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Can A Guy Call Himself A Feminist?

More from Karthik Shankar

By Karthik Shankar:

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend the other day about feminism. We were discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant TED talk where she states that a feminist is someone who believes in the ‘social, economic and political equality of the sexes’. I emphatically declared that I was a feminist too. After all, I believe that women in India have been kept down for too long. Moreover, my mom herself is an inspiring role model (married when she had just started college, she is now a PhD holder and runs a school). My friend, however, chided me. Men, she believed, aren’t capable of being feminists. We don’t go through the gamut of experiences that women face on a daily basis; eve-teasing, stalking, inhibition of their sexuality and restriction of their spaces. Our feminism was superficial; not rooted in the kind of realities any Indian woman has to grapple with. And if we scratched below the surface, there were several aspects of our values or beliefs that would reveal us also to be male chauvinists. I scoffed at her extreme definition of feminism. I believed I was different.

ryan gosling feminism

Over the next few days, that conversation kept replaying in my mind over and over and my ears perked up anytime such issues were being discussed. During an evening stroll, I heard my mom and aunt discuss the documentary India’s Daughter. While my uncle and dad walked ahead, I made sure to stay back. I was a non-entity and so was privy to conversations that normally wouldn’t have happened in my presence. Both discussed their husbands and the idea of freedom and how men expect to be lauded for doing something that women do on a daily basis. My aunt talked about how her husband had cooked lunch one day and then used that line of defence for the rest of the day to get out of doing household chores. My mom brought up her strategy of running any idea by my dad, just to give him that feeling that he had a say in the decision-making process because most of all, men want to feel in control. I also found out that a very cool family-friend despite his refined behaviour and his endorsement of liberal beliefs was not someone who practiced what he preached. His wife was under his thumb.

These weren’t exactly shocking revelations to me but they illuminated that what we count as progressive or feminist in men might simply boil down to ‘better than the norm’. My dad and uncle have supported their wives’ careers and haven’t restricted their movement the way many Indian men do. But they still haven’t completely divorced themselves from our societal norms. My mom is still expected to be the default cook in the kitchen (when she’s not travelling for work) and if something is out of place at home, my dad will ask my mother why she didn’t ask the help to fix it, even though he could have.

It’s easy to imagine that our generation is better but it occurred to me how despite all my talks about feminism, I’m not above enjoying the benefits of patriarchy. Sometimes when I find a shirt is not ironed, I irritably tell my mom as if her only job is about making my life smoother. And I realise more often than not, that I take all her efforts for granted but notice if it is missing. The irony of my ‘enlightened’ self!

A few weeks earlier I had a discussion with a group of friends (all guys), where I discussed applying for a Women’s Studies course. They asked me if I was for gender equality and I replied in the affirmative. My opinion was then attacked by two of them.

I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m questioned about my feminism from both the gender equality advocates and the men’s rights brigade. I admit my feminism may not be perfect, but I resent the notion that I can’t be a feminist. Male feminists bring different experiences to feminism and isn’t that the point? Gender inequality of course disproportionately affects women, but the engagement of both equally is necessary to resolve this situation.

At the end of the day, feminism is about expanding choices for all gender identities. It’s the choice of a fluid identity. The choice to be a man who can watch football games as well as successfully change his baby’s nappies. The choice to be a woman who is a successful career woman and has no interest in mothering a child. It’s about dismantling the preconceived notions that qualities like nurturing and warmth are associated with women while stoicism and strength are the stronghold of men.

Feminism is constantly being re-defined. There was a time; it was a space almost exclusively for white women when they demanded suffrage in the UK and US. Today, it has expanded its base and it means very different things for people in different socioeconomic and political contexts. Every person has a connection to a different issue. Feminism is a spectrum. And yes, there is space in it for men who are willing to speak up for women, listen, empathise and stand in support.

You must be to comment.
  1. Jigsaw

    I was in a grocery store when I saw, not for the first time, a woman insist that the cashier carry her grocery bag to her car. It weighed nothing, but it went on to prove how women like men to cater to their big egos and small brains. I have also often seen women argue with rickshawalas over one or two rupees, after walking out of a shop having spent tens of thousands of rupees shopping.

    1. Jai

      Firstly, you are assuming that the woman who made the cashier carry her bag did so because she was a woman. There are other facets of one’s identity in question here. Secondly, please stop stereotyping “women” as having any particular traits.

  2. Quark.mire

    I think maybe the word you’re looking for is ally? There’s a lot of debate over whether males can be feminists; but you can definitely be an ally.

