Same ol’ story.

Image via http://www.stepupprogram.org

Trigger warnings for sexual assault. 

“Once upon a time, there was a girl who was pure, virtuous, an angel in a white dress, and most importantly, a virgin. Then, one day, she met a boy and fell in love. Although the girl was committed to remaining pure, the boy kept pressuring her for more than she was willing to give. Using lies and manipulation, he convinced her to come into his bed. The girl feels dirty and worthless. Her purity gone. But then she begs Jesus for forgiveness from her sin. She no longer has her virginity, but once she is forgiven she can be pure in God’s eyes again. ”

You’ve heard this story before. It’s far from original. Our society, and especially Christian culture, loves this narrative. It’s on sitcoms, and in sermons, and in abstinence-only curriculum. We hear it from our mothers and from our friends. And many of us have lived it.

A recent retelling of this story occurs on the blog of one Cory Copeland, in his post, “Sex and the Good Girl.”  Now, I don’t know Cory, but I’m sure he’s not a sexist pig who hates women–that’s just it. You don’t have to be a sexist pig to tell this story because it’s so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even notice the problems with it. And I don’t write this post to pick on him. I write it because Cory seems to have a handle on language. He retells this tired, old tale in a way that shines new light on it.

But the things that new light reveal are disturbing. Things that have been there, all along, lurking in the dark, that we may have stopped noticing after hearing this story for the 900th time.

I want to talk about some of the problems with this “good-virgin-girl meets bad-manipulative-boy” tale, and I am going to use Cory’s piece as a framework for my thoughts, again, not to pick on Cory or accuse him of sexism, but to get us all to look at a familiar narrative in a new way.

First off, let’s talk about the girl. She’s never very human in these stories, is she? Copeland describes her as an “angel,” a “light,” and a “bastion of hope.” No where does the story talk of the girl’s sexual agency. She does not desire sex, because good girls do not do such things.

Secondly, let’s talk about the boy. Many versions of the tale will use the tale as a scare tactic and paint all men out to be just like this boy. Cory doesn’t appear to do that here. However, he does give us an obvious insight into what boys like this really are. He continues to touch the girl, even though she continuously pushes his hands away. He is “relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness,”  he “bombard[s] her wits with fallacies of unrequited love and lacking attention.” Cory even mentions that the boy “had played this game before and he was good.” This boy is manipulative and, I would even argue, mentally and sexually abusive. Not only that, but, like most abusers, he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get inside the girl’s mind.

Let’s talk about consent. The boy didn’t have it. She pushed his hands away, she was clear about her boundaries. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. “The good girl could take no more–”when Cory states this, it is not in the contexts of the girl’s raging passions (she doesn’t have those, remember?) but in the context of the boy’s “vile and relentless” unwanted advances.

The girl does not enthusiastically fall into bed with this boy. She gives in to his constant, manipulative pressure. As my friend Dianna Anderson mentioned in a comment on Cory’s blog, “a yes is only a yes when a no is possible.” This boy obviously wouldn’t take no for an answ

Let’s talk about goodness. Several times in this story, Cory equates goodness with virginity. He talks of the boy objecting to her “goodness,” and when the girl gives in to the boy, he talks of her as being stripped of “righteousness. He does mention later that one’s goodness is not completely lost by the loss of virginity–that God can forgive and redeem. But the point of this tale has not changed throughout the years–the act of having a penis in one’s vagina makes one impure, regardless of how the penis got there.

The girl did not have to desire sex in order to be made impure from it. She didn’t have to consent. If it happened, she was guilty and in need of redemption, not from the brokenness and pain of having to suffer abuse, but from her loss of virginity.

Let’s talk about Cory’s response. One thing that stuck out to me, more than anything, was not even the story itself but peoples’ quickness to defend it. Cory himself responded to criticism pointing out the boy’s abusive tendencies.

His response was, “The story wasn’t about the boy. It was about the girl and her struggles. That’s the story I chose to tell. Respect that.”

