Coaching and Masculinity: a “natural” combination?

By Catherine Bolzendahl, Vanessa Kauffman, Jessica Broadfoot

Olympic fever has hit! As we all marvel at the power, precision, and grace of the athletes, a more disturbing commentary has also emerged, one that diminishes women athletes’ accomplishments, defines them by the men around them, places them in tired tropes of sex objects, or infantilizes them as “girls.” Some journalists, in combination with a robust social media discussion, are calling this bad behavior out. But should we be so surprised?

According to past research, no. In our work, we see this as a more pervasive issue, and women’s collegiate coaching is a prime example. When Title IX was enacted in 1972 approximately 90% of women’s teams were coached by women; in 2014 that number dropped to 43%. Women comprise only 23% of head coaching positions. Why are women coaches – especially of women’s teams – being left out? We talked to several women and men coaches of women’s and men’s teams and many of their own explanations suggest a view of fundamental and “natural” differences between men and women.(The data collection process involved in-depth interviews by the third author in the fall and winter of 2008 of 21 collegiate coaches from a single Division I University. The final sample was comprised of nine females, three of which were head coaches and six of which were assistants, and twelve males, made up of nine head coaches and three assistant coaches. The Division I University from which the interviews were obtained reflects the nationally skewed proportion of men and women coaches, particularly in regards to head coaching positions.)

Talking to Coaches…Gender Matters. In general, the qualities of sport – competition, confidence, physical strength, aggression – are seen as masculine, while characteristics of cooperation, passivity, and dependency are coded feminine, raising suspicions about women’s capacity to excel. Masculine dominance has helped to define the parameters of what it means to be a coach.


Copyright: Jennifer Chuang/UC Irvine Athletics

Interestingly, coaching may be seen as an example of conflicting masculine roles. Given the low pay and high time commitment, coaching undermines the traditional male family role as breadwinner. As this male head women’s tennis coach explains,

“I’ve been kind of lucky…I didn’t feel like I had to make a certain amount of money, X amount of dollars to be happy. So I was ok with where I was at salary wise…I think that the key to that is having a wife that also works, and that we can still make it happen, and sort of live the way we want to live and be happy.”

Many of the men echoed the idea that without a spouse’s support, a coaching career would be difficult. Although respondents all felt women opt out of coaching due to family pressures, none felt that men needed to opt out to support their families. Arguably, the relationship between masculinity and athletics provides men with the social compensation necessary to remain in coaching in a way that does not operate for women.

Especially when asked why women don’t coach men, many of the respondents did not think women would have the strength, athleticism, authority, and leadership abilities to be effective men’s coaches. As a male head men’s soccer coach expresses:

“I think the game is slightly different. The understanding of the nuances of the men’s game versus the women’s game… for a female to go into a men’s athletic team and command respect from those guys, it’s difficult. A female wouldn’t be able to step in and play seven versus seven and be able to play at the same level. Not technically, not tactically, I mean simply physically…just the strength factor.”

Other arguments highlight the assumed biological connection between men and leadership. A female assistant women’s soccer coach argued that “the leadership gene is much more apparent in guys, it’s much more inherent in them.” Additionally challenging, is the perception that taking orders and guidance from a female threatens masculinity, and calls into question male superiority in a male dominated field. A former male head golf coach notes,

“A woman coach is going to have to work harder to gain respect from a guy player than a male coach will have to work from a female player. … [Individuals are] raised to say if a guy’s leading, you give them a little benefit of the doubt. A woman has to prove herself, and until she does there’s going to be doubt.”

By internalizing and enforcing stereotypes a gender pecking-order can be preserved. As this woman, an assistant women’s soccer coach, suggests, socialization improves men’s leadership ability:

“When girls are socialized…it’s share, everyone in groups, be nice to everyone; guys are taught much more of competitiveness…a guy leader comes out in a group much easier…because in a girl’s environment it’s no one should be above anyone else…guys and girls are just different. They’re socialized different.”

Stereotypes about men’s competitiveness and women’s need for emotional bonding were prevalent, and if these are carried into hiring decisions it is easy to see why male coaches are favored. Yet, if gender differences are so stark, we would expect to see same-sex coaching across the board, instead of the current disparity. Instead, this difference only legitimated women’s absence and was not used to question men’s presence as coaches of women’s teams. None of the women said they wanted to coach men’s teams and nor were they upset at being denied access to these positions. Respondents were more in favor of increasing women coaching women, but did not question or challenge any of the main gender stereotypes. This man, a former head men’s golf coach said, “I’m a fan of a woman coaching women’s sports, if skill levels are equal, because there are certain intangibles – I don’t understand the woman animal as well on certain things.”

