is so fucking disgusting.

    I am a 33 year old male and I have never ever done anything remotely close to what you have said. I can’t apologise for the acts of these vile, sleazy scumbags but i want you to know that i do NOT condone or support any of these acts. You are not alone, not just with females but there are males out there that do not act in this way.

    Thank you for sharing, despite the discomfort and obvious difficulty of writing this, because this needs to be shoved into this absurdly over-pc and helicopter parented world.

    Much love (with zero sexual innuendo) and respect,

    A member of the human race.

  3. garwill June 4, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    You have a number of great posts on a variety of topics.

  4. dosexmachina June 4, 2016 at 10:30 pm #

    I appreciate you.

  5. Kitt O'Malley June 16, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    Wow! Powerfully written. No woman should live in fear of violence or sexual violence. No son should. No human should.

  6. Krista July 9, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    When I was in grade 5 in french immersion, we were looking at the dictionary because there were pictures of a naked man and a naked woman with their anatomy labeled. In the place of the genitals the word to name them was Le Sex. So about 5 boys cornered me and tried to find my ‘le sex’. They were all laughing, so I laughed too as they grabbed at my clothing and tried to pull down my pants and touch me. I did my best to stop them, but there were 4 or 5 of them. I laughed along like it was no big deal. I actually smashed the back of my head on the ledge of the blackboard where the chalk was held and pretended it didn’t hurt because I didn’t want to be laughed at for that too. That was the first of many, many times this that sort of thing would happen. I spent my whole life fighting them off and ‘laughing’ along while being terrified. I don’t do that as much anymore, but I’m still scared a lot. Sometimes I do have to smile thinly and keep walking or I get followed. It’s not okay. I’m sorry that you went through that.

  7. Bianca Cannon July 24, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

    I could have written this. These aren’t my words, but I have had these experiences. I have done everything, growled and yelled, walked fast, ran, gave evil stares, stopped at stared at the pavement (hoping they’d stop talking), abruptly crossed the street, stared out of windows with a blank look on my face (trains, buses), altogether avoided the gaze of men altogether (this way I won’t ‘lead on’ the ones who want you/are into them), moved away from creepy guys that repeatedly stand next to me at the bus stop, virtually live with headphones and loud blaring music in my ears as I go out the door every day. I even sometimes modify how i’m dressed if I don’t want guys looking at my backside in a, say a pencil skirt I might bring a sweater to wear around my waist.

    So this post and all of the responses makes me feel less insane (I was even a tad bit agoraphobic for a while when I first moved to my current state).

    I’m into alternative culture but I used to have my hair cut short, dyed pink and had a diy scary aesthetic partly because it was my style at the time, but partly to be “ugly” and ward off men. Of course, I still had guys who thought I was into some freaky sex stuff.

    I’ve already resolved to kick and punch and do whatever I can if anyone tries to put their hands on me. I can’t break someone’s face for just talking to me, sadly. Really wish I could because the lengths those men go to, and they know they’re in the wrong if they have to lower their voice low enough so only you hear them (which makes you look crazy if you spaz on them) is pathetic and telling.

    They wouldn’t want any woman in their life approached that way. They clearly aren’t shamefree enough to want someone else to hear them. So basically, as soon as they’ve seen you, they’ve already resolved that you’re (or you will be) their dirty little secret.

  8. joliesattic August 11, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    This brought back so many memories. My little sister (now in her 60’s)reminded me of how boys would tweak her growing, tender breasts and how mom refused to buy her a bra for a measure of protection. She said, she had confided in me and I, not having any money, went out and stole a red bra from the five and dime for her. She never forgot, so when things get tough, we remember the red bra. And, Lloyd is correct, shy boys are targeted as well. I remember a boy,Nicholas when I was a girl, who was grabbed and tormented all the time. It seems that women are verbally cruel whereas men seem to be more physical or is it just me that see’s it that way?