But the story IS about the boy. It has to be about the boy, because consent changes everything. If the boy didn’t have consent (he didn’t), the moral of the story (that the girl is no longer pure and needs redemption) is wrong.

Why are we so afraid to address the fact that consent did not exist in this story?

Is it because we’re too afraid to write new stories? To tell our own stories? To ask questions about sexuality and think critically about the issues? To stop thinking in black and white dichotomies and start exploring gray areas?

What are we afraid of?

Finally, let’s talk about stories. Is this old tale merely a work of fiction? To quote Dianna Anderson again, “We tell stories because it’s how we process the world. We also learn lessons from stories…we are processing our life through metaphor and symbolism and through the characters presented within stories. Fictional or not, there is always something to be learned when a story is told.”

This story is teaching women how to view themselves, how to feel about abuse and about consent. How to feel about sex and goodness.  How to feel about God and about redemption and about men.

And what it is teaching is harmful.

Cory asks his readers to respect his retelling of this old tale. That’s something I cannot do. In fact, I’d like to reclaim this story.

Because it’s my story.

I was the girl who said no. I was the girl who pushed the boy’s hands away again and again, until out of fear and manipulation, he managed to get an “okay, I guess” out of me. I was the girl who had to feel worthless because I had heard this story so many times growing up. I was the girl who new so little about consent because of this story that, even when I managed to finally say “No,” and he did it anyway, I thought it was my fault.

I’ve heard this story from the preacher and the male blogger and the abstinence-only teacher and the father and the television show.

But, as my Twitter friend Ally Clendineng points out, it’s not their story. They don’t get to tell it however they want. They don’t get to make it about “just the girl.” They don’t get to ignore the absence of consent. They don’t get to make it about the girl’s goodness or purity. They don’t get to choose the moral of this story.

This story needs a new moral. One about what consent looks like and what healthy, consensual sex is. One about holding abusers accountable and about assuring victims that they do not need to feel at fault. One where goodness does not equal virginity. Where women are complex, sexual human beings who can have a sex drive (unless they are one of the 1 in 100 adults who are asexual) and still say “No,” rather than glowing angels of light who would never even dream of wanting sex.

This is the story of all women who have been manipulated, coerced, and sexually abused. This is our story.

We get to decide what to take from it.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.case.524 John Case

    I would say that the boy gets to feel “worthless,” too, in this story. A person driven by almost unstoppable urges, because “that’s the way boys are wired.” It not only gives a pass to the guy, it argues for a sense of predetermination.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      yes! so true. this story is hurtful for both men and women. There ARE men like this who exists, but when all our narratives about sex are about one kind of man, and never a “good” man, who you get to be is so limited!

      • http://www.facebook.com/john.case.524 John Case

        So I went and read the original blog by Cory. The defense of his post is more offensive than the actual piece. I hold no degree in literature – though I am a published writer – but I was disturbed by the “it is only fiction” argument. Does that make the piece unassailable? Why write it at all, then? He’s trying to make a point, and that point has built in fallacies, wrong assumptions about how relationships should or do work.

        • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

          yeah I had the same thoughts–his response bothered me MUCH more than the actual piece.

          • brambonius

            He has no idea of the power of story, and what it can communicate…

  • djadkins

    This issue of who should represent who can be a tricky thing (to put it mildly). It seems to me, after reading the story and the comments, that Mr. Copeland doesn’t quite grasp this reality. It makes me sad this story still proliferates in Christianity. However, I think the root of this all goes back to the way churches tell the story of Adam and Eve. Eve was tempted and then the tempter. It makes these sorts of victim-abuse stories even more easy to tell, even when one isn’t sure they are telling it.

    By the way, I really enjoy your blog!

  • http://christinecrowe.wordpress.com christinecrowe

    Hopefully, one of these days I will be able to stand up and tell my family MY version of this story without fear of being put into a box of sudden extreme protection from my friends and the rest of the world.

  • Bradley Rose

    I agree with you!

    I wonder how far is acceptable to debunk and destroy this aspect of religions, if it were at all possible. Perhaps never too far, but something like believing that you can’t be saved until you’re married if you’re a woman might be a different ball game. Tricky. Besides the fact that this puts into Mormon heads that women are unequal in at least this regard, maybe phenomenons of marrying out of fear occur.