Shattering the “Glass Wall”? Coaches we interviewed recognized the role that resources and opportunities played in incentivizing men into coaching women, but none challenged any aspect of the system. Respondents automatically buy into the “glass wall” such that 50 percent of jobs (those coaching men) are off-limits, thus if women coach approximately 50 percent of women’s teams, it’s “fair.” We see that unquestioned assumptions of gender difference supported perceptions that masculinity and men were superior to femininity and women. Twenty years ago scholars on this topic said it is beliefs in male athletic superiority that justify gender disparities in coaching, and according to these interviews little has changed. So, yes, observers should continue to call out the failures of Olympic commentators to treat women athletes equally, but as we say goodbye to Rio, let’s not forget how these issues are shaping coaches’ and athletes’ experiences every day.

Cross-posted with permission here.

Catherine Bolzendahl is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. She studies issues of gender inequality in a variety of areas. Much of her work has focused on women’s political influence on social policy cross-nationally, sources of support for gender equality in the U.S. and comparatively, and differences in men’s and women’s political norms and participation. She has co-authored an award-winning book that examines American’s definitions of family, focusing on same-sex relations, and the role of gender in shaping familial views. Her work has been published in a variety of Sociology, Social Science, and Political Science journals. She is an editorial board member for Gender & SocietyVanessa Kauffman is a sociology Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine. She holds an undergraduate degree from Temple University, where she was a member of the Temple Fencing Club, and a graduate degree from the University of Chicago. Vanessa studies gender inequality and cultural sociology. Her most recent research addresses the strategies women surfers use to negotiate male dominated surf culture and how sexualization within the sport profoundly affects women. Jessica Broadfoot-(Lee) is an undergraduate alumni of the Sociology department at the University of California, Irvine. She currently works as a Senior Recruiter at Apex Systems in Irvine. Jessica was a member of the UCI women’s tennis team and was a two-time Big West Scholar-Athlete.

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Recognition to Jennifer Randles

Jennifer M. Randles’ article “Redefining the Marital Power Struggle through Relationship Skills: How United States Marriage Education Programs Challenge and Reinforce Gender Inequality” Gender & Society April 2016 30 (2), through the National Council on Family Relations  (NCFR), has won the 2016 Jessie Bernard Contribution to Feminist Scholarship Paper Award.  Please join us in congratulating her  and recognizing her important contribution to gender scholarship.

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What is a Men’s Salon? And What do Women Have to Do With It?

By Kristen Barber

When I explain my research to people, they often ask: “What is a men’s salon, exactly?”In a fleeting interaction I might sBarber_idea3imply describe it as a salon dedicated to the primping and preening of men. The high-service men’s salons in my study tout stylish haircuts, fine manicures, exfoliating facials, and meticulous waxing services. But to more accurately explain what a men’s salon is involves understanding that gender is actively produced, not a static characteristic of a person or place.

In my article, “Men Wanted”: Heterosexual Aesthetic Labor in the Masculinization of the Hair Salon, I tackle the organizational efforts that make the salon an “appropriate” place for well-to-do, straight, and often white men. This is significant since the salon is historically associated with women and seems an unlikely place in which men can approximate culturally valorized forms masculinity. One way both salons in my study masculinize the space is by demanding what I call heterosexual aesthetic labor from the mostly women workers. Aesthetic labor highlights the importance of workers’ appearances and use of their body in frontline service work, where employees interact face-to-face with customers. Workers are hired because they embody the aesthetic values of a retail brand, with white, middle-class workers, for example, reflecting the identities of white, middle-class consumers. This assures consumers they are in the “right place” for people like them and is a key mechanism in reproducing social differences and inequalities. Continue reading

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Getting Real About Men and Household Labor

By Kristen Myers

Fox News in Chicago recently invited me to do a Father’s Day segment during the noon news hour explaining how “Dads today are better than ever!” Aiming for a feel-good piece celebrating dads, they prompted me to talk about how “real men” cuddle with their children. On the one hand, I cringed at the use of the term, “real men.” What is a “real man?” Although sociologists have shown that there is no one right way to be a man, the notion of “real” manhood remains salient in the popular imagination. The expression, “real men do x,” is typically used to call men out, to shame those who don’t do x into “manning up.” The popularity of language like “real men man up” reminds us that the rules we’ve made for men haven’t actually relaxed all that much, even though some dads are able to interact with their children in ways that their own dads never could have.

Myers_1On the other hand, Fox News was using the expression “real men cuddle” ironically, to encourage traditional men to do something non-traditional, like show emotion. This gave me an opportunity to focus on ways that men can do things differently than they have in the past, how they’re “undoing gender,” as Francine Deutsch would say. More men today are able to physically and emotionally bond with their children without risking a blow to their manhood. The Pew Research Center has documented trends in the work world and the household that are permitting dads to be more involved than ever in childrearing and housework. The time is ripe for men, no matter how traditional, to take advantage of these shifts. Sometimes these men must be pushed out of their comfort zones in order to take the first steps. Continue reading

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Transgender Identities: Do we Need Diagnostic Criteria?