  9. Susan August 15, 2016 at 5:36 am #

    Omw, well I have been either very lucky or the men (South African men) I have encountered are mostly good people… My bad experiences were in places where alcohol was involved and were only “minor”. once when working as a promoter in a busy pub did a man try to touch me but I moved away quickly, and in one club I used to go to men would touch my butt but they’d back off after I gave them a stern unimpressed look but I did not have similar experiences in most clubs I went to and I just stopped going to that specific club. Another time was in school some boys in class asked me if I wanted to “get down to some business on the couch” and the next day I just chirped them back. I didn’t think they were bad people I thought they were just being naughty boys and wanted to see how I’d react as a joke.

  10. chinabtch October 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    My mother was raped. I am the product of that assault. I’m now 70 years old and there are still family members who blame me for being born. A close eye was kept on me growing up because ‘you never know what blood will show’. And I was an outcast when it came to having female friends but a target for every male who considered me “damaged goods” and therefore available. Just because my mother was raped.

  11. noelani October 12, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

    Thank you. You just inspired strength I have been holding back. You are a warrior for all of us who have been afraid to speak. Thank you.

  12. Mlejean October 13, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    This is nothing short of amazing. You have managed to put so many of my suppressed feelings into words. I think the realization of the amount of actual fear I live with on a daily basis as a woman is startling. You make me want to act on this and work even harder as a mother to two sons. Thank you.

  13. Cassidy October 13, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

    I don’t know you. I’ve never been to your blog, but it’s going around, as I’m sure you must know. You are amazing and wonderful and strong and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your stories. I’m wiping tears up, because it hurts to know this is our world. That even women aren’t always on our side. I wish I could hug you. It doesn’t make it better. It can’t erase anything that you and every woman I’ve ever known has had to endure, but maybe I can try to put some more love out in the universe. All we can do is share our stories and stand up and be brave. Even if it gets us harassed and hurt and potentially killed. We are strong together. I want to hope that it won’t always be like this. That my son won’t grow up to be one of these men. But I can’t know that. I can only do my best. Sending love.

  14. Mayra October 14, 2016 at 4:01 am #

    I loved it. It really got to my heart and messed around some memories. We may be almost 30, strong, professional… But how on earth do we still feel so vulnerable?

  15. mary October 14, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    The predator /prey paradigm continues, sadly. Being an empathic woman I seemed to attract predator types in particular and have begun to feel there are no respectful and caring men in the world. I can relate to the violence as abuse has been something I have had to fight against my entire life. Molested, cat called, degraded by male doctors in my work as an RN, narcissistically abused by the male patriarch of my family and my adult partners. I am now 61 , alone by choice and have had to work very very hard to have good self esteem and self love. It is sad my life has wasted so much energy on healing from repeated predatory attacks by the male of our sad species.

  16. Marj October 14, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

    Thank you for telling your story…I know those feelings well and have never told my own story, even though I’m a writer. It is time.

  17. Dallas Reinhart October 14, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    To correct you on something, Passion is defined as a ‘strong and barely controllable emotion’. Passion has nothing to do with rose petals and romance. The phrase ‘a crime of passion’ was accurate in your example. The man had a barely controllable rage in that case.

  18. Wayne woj October 14, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    If someone threatened my childcthey would be dead. You have every right go get your gun and dispose of that individual.

  19. Bronwyn October 14, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

    I really understand this.

  20. Leah October 14, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    Thank you, I had tears reading this. Some stories subtle some so loud how could we consider de-escalating but choose to anyway. I identify a lot with these clippings. So few in the masses of everyday examples.
    Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for raising a compassionate honourable son.

  21. Lori Freshour October 14, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    The writing you have done is very powerful and much needed. You stood up for all women who were afraid to speak up for themselves. You let men know its completely unacceptable.. men need to grow up and be more respective towards women. Just like they would want men to talk to their sister or mother. Theres no double standard here. Choose your words wisely and dont put down women or degrade them in any way. Im glad you brought this to lite. Good Job.

  22. Philene October 14, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that. ❤ Some men (and women!) have no idea!

  23. lmrh5 October 14, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

    Reblogged this on lmrh5.

  24. Tutu Runner October 14, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

    When I was 7 my babysitter used to make it a “game” to grab my crotch when I sat on the floor. If I sat cross-legged it was a given he’d go in for for a grab, if I sat with my legs together tucked under me and knees together he’d try to grab from the back. To this day I sill feel uncomfortable sitting on the floor 25 years later.