    However, in this case, this story always and apparently affects every woman living under the purity doctrine and following this mindset. Now if only we could get into churches and stand where preachers are and tell a different story.

  • Katherine Hickey

    Yes, I agree completely. It’s a form of appropriation. Just as culture appropriation can be hurtful, stereotypical, and insensitive to the culture’s natives, so is story appropriation, or in this case “sexual appropriation” (excuse the neologism) quite distasteful. As a student at Virginia Tech, I would be so upset if someone came along and created a fictional account of the VT shooting. If you weren’t there, it is not your story to tell. You don’t get to capitalize on my community’s suffering.

  • http://deliberatedonkey.wordpress.com Tending Weeds

    In addition to everything you listed, another problem with Cory’s story is his assumption that the rapee must spiral into self-destruction, propagating the behavior perpetrated against her. I get the redemption argument that this isn’t necessary. So, why, then, must it part of the story?
    I wonder, if we asked, how many women chose to lose their virginity vs how many women chose to end the pressure? From the comments above, I gather the Chose column will have very few.
    The most raw version of this story I have read was in a comment. blue milk wrote a post “Don’t get raped”, and a male (Darsh) commented with his belief women should own some responsibility for, say, walking alone at night. blue milk responded to this comment in a separate post, “but why shouldn’t she take some responsibility too for the rape?”
    Darsh commented again stating, “And the assumption that girls want sex unless they declare loudly and clearly that they absolutely don’t want sex, is not an assumption that is shared by everyone. It is true that guys regularily need to press on through token resistance by girls, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop if the girl really doesn’t want to. I’ve had to stop a few times, and it’s not an impossibility. There’s even a chance that things start up again after a little while :)”.
    I wrote a post about this comment last month in “Token resistance by girls.” I argued, I hope, that there is no such thing as token resistance, and pressing through makes him a rapist.

  • http://burtont73.wordpress.com burtont73

    I am appalled that goodness and virginity are equated together. It explains why I always felt dirty and guilty as a very young victim of incest. Regardless of the fact that I had no control over what was happening to me, I was taught that it was my fault. I was told that I was the one to blame for my own suffering. I am almost 39 years old now, and I still suffer. So, despite the fact that I have not done anything immoral, am I to blame for my current situation? I think not. I did not consent to have my virginity violently ripped from me at such a young age. I said no….i screamed it everyday, yet no one came to my rescue. Not for 9 years. Does that mean I deserved the treatment I was forced to endure on a daily basis. Someone needs to seriously rethink this issue of consent…I agree with you one hundred percent.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/the-garden Jim Fisher

      Thank you for sharing this. Virginity violently ripped — and innocence. Normal childhood? Stolen!

      I have WAY too many friends (ONE would be too many) who are victims of incest, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse. Our world is so broken.

      May the Lord hear our screaming! May the Spirit hear our cry!

  • Jay

    This story reminds me of another one. An actual true story and in that story, blame was being thrown around… All the facts were not there and one side was blaming/accusing another… That story ended with, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” and she said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

    In that story, she was accused of adultery and was “caught in the act.” Yet, only she was brought before Jesus? If the Bible had a comment blog then, I figure there might be just as many if not more saying, where’s the guy (or girl)? This hurts and it saddens me cause I use to think that girl I love was an angel… The misconception is there and underlying stories and everything… I do believe that this is turning into something altogether, though, and I wonder if people will see that this is starting other arguments… The point is, just like what happened in God’s Word is true to day… Look at the scriptures, Jesus said he doesn’t condemn her and she didn’t even ask…

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  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/the-garden Jim Fisher

    There is another nuance to this story. As a guy who wanted to remain celibate through college, who wanted to respect the physical and emotional boundaries of my female friends, I was often having to explain myself.

    When a woman asked me to spend the night with her and I declined, her next thought was usually something along the lines of, “Do you not find me sexually appealing?” — and all the body image crap that goes along with that.