By Jay A. Irwin

In a recent NYT piece, a discussion was presented regarding the potential for the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), to declassify transgender identities as mental disorders in the ICD (International Classification of Diseases). This topic has been hotly debated within the transgender community for years, particularly during the update from the DSM IV-TR to the DSM-V. The DSM, or the Diagnostic Statistical Manual is the American Psychiatric Association’s version of the ICD, but the U.S. version only focuses on mental disorders, while the ICD classifies all diseases and conditions. Similar to the debate during the update to the DSM V, the conversation around changes to the ICD focuses on weighing the pros and cons of dropping classifications related to “transsexualism” or “GID” (gender identity disorder), the common codes related to trans people in the current ICD 10.

In my own research regarding transgender people living in Nebraska, transgender individuals are at a heightened risk of mental health conditions such as depression and suicidal ideation. Countless other studies have found similar negative health outcomes for transgender individuals. A major predictor of these health disparities lie in societal acceptance, as a number of studies show that trans individuals who have better social support (particularly family support for trans youth and young adults), higher social capital, and experience less discrimination have better mental health outcomes than trans individuals who lack these social resources.

Another major theory, both within the trans community and among some in the clinical psychological/counseling world, is that these health disparities can be due to the fact that one’s identity is stigmatized by the mere fact of being included in a medical classification system like the DSM or ICD. The social label of the “crazy” transgender person can be seen in public media and online discussions of transgender people even today. This kind of stigmatization and stereotyping of a whole group has led to a larger social misunderstanding of transgender people. The removal of trans identities from the ICD and the DSM could help to reduce the stereotypes society has of trans folx (an inclusive version of folks that has been recently adopted by the transgender community), similar to what we saw when homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973.

Furthermore, removing trans identities from these medical codebooks removes a barrier to care for trans people, particularly trans people with lower socio-economic statuses. Most medical providers require some form of “proof” from a therapist that their patient is “actually’” transgender before providing other care such as hormone therapy or surgical interventions. This process, for the trans person, is both costly and can be seen as patronizing; often regarded as having to have your identity gain a stamp of approval from someone else. While therapy may be very beneficial to trans individuals as they move through their transition process, having it be required does push some trans individuals into less than legal transition processes, such as street hormones and medical procedures done by unlicensed providers in less than ideal, and sometimes down right unsanitary conditions. Therapy should be undertaken when desired by the trans person, not as a required “hoop” to jump through.

Now, it’s at this point in the conversation that people start to typically bring up the potential negative ramifications of removal of trans identities in medical classification systems. The point that is often made is that our medical system is built on the referral system, and that without a diagnosis from a psychological expert, how will insurance companies and doctors know how/if to treat patients? This is a bit of a false argument, as many clinics, specifically clinics for the LGBTQ community, already operate on an informed consent model. In an informed consent model clinic, the medical provider sits down with the trans person and discusses what the trans person want in terms of transition (as there is no one/right way to transition), the pros and cons of each type of medical intervention, all done without the need of a formal referral letter from a mental health expert proving a person’s sanity and gender identity.  The informed consent model is not new as it relates to transgender individuals, as it dates back to around 1993 in San Francisco. This is just one example of a potential reworking of the medical system in which we currently exist, should such diagnoses be removed from these medical handbooks.

The notion that a psychological evaluation of a transgender person is necessary for further care is rooted in deep seated stereotypes of trans people as mentally unable to assess their own gender identities and are thus potentially confused, requiring an outside “expert” to certify one’s gender identity. I don’t use the hyperbolic air-quote around expert lightly, but due the fact that little to no training is currently provided to counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists about trans people during their formal education. Furthermore, the bulk of providers, both mental and physical health providers, are cisgender (i.e. non-trans) people, which can act as a barrier to fully understanding the needs of trans clients. Based on what we know from social science research, the feedback from many clinicians (trans and cis alike), and the lived experience of trans people, the potential pros far outweigh the potential cons to removing trans related diagnoses in all diagnostic manuals.


Jay A. Irwin is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. HiJay Irwins research areas include transgender health and identities, LGBT health, and sexualities. He is also highly active in the local trans and LGB communities, and identifies as a queer trans man.

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The Gender-Genocide Nexus

By Gabrielle Ferrales, Nollie Nyseth Brehm, & Suzy McElrath

Several hundred thousand people have been killed in state-supported attacks on villages in the Darfur region of Sudan (Degomme and Guha-Sapir 2010), and millions have been displaced (U.S. State Department 2013). Darfur_mapYears after this violence began, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state indicted for the crime of genocide by the International Criminal Court. Due to inaction by the UN Security Council, the Court’s investigation has since been suspended though the violence continues today.