    I think we all need to be intersectional and rather look at the Kyriarchy that informs us rather then limit ourselves to the patriarchy. If we go by that framework, I don’t have a problem with males calling themselves feminists rather than male allies.

  3. Akshaya

    Kartik Shankar, that was a good attempt to understand feminism in ur daily life. I think most feminists should not have issues when men call themselves feminists. Keep up the good work.

  4. ItsJustMe

    @DT if you really think women are oppressed in India or anywhere else in the world do not be surprised if you find men in that position in majority of the developing world in about 10-15 years. The way our country has structured the rape laws, divorce laws, custody of kids after divorce etc, I will tell you we are not heading towards gender equality, but rather a scenario in which men cannot even ask for equality in the eyes of law because it is illegal. Think about these rules, why do men have to pay the women all the time in divorce even if she is employed and perfectly able to take care of herself (apparently men and women are not equal in this situation) . What does having a penis have to do with taking care of ones children? Do you even know how many men commit suicide and loose their jobs and minds and family because of wrong sexual harassment complaints and rape charges in India. What makes the words of a so called rape victim so convincing to the court that she need not produce anyother witness or evidence to get a conviction? There will be no media covering things like these, because it does not sell like the story of ever exploited women folk. Which country has 33% reservation for women in Parliament, the people should choose their leaders irrespective of their sex. That is gender equality. It is not about claiming every reservation possible telling that they are the weaker sex, and claiming they are equal to men when they feel it is going to benefit them. and there are brainless retards who think they are enforcing gender equality by degrading status of men in this society. How many organizations do you see coming up to protect equality and rights of men? Unfortunately I disagree, I cannot be a feminist and put myself in a situation where I am inferior to females in the eyes of the law. I would rather join some movement which ensures the rights of men, because I am a man, and I don’t see any women protesting or standing up for us. (I respect Emma Watson a lot for coming out with HeforShe movement, but the ladies in India will never understand what that means in spirit, so I will never be a feminist in India, because in India women are never gonna stand for anything that could benefit only men)

    1. Jai

      Women are helped by affirmative action not because they are the “weaker sex”. History has been unjust (and privileged people have been participants in this injustice) to women and other minority genders. Reservation tries reducing this inequity. Look at the case of transgender persons that has come up recently. Would you also say that affirmative action in their support is unsound?

    2. vaspri

      @Jai – you cannot correct the wrongs of History by penalizing or elevating the current generation. While, we are at it, how about we take revenge on the UK for the Jalianwala Bhag Mascarre, or their oppression of India for two centuries, or their support for apartheid for over a century. Also, penalize the current German state for their “Final solution” to rid Europe of the Jews. Do, Jews get a reservation in the current German state? Do Indians have reservations in the UK? Today, there is not a single law in India that is unfavorable to women, even though I can cite a couple of them that strip men of their basic human rights such as 498A and Section 375 that does not even recognize male (men and boys) rape. If Feminism is really about gender equality as they like to claim, where are the feminists trying to correct imbalances on the other side of the gender divide? Apart from a few exceptions like Deepika Bhardwaj, no one seems to care. But then, the fact that she is fighting for mens rights means that she is no longer considered a feminist. There in lies the hypocrisy and this is the reason I would be ashamed to be identified as a feminist even though I truly believe in equal rights for both genders.

    3. Dt

      Since u cannot right dose wrongs then that means u shud turn a blind eye on every problem of d society? Or do u really believe that women today are living a comfortable and privileged life??
      P.s: I still consider deepika bharadwaj an exceptional feminist.

    4. vaspri

      @Dt. You do not turn a blind eye to every problem, what you do is equalize the playing field and give EVERYONE the same rights under the law. That is what everyone else has done, whether it is the civil rights movement in the USA or elsewhere. There are no reservations in the senate or the house for blacks just because they were oppressed 200 years ago. I think women today have equal, if not “more equal” rights under the law, not privileged, just equal. In some cases, like section 498A, privileged but in most cases equal. I too consider Deepika Bharadwaj a “true” feminist because she believes in equality of the sexes, the problem is that most other feminists are against her because she is fighting on the “Wrong” side of the gender divide, which is the hypocrisy I called out in my earlier comment.

    5. DT

      @Vaspri…I completely agree with u.The law should be equal for both the gender. In India feminism has gained bad light but eventho in small percentge bt dere r women in India who call demselves feminist nd believe in equal status in every term for both men nd women.

    6. Jai

      Firstly, I think we need to get beyond the man-woman dichotomy. There’s far more than that on the gender continuum.