    After assuring her that I found her physically attractive, but just choose not go beyond first base, the next question was usually an inquiry about my ability to function sexually. After, again, assuring her that my equipment was fully functional, the next question was often, “Are you gay?”

    Our boys are raised to fit the stereotype in this story. And those few, like me, who choose to distance ourselves from that, often find ourselves marginalized. It is not easy to be outside the mold. Both the men and women who meet us have no drawer of understanding to file us under. How sad.

    That being said, I total agree with Sarah. It is never the woman’s fault. It is the fault of the one focusing on his own agenda, his own ulterior motives, rather than respecting the boundaries of a friend — respecting and honoring the holiness that is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

    Click on my name for more of my thoughts on this. I think about this a lot.

    And thank you, all, for keeping this discussion going.

    • Jay

      I too feel the same way, Jay. I was gay or not a man cause I respected her. My girlfriend, now fiance, told me she did not want me to kiss her on the lips. That lasted a week not because I could not do it. Believe me, I wanted to but I love her and I wanted what she wanted. It lasted a week cause she ran up to me one day and kissed me – on the lips. Our first kiss. Whether it was a test or she wasn’t ready, I’m not a guy who is “sexually” driven and when I define myself I tend to say that I’m the girl in the relationship cause I want to just cuddle or spend time. I just wish that it didn’t bother me that statements like, “our boys are raised to fit the stereotype in this story.” (nothing against you Jim) These statements bother because I, once, was a boy yet I wasn’t raised like that. I have a father and mother who taught something that I like to and fight to live through and it’s known as chivalry but that’s just one of the few things. I was and am continually being taught to love unconditionally. I love my future wife to be unconditionally meaning, there is no condition where I would not love her… Love is misrepresented here far more than anything else in this story cause, implications of love are in both Cory’s and Sarah’s yet I wonder if both were to think back on the stories and actually look at the definition of love would there be a different story.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      yes, this story is so off about BOTH genders.

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  • dj.pomegranate

    Something else bothered me about Cory’s post (and the many similar stories I’ve heard my whole life.) The glaring lack of consent is the primary issue, yes. But something else kept nagging at me and I just figured out what it is: the girls in these narratives inevitably feel dirty after sex/rape: “stripped of righteousness,” loss of “goodness,” “impurity.” Perhaps the boys (implicitly) feel dirty and unrighteous too, but so often the focus is on the emotional result of the girls’ loss of virginity: “If you do this, you will feel awful, you’ll be deflowered, dirty, used. The dude will probably leave you, you’ll ruin your life. Oh yeah, but Jesus can redeem! But don’t let it get to that point.”

    It really bothers me because this is just not true. When I had sex the first time, I didn’t all of a sudden feel dirty — because I didn’t believe that it had made me dirty. I waited a long time for the right man and I don’t regret that. I was careful, I was patient. But I wasn’t scared. Narratives like this make sex scary, and that is a shame.

    Another thing that bothers me about this narrative, which is that purity = sex. Purity is not (lack of) sex. Purity is not naivete. Purity is heart, dedication, motivation, humility, intent, honesty, joy. Purity is true love; true love is purity. Purity is so much more poetic than this narrative wants to let it be.

    • dj.pomegranate

      ALSO! The not-so-subtle cause and effect in Cory’s and many other stories: if a girl lets down her guard once, she’ll immediately slip down the slope, lose respect for herself, stop caring about righteousness and goodness, sleep around with “whomever she wished” and lose all hope. Apparently when you have sex, you lose the ability to restrain yourself from any other indulgence. This is simply false, and it’s a dangerous lesson to teach.

    • Jay

      Thank you!!!

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      YES! So true.

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  • Fortuna Veritas

    Well, it’s not the sexist pig kind of misogyny that gives rise to this anyway, it’s the chauvinism of the Father Knows Best model of the world, where a husband or father, if he considered it for a moment, would identify as a patriarch.

    It’s arguably worse than the more overtly hostile stuff because there’s no indignity that people will not visit upon someone “for their own good.” C.S. Lewis put it well, as even the man with the worst upbringing in the worlds knows that he does wrong when he mistreats others.