  25. Jwelding October 15, 2016 at 3:40 am #

    Thank you for the post. This reminds me of how much I just smile and put up with these types of remarks. Then get angry because I can’t or didn’t say anything.

  26. D October 15, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    I am so sorry this happened to you. I was raped by my first boyfriend at the age of 16, because i trusted him and did not even know what was happening until after it had happened. I buried it so deep that I did not realize it until 10 years later that I was raped. In that time, I did not put up with anything and was well-respected by all. Then, later, I was raped by a boyfriend I trusted and buried that, too, after having nightmares for months, thinking it was not rape, again. I guess some part of me thought I deserved it, but I didn’t. I moved to another state, as I was afraid of him. Then, a legal professional told me that it was rape. I broke it off. That was a long time ago now. I try to avoid having people like that in my life. I am also called a feminist, sometimes, and a bi**h, but rarely. Some men are not used to strong women and are intimidated by them, I think. Mothers need to bring up their boys to treat women with respect. And fathers need to respect mothers. That is a first step. The children learn from us all.

  27. L.j. Garces October 15, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve shared it on my FB page. I have hope that if enough of us share our experiences it will make a difference. Please keep being brave.

  28. Sharon Pinsley October 15, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    Sadly/angrily, I can sympathize with so much of what is written here. My life as a woman/female has been marked/marred by so many invasions. Although I have encountered unwanted assaults almost everywhere- work, travel, leisure, family, so-called friends, no safe haven except now that I am less attractive, the incidents have diminished.

    I consider myself strong, an activist, someone who champions causes and yet, my private story has not been spared by my vigor for others. There is so much to be done to change this and part of the process has got to be in the revelation! So, this post and its’ many respondents is a good thing. For the sake of the world out of kilter/balance, women must be enabled to walk with confidence together and alone.

  29. Nicola October 15, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story, you’re a brave woman, stay brave, don’t let the bastards drag you down, we enjoy equal rights now finally (on paper, and sometimes in practice) because of brave women

  30. Maggie October 15, 2016 at 11:44 pm #

    This is heartbreaking and the reason why we must soldier on. Thank you brave sister.

  31. Dr. Bruce Arnold October 16, 2016 at 4:32 am #

    The only thing I know to do is to stand up to my fellow men when they act or talk like this. It’s not much on a day to day basis but if enough of us do it, this kind of behavior will no longer be excused, normalized, or twisted into being the woman’s fault.

  32. Susan October 16, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    Such a powerful subject. This happens much more than “nice men” realize. I have my own story, not as horrifying as many of these, but it happened when I was 8 years old. Just a little girl. That fear of powerlessness has never left me. I have tried to become a strong, independent woman and was lucky to have some great mentors. I have also tried to be a good role model for the girls around me. The statistics say that 1 in 5 girls are sexually abused. I think those are just the tip of the iceberg, many, like me, have never told anyone of their experience.

  33. Kenn Marash October 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    Even though I knew from the start where this story was going, its route through the life a child growing into womanhood left me in tears. Tears of anguish as well as fury. The simple frankness of the chapters describe in plain detail the mixed messages girls and women are forced to sift through. The author’s multiple experiences of abuse, harassment, assault, and a complete lack of male responsibility or accountability–starting at age 6–brought forth many feelings: sadness, shock, anger, rage, despair. And shame. With each revelation of what men did to her–for no reason other than that she is female and they are male–and the insidious effects they had on her, I grew more ashamed to be a man, embarrassed by the pervasive sense of entitlement so many men casually use to prey upon women and girls. I’ve always considered myself a good man–a feminist actually–but being confronted with the widespread abuse men heaped on the author and other women and girls in every different way and situation, the utter depravity rampant among men made me ashamed to have that Y chromosome. I feel very lonely (even though I know I am not alone) as a caring, compassionate man who respects women and believes that they are equal to (though not the same as) men in every opportunity and responsibility. I wish every parent, fathers especially, would read this story, then read it to their sons, and reread it every 5 years throughout their lives since, as revealed here, sexual abuse is a lifelong issue from toddlers to nursing homes.