      I also disagree with you on your assertion that there is not a single law in India that is not unfavourable to women. Sections 498A and 375 are definitely unfavourable to non-women (men, transfolk, etc) because it does not identify “rape” of men/boys. But the idea of rape is itself a patriarchal one. Rape is defined by the penile/non-penile insertion of the vagina/ anus/ urethra/ mouth, thereby making our laws insertion-centric. Also, the section 375, description 4 makes the “man” culpable of rape if the “woman” against whom the rape has been committed is in his knowledge that she assumes him to be her husband or her prospective husband and that he is aware he is not her husband or prospective husband. This justifies rape in the institution of marriage, hands the woman’s “modesty” to her husband to keep (or exploit).

      Another instance of the law being unfair to women is Section 312 of the IPC, which makes abortion less accessible to a woman who wishes to access it: a woman wishing to terminate her pregnancy before the 12th week of pregnancy must get an approval for such a termination from a physician, while if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy between the 12th and the 20th weeks, she needs to seek approval from two physicians. In many of the social circumstances where women negotiate their lives, it is difficult (if not impossible) to access a doctor’s services without letting her family know. That is to extend the woman’s consent for the termination of her pregnancy to approval for it by those in her immediate social circle (which in most cases is her family, in-laws in specific). The woman’s right to her body is therefore a communal right being shared by her family (and if possible, her too). PLUS, if the termination has occurred illegally in the knowledge of the woman (i.e. if someone assisted her in the abortion), the “mother” may be jailed for a term extending to seven years, while the other person may only be jailed for a term extending to three years.

      Also, “feminist” is not a monolithic identity: there is a broad range from radical feminists to Black feminists to lesbian feminists to ecofeminists to liberal feminists, and these are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I do not think we can call our laws egalitarian in the gender sense–it does not allow anyone (not the men, the transfolk, the women or any other gender identity on the spectrum) to escape the patriarchal setup, where men must be delegated certain responsibilities (I sometimes identify as a man and as a feminist and the delegation of these responsibilites–like “protecting the woman” sucks) and women some others (it sucks for them too). It also leaves out certain gender identities from the whole set up.

      We cannot say that our country’s laws are women-friendly, especially considering the fact that they do not even recognise the prevalence of marital rape. Our laws do not understand gender.

    7. vaspri

      @Jai – Thanks for taking the time to explain. I have several issues with your explanation. First, the idea of rape has got nothing to do with Patriarchy. It is, and always has been looked upon with contempt and as far as I can tell, is against the law in every country on earth. Second, you take section 375, pay lip service to the fact that it excludes half the population of the country, but are concerned that it is not far reaching enough to protect women from marital rape. While, I agree that marital rape should be against the law, I also think you are unable, or more likely, unwilling, to even consider that men and boys can and do get raped, can be equally traumatized and victimized as female victims and they too are deserving of our collective empathy and must have a recourse for legal reconciliation. I am not familiar with section 312, but from what you have explained, it appears that the law is straight forward and gives women the right they deserve to voluntarily terminate their pregnancies. Your claim that they have constraints in exercising their rights, seems to be a social issue, not a legal one. You say that we cannot claim that our laws are women-friendly, but can you unequivocally say that they are “man friendly?

    8. ItsJustMe

      Jai, someone with some sense in this website fianlly

    9. Jai

      Sorry, it’s possible that you have not understood my comment well. I disagree with you on quite a few points. I also support reservation (or affirmative action) quite a bit. Please read my comment above so you may gain a better perspective on what I have been saying.

    10. Dt

      @itsjustme Would you please first tell me WHAT is ths SPIRIT of the campaign heforshe??
      Sinc you claim to understand it unlike the ladies in INDIA.
      U live in a country where women are killed nd tortured for not giving the family a boy child, u live in a country where olmost 10 girls are raped in an hour, u live in a country where head of family is olways male, u live in a country where men would feel inferior if helped bt a woman in any way nd u claim the ladie of india dnt understand????
      Nd how is the status of men degrading in dis country??
      And i agree on one point wid u…what does having a penis have to do wid taking care of ones children…den why dont i see ny family around me in which men take care of the children radr dn the women(considering dat both of dem have jobs).
      Do u know how many women commit suicide because of sexual harassment??