    Purity culture is something that really needs to go.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      “Well, it’s not the sexist pig kind of misogyny that gives rise to this anyway, it’s the chauvinism of the Father Knows Best model of the world, ” yup! Exactly!

  • Fortuna Veritas

    “His response was, ‘The story wasn’t about the boy. It was about the girl and her struggles. That’s the story I chose to tell. Respect that.’”

    That’s probably the most odd thing, really. No one who is really interested in communicating or writing would actually say that if they cared about how their message was actually being received by people with the agency to think critically.

    This suggests to me, quite strongly, that the story was mostly just debased pandering on his part and not even really for the benefit of the supposed target audience of young women or those who are in need of forgiveness.

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  • Alex H.

    Stories like this make me intensely happy that I’ve never been a Christian or had a Christian as a romantic partner, and devoutly grateful to my parents and to the great writers (most notably Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein) who influenced my intellectual development toward rationality and freedom from superstition. One of the many benefits of being a secular humanist is the ability to have mutually pleasurable and satisfying sex with both long-term and casual partners, free from shame or guilt on either side.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      I don’t know. I’m a Christian and I have had mutually pleasurable and satisfying sex! Our entire society attempts to control women’s sexuality, and it uses religion as a tool but that doesn’t mean people in our society (even religious people) can’t transcend that and fight back! :)

      • Alex H.

        Certainly, but it’s also clear from your post that your own sexual experiences have not been uniformly pleasurable, satisfying, or free from shame and guilt, and that the painful aspects of your sex life were largely due to your Christian upbringing. I’m happy for you that you’ve been able to move past that to have a healthy sex life, and I’m happy for myself that I’ve never been in the position of feeling guilty or ashamed, or put any of my partners in that position, either. (And yes, I’m well enough acquainted even with my casual partners that I can say with a high degree of confidence that none of them have felt guilty, ashamed, or otherwise regretted having sex with me.)

  • Anonymous

    Not to be nick picky but the boy did take no for an answer at some point in the story. If he didn’t, then you couldn’t have “Again and again, she dissuaded him, turning a stone cold cheek and halting heavy breaths before they had pushed too far.” She said, “no” and he took it as no. Nonetheless, “the boy was relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness.” kinda reminds me of that Bible story where the one man kept knocking on that other dude’s door and at first the guy inside was like “NO!” but the dude knocking kept knocking… Jesus said something bout that… Granted “the boy” in this story wasn’t knocking, more like, trying to get over on her. You guys keep calling out “abuse” like it’s the only thing that can be taken out of this… You other guys keep telling the guys calling out “abuse” that it can’t be taken as abuse. It’s sad. Look at each others viewpoints. Whether there are only one truths in this story or several, people view those “truths” each differently. There are plenty of lies and misconceptions in here as well… I’m glad people are at least talking about it.

  • Anonymous

    Not to be nick picky but the boy did take no for an answer at some point in the story. If he didn’t, then you couldn’t have “Again and again, she dissuaded him, turning a stone cold cheek and halting heavy breaths before they had pushed too far.” She said, “no” and he took it as no. Nonetheless, “the boy was relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness.” kinda reminds me of that Bible story where the one man kept knocking on that other dude’s door and at first the guy inside was like “NO!” but the dude knocking kept knocking… Jesus said something bout that… Granted “the boy” in this story wasn’t knocking, more like, trying to get over on her. You guys keep calling out “abuse” like it’s the only thing that can be taken out of this… You other guys keep telling the guys calling out “abuse” that it can’t be taken as abuse. It’s sad. Look at each others viewpoints. Whether there are only one truths in this story or several, people view those “truths” each differently. There are plenty of lies and misconceptions in here as well… I’m glad people are at least talking about it. It’s good to have something worthwhile to read and talk about.

  • Anonymous

    apparently this wordpress will make me enter an email address but won’t check to make sure it’s an actual email address… hence the duplicate posts…

  • http://gravatar.com/bradp83 bradp83

    Sarah, I loved your post here. I thought it was a completely fair, and non-attacking critique of a story by Cory.