  34. Noreen Ryckman October 17, 2016 at 12:06 am #

    Powerful words. Thanks for writing this…

  35. Moot66 October 17, 2016 at 3:28 am #

    I totally agree with all of this. It is normalized on most women. Wake up fathers, you play a bigger part than you realize. Ladies, don’t be a victim. I was raised with 3 brothers and my parents NEVER treated me differently because of my gender. I have also always spoke my mind and fight back when rude comments come my way. Don’t get me wrong, I get offended, but I chalk it up to the fact that they are stupid and deserve what they get in life. In all honesty, I am also guilty of objectifying men at times. People..
    Don’t joke or mess around with people you don’t trust/know/ or are easily offended. As long as you don’t touch me I can handle you. EVEN THEN, I can probably handle you too. It’s not just girl power, it’s human power. Everyone deserves the right to be treated humanely.

  36. !!YaZ!! October 17, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    Reblogged this on Yazzles's Daily Ventures and commented:
    Being a GIRL

  37. Deb October 17, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    Thank you for having the courage to write this

  38. Cassie October 17, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    Wow, I can’t believe how many of these things I’ve been through and never really thought of so many of them. Thanks for writing this!!

  39. Nicola October 17, 2016 at 10:54 pm #

    Wow. Powerful. And shitty at the same time. Will it ever change

  40. justingreenwood October 18, 2016 at 4:01 am #

    Some fathers, like mine, taught their boys to be gentleman. Of course, a good percentage of men don’t have a good role model for a father like I did. My dad has only been with my mother, and is more in love with her today than ever. Most people think that’s impossible these days. He must be lying, right? There is a lack of strong, morally fit father figures in boys lives, and that is probably the main source of this nasty environment we’re living in. I think there are also contradictory philosophies coming from parents, schools and society in general. First, there is the media shoving sex down our throats constantly. It’s basically porn. Many women still don’t understand how a man’s mind works. It’s our nature, especially for young men, to make the quest for sex a top priority in life. The urge is incredibly strong, especially when fueled by constant sexual conversation and imagery. In the animal kingdom, the males forcefully have sex with the females – as many as they can – and they are very competitive with who gets the rights to sex with the herd. That is very close to the nature of uncivilized man. It wouldn’t occur to the animals that they’re doing right or wrong, they are just following their nature. Unfortunately, society is teaching children that they shouldn’t fight their sexual urges, even if they are abnormal or dangerous. Children are taught to masturbate and experiment sexually, and that there is nothing wrong with pornography or promiscuity. In the godless world we live in today, where we basically teach kids to do whatever feels good, what do you expect? Morality is not important – it’s laughed at and frowned upon. Religion often provides morality training to children, but they often don’t explain to boys about their natural instincts. I remember, like many boys in puberty, spending half the day at high school trying to hide my erection. I felt like I was some kind of horrible person for wanting to have sex with every attractive girl I saw because nobody explained how it all works, and I knew that lust was a sin. Every man with working parts has lustful thoughts come into his head. A civilized man pushes the thoughts aside and refuses to entertain them… similar to controlling a hot temper. Anyway, these same people that want men to behave themselves hate the idea of men being taught to be “gentlemen”, like my father did. We were taught things like..”Men are the stronger sex, and therefore, should never hit a woman. If a woman is being threatened or harmed in any way, especially by another man, a gentleman will come to her aid and protect her. A gentleman will always be polite to women, opening doors, helping with groceries.. if a woman is cold, give her your jacket. Escort a woman home at night and make sure she gets home safely. Never, EVER, initiate intimacy with a woman that has been drinking.” All of these rules are frowned upon now, especially by feminists – because it implies some kind of difference or inequality in the sexes. Apparently, being a gentleman is patronizing. Well, I hate to break it to you, but men and women are VERY different. The sooner everyone acknowledges it, the better for men and women both.

  41. dreamstar1666 October 19, 2016 at 1:46 am #

    Reblogged this on Dreamstar101.

  42. Pierre Plourde October 19, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Thank you for your courage. This world needs more brave people, women and men, who like you are not afraid to look evil in the face and tell it to shove off. God be with you.

  43. Frank October 19, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    I am am man.

    I love you for this.

    I am listening.

    I don’t know what to do for my daughter.


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