    11. ItsJustMe

      Adjusted for population growth over time, the annual rape rate in India has increased from 1.9 to 2.0 per 100,000 people over 2008-2012 period. This compares to a reported rape rate of 24.1 per 100,000 in United Kingdom, 28.6 per 100,000 in United States, 66.5 per 100,000 in Sweden, and world’s highest rate of 114.9 rapes per 100,000 in South Africa.
      Go on play the rapes are under reported card. Even if we consider a 200% increase to that figure, it will still be no where near the so called developed nations rape rate. Ignorant assholes like you are the reason India is called the rape country around the world. Also over 20% of the rapes which are reported was found to be mutually agreed sex. Now tell me why I should be a feminist to act against rapists. Also if you think feminism is about equality it is so only in the books not in practice. Its like saying BJP is a secular party or Kashmir belongs to India. Please check your facts before you comment. We as a nation can address all these issues for gender equality, we do not have to be feminist to do so. We just have to be human.

    12. ItsJustMe

      @DT read Vaspri’s comment to know how the legal system is degrading men to the degree of animals. Women in India thinks that all the problems they face are because of men. Every single time a feminist rises her voice it has man hate undertones or very explicit man hate. HeforShe is a campaign which believes that women are indeed exploited everywhere and men can help empower them. There is huge difference, it does not blame men for the pathetic state of women in certain countries, unlike the feminists in India.

    13. ItsJustMe

      @DT get some sense of reality on your head. HeForShe unlike Indian Feminists (I say Indian feminists because I am studying in USA now and I dont see such behavior by feminists here) does not put blame on men for the state of women, it goes on to break stereotypes about women as well as men. It recognizes the other side of the story unlike sociopaths like feminists in India who definitely think that women are always the victim. Do you even know the statistics as RasAlGhul so rightly pointed out about men committing suicides due to blackmailing by women about dowry and what not. Or do you choose to ignore it. How are you so sure it is just 1% of the population. There should be a special ward in mental hospitals for people like you who just cannot hear the other side. I am saying I dont have to degrade myself to the level of feminists in India to support gender equality and fight against rape. I can do it as a human being and socially responsible citizen. When people generalize women based on their social behavior it is stereotyping (like the first comment in the thread). But when men in India are generalized as pathological rapists it is “just the truth”. Have some common sense and think about how blind you are.

    14. Dt

      @itsjust me….U need to open ur eyes nd read my comments again cuz in every comment I have mentioned dat d problem is the mentality of society as a whole nd society includes men nd women both.I even agreed on the fact dat men just like women do face opression nd harassment by d hands of women. Wen I frst commented here,i just objected d ras al point cuz he clearly intended to speak dat women r d privilegd class which is not True.
      People lyk u have a tendency to categorise things in general nd dat is y u put every feminist in india under one criterion.
      Heforshe campaign is ol about support of men for women and dat is wat i support.And if u r raising ur voice for equality of gender dn u r a feminist u dimwitt.U do get dictionaries in USA ryt? So go nd check d meanin of feminism frst and den get ur brain nd eyes fixd cuz u relly need it.

    15. DT

      How can u fight against gender equality and rape when u clearly mentioned in one of ur comments dat “it is not my duty to protect ur(by ur i am assuming u meant women)rights. Ladies carry pepper spray and cannisters in USA. You will ask me what if they can’t afford it. I will simply say it is none of my concern.”

      According to u, “When people generalize women based on their social behavior it is stereotyping (like the first comment in the thread).” What are u doing by saying that EVERY Indian feminist accuse men of all the injustice suffered by women????

    16. ItsJustMe

      It is not my duty to protect your rights. I meant you as an individual. I can participate in demonstrations protests, vote for politicians with some sense, support strong legislations. But as you can very well see, if you are in danger of getting mugged or getting raped or whatever it is not my duty to come and put my life in danger. If you are sexually harassed in office everyone in your office have a choice either support you or don’t. But what they cannot do is prevent it. Because no one knows where it is going come from. If you feel strongly against these things, go ahead and try preventing every rape, sexual harassment etc. Again there are few exceptions but it is well known around world of feminism that Indian feminists are overly aggressive towards men. One movie or one lady among 1000s is not gonna change it. So rapes are coming from relatives, so? How do you think I can prevent that. You are saying by not raping?? That’s your insightful advice? I am an Indian man I am not a rapist and never will be. But I cannot say where it is going to come from. I am saying only the victim can protect herself in that scenario. Because there may not be anyone else around who can help. That is practical and ideal method. Not taking to street 3 weeks after the incident. And some how that is a dumb argument. That is what I see among women in other country, they not only speak about equality, they act like they are equals. In India ladies speak about equality, but when time comes to be strong and daring and defend oneself they dont have the confidence or strength. Again is it because men are not part of feminist movement? I see a lot of men taking to the streets against rape. How many of them helped out a victim as the act of rape was going on.
      If you are not familiar with statistics stay away from it. India has more population than any of the countries mentioned. So looking at total rapes reported will not make much sense. That is why I quoted rapes per 100000 people. It proves that majority of the male population is innocent of what they are being accused of. Which is not the case with feminists in India. These are damaged ladies obsessed with man hate. I wish I could say I want to be a feminist in India. But I am a man, I have to fight for my own rights there and don’t want any part in man hate campaigns coordinated by feminists organizations in India. You can call me dumb, or selfish or whatever.