    But I also have a bone to pick…granted, I’m coming in rather late in the game here lol, but still, I think I have something that should be heard.

    I was a guest poster on Cory’s blog last week. I posted about my experience as a male virgin at 28 (http://corycopeland.net/2012/07/06/like-a-28-year-old-virgin-by-bradley-pierce/)

    Now, I do not involve myself with much of the blogosphere, and I do not have a twitter account, and I probably should’ve made myself familiar with Cory’s blog before I consented to post. I accept that. I made a couple of stupid, off-hand comments that were overblown and taken as an anti-feminist stance. At first, I was pretty nonchalant about it, because I didn’t understand where the critiques were coming from, but then, I thought about it and I sincerely apologized.

    The moment I became sincere, all of the vocal and ardent critics ceased commenting…literally, my post became a ghost town. No one accepted the apology, no one wanted to further dialogue and perhaps create a meaningful discussion about sexuality and gender stereotypes, etc… Nothing. I never once went on attack mode, but even a cursory glance at the comments from a few show that some got quite personal and attacking. I even took the liberty to email Dianne Anderson herself (who gave quite a poignant argument about my comment) and offered an apology, to which I didn’t get even the slightest reply.

    Only later did I find out that my post had been circulated at Stuff Christian Culture likes, on facebook. It was held up to complete and total ridicule. Was I invited there to defend myself and/or apologize for the offense? No. I was humiliated and made fun of. I was called a mysoginistic pig for what, not sleeping with women all the time??? Sure, I made the mistake of calling ALL women “cute and adorable” when I was really only referencing my past girlfriends (pet names for each other that normal couples give). But I apologized…no one mentioned that. In the comments section of the post featured on SCCL, there were some comments that were homophobic in nature (suggesting that I was waiting for a lady with a penis) and one male posted “He’s gonna get a lot of p**sy now”. Forgive me, but no one happened to comment on this fellow’s obviously sexist word choice.

    I emailed Stephanie Drury, the one who runs SCCL, and I apologized for the offense. I asked that we begin a meaningful, respectful dialogue about sexuality, religion, and gender, and she did not reply.

    The only reason I posted this here, was because you seem to be a voice of reason, and I highly respected this post. Maybe the discussion can start with us…I hope so.

    • http://twitter.com/AdeleChapman2 Adele Chapman (@AdeleChapman2)

      I tried to click on the link to read your post, Brad. My computer blocked the attempt. ‘Dangerous page!’ Ditto for Cory Copeland’s original piece. What say you, Sarah? Is my computer doing me a favour?

  • Brad

    Hey Adele, haha judge for yourself!

    I’m not sure what’s wrong with the link, but you can just google “like a 28 year old virgin) bradley pierce” and it’ll pop up.

    Btw, thank you Sarah for getting me in touch with Dianna, I sincerely appreciate it. I only posted this here on your blog because I thought maybe an open convo could begin as other avenues seemed to return nothing, and it didn’t seem totally off base since this post was about Cory’s blog. I’m not supporting Cory’s blog (or mine completely), but it seemed that there are two camps going at each other (more liberal Christians and more conservative Christians) and there’s little meaningful dialogue between the two. That’s not cool, so I hope both camps can learn a thing or two.

  • http://gravatar.com/bradp83 bradp83

    Actually Adele, let me save you the trouble. The truth is, I posted rather ignorantly; I made some remarks that I later (through some very powerful arguments) realized were sexist. I was wrong.

    In fact, Sarah it was terribly selfish of me to hijack your thread like this. I did so based on an assumption, and I found out I was wrong about that too (Dianna Anderson never got my email)This just shows how self-involved I can become; your post was a beautiful thread about the arrogance of some of us males who just don’t get it…and I for one need help getting it sometimes. I don’t even know why I find myself defending things I don’t even agree with.

    So to that end, I wouldn’t blame you if you deleted what boils down to nothing but a glorified shameless plug up there.


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