  5. ItsJustMe

    After the parliament passed the anti rape bill, there have a flurry of rape charges around the country. 65% of them came from women who were in a relationship with the men in question. The honorable SC of India later commented on one such case that mutually agreed sex cannot be considered rape (of course it cannot, but our retarded politicians made a law that allows women to accuse anyone who had sex with her of rape). I know women who ruined careers with wrongful sexual harassment charges, who took away kids from their fathers (because in an event of divorce by default you have no right on your kids custody if you have a dick , but of course you can pay for them and your ex wife half your estate. How cool is that? Men are truly liberated) What does this tell you about women? Are all of them opportunists and cunning? Is it ok if I make that generalization? Absolutely not, you cannot insult the entire gender based on that (Not my words, Arundhathi Roy said this in a television show). But I do not think men should now concern themselves with feminism anymore. Because as far as I can see they have enough and more things to worry about their own gender equality. So enough is enough.

    1. DT

      According to the national crime records bureau of India, 24,923 rape cases were reported in 2012. Out of these 24,470 were committed by FAMILY, RELATIVE and other known person implyng that men known to the victims committed 98% of the reported rapes.According to Supreme Court forced sex in a marriage cannot be considered rape. Tell me one thing, If lets suppose two brother gets into a brawl and one imputates the odr den is it not a crime???
      section498A and 198A are exploited by a certain ratio of women just like any odr law in Indian judicial system and I along with tonns of odr INDIAN WOMEN vehemently oppose this. Infact a womn named Deepika Bharadwaj is currently filming a documentry called “Martyrs in marriage” trying to show the harassment faced by men due to false allegation of their wives.U cannot generalise the whole female population of India bcuz of ur narrow thinking. I’ve seen many women who stand up for injustice against any gender be it male or female. There were many female voices in social media who raise their voice against the lynching of the rape accused in Nagaland.
      Just becuz u refuse to see this side of Indian women dosen’t mean dat it cease to exist.

    2. ItsJustMe

      I like the word certain section of women. 12 out of 583 cases of rape reported in Delhi for the year 2013 were found to be actual rape. It is quite evident how keen women are in exploiting these retarded legislation. Let us consider say 100(which is almost 9 times the proven cases of rape) were actual rape and people could not prove it. That still makes majority (not a section of cases) of the allegations false. Will you ever see a statistic like this quoted by a feminist in India? Why not? If it is truly about equality all these things should be discussed. Interestingly more and women actually have turned against feminism. And here you are decades behind asking men to join along. Google the phrase women against feminism and you will notice some prominent human right figures who support it. I would like you to try and hear what they have to say too. Because as per your opinion I am tiny brain mongrel. Listen to my fellow mongrels too, they did not turn against it because of the definition of feminism, but rather how it is practiced.

  6. Adishi

    Hey Karthik,
    True, there are a lot of incorrect notions that men can’t be feminists and I vehemently oppose it like you do. The only problematic thing, or rather a problematic choice of word that I found in your article was in the last line, “…who are willing to speak up ‘for’ women.” I hope you understand that it really isn’t speaking up ‘for’ each other or men speaking ‘for’ women, per se. I hope you get my point. Cheers! 🙂

    1. Karthik Shankar

      That’s a point well made Adishi. That phrasing could have been better.

  7. ItsJustMe

    At last people started noticing the hypocrisy of Indian women. But nobody is interested because men are the victims here.

  8. Saloni

    I think you’re a great human being if you have such views. Please ignore that girl- friend of yours.
    What is superficial is her idea of feminism, not yours.
    I am proud that my country has men like you.
    Don’t change for anything. 🙂

  9. Jaspreet Sidhu

    You are a feminist. Because you have understood that being a feminist is an ever evolving journey. welcome to the club 😀

  10. Tyara Nina Ricci

    Anyone who believe in equality, supports feminism..

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Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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