We examine this critical social problem by analyzing the gendered nature of violence committed against men and boys in Darfur and describe the process of inflicting violence as the gender-genocide nexus. Although a substantial body of research on gender-based violence during episodes of mass atrocity has emerged in the last decade, much of this scholarship has focused on violence against women. While we do not seek to divert attention from women and girls, it is important to examine the broad range of violent acts that occur during genocide—including gender-based violence against men and boys. This includes rape, other forms of sexual violence (like sexual assault or genital mutilation), as well as non-sexual acts perpetrated on the basis of gender, such as sex-selective killing.

Using narratives from 1,136 Darfuri refugees from the U.S. State Department’s Atrocities Documentation Survey, we analyzed patterns of gender-based violence perpetrated against men and boys in Darfur. We found that these individuals experienced many forms of gender-based violence, such as rape, genital harm, and sex-selective killings. Darfuri men and boys also are victims of indirect violence, such as witnessing violence perpetrated against members of their family. Continue reading

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Why Do Universities Handle Sexual Violence Reports?

By Elizabeth A. Armstrong

The media, activists, and the Department of Education continue to put pressure on universities to improve how they respond to sexual violence. Universities are engaged in a flurry of activities—hiring compliance officers, rolling out new educational programs, designing new web sites, hosting webinars for parents, rewriting student codes of conduct, creating hotlines for reporting sexual misconduct, and redesigning procedures for the investigation and adjudication of reported incidents. Some universities are working hard to be out in front of the issue. Others are struggling just to keep up. Some activists believe that this is a moment when real change might be possible. Others read university responses cynically, as just bureaucratic attempts to avoid legal liability.

My colleague Sandra Levitsky and have started a research project to document and explain university responses. The first question asked about this project is: “Why are universities involved at all? Shouldn’t the criminal justice system be adjudicating these crimes?”

“Title IX” is the short answer to this question. Universities are legally required to address sex discrimination on campus, which includes providing an educational environment free from sexual violence. It is a civil rights issue. The Department of Education toughened its stance in 2011 by releasing new guidance for universities to follow to prevent sexual violence from occurring and to respond to it if it does.

Attention to sexual violence as a violation of Title IX is new. But university regulation of student sexual conduct is not. Universities set expectations for student sexual conduct along with many other aspects of student behavior (e.g., vandalism, theft, cheating). Not regulating student sexual conduct would be inconsistent with both historical practice and how schools respond to other aspects of student behavior.

When sexual misconduct rises to the level of a criminal offense, it should ideally be handled as such in addition to being handled as a violation of a code of student conduct. The media sometimes suggest that universities try to prevent survivors from making criminal reports as a way to protect the university. This may happen at some schools, but our observations suggest that many universities are proactive about sharing information with police. In fact, some are concerned that universities are moving in the direction of being too enthusiastic about passing along information to police. If handled poorly, survivors may be re-victimized by losing control of sensitive information, without justice being served either on campus or in the criminal justice system. On the other hand, effective coordination between police and campus authorities has the potential to maximize the chance that perpetrators are held accountable by universities and convicted of criminal offenses. The bottom line is that universities committed to “getting it right” are not withholding information from police or discouraging criminal reports.

Universities also have a role to play because not all forms of sexual misconduct are criminal. However, these actions can still create a hostile educational environment. For example, a hostile climate could be created through repeatedly invading another’s personal space, posting slanderous material on social media, or drawing offensive images or words on a student’s whiteboard. In addition, the criminal justice system is not equipped to protect survivors against retaliation from the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s friends, or to provide accommodations to assist the survivor after an assault. The criminal justice system cannot work with professors to organize extensions for coursework or schedule modifications. These accommodations can help a survivor recover and succeed academically. Some accommodations can be made in advance of adjudicating a case, while others are only appropriate after a finding of responsibility, and thus require that universities adjudicate the case.

The process of overhauling college and university responses to sexual violence is still in its infancy. It will likely be years before it is possible to assess whether meaningful change has occurred, or whether this has just been another cycle of attention to a longstanding problem. Even if universities “get it right,” this does nothing to address the needs of those not in college when they are assaulted. Young people not enrolled in college may be more at risk of sexual or intimate partner more violence. Improving protections for college students might increase disparities between groups. This, combined with the fact expulsion is the most severe sanction universities can apply, suggests that pressure on universities to response more effectively to sexual violence should be accompanied by similar pressure on the criminal justice system.

More reading: here.

Elizabeth A. Armstrong is Professor of Sociology at University of Michigan. Her research interests include areas of sexuality, gender, culture, organizations, social movements, and higher education. Her 2013 book, with Laura T. Hamilton,  Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality can be found here. She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society


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Traditional Wives, Empowered Daughters?: Parenting the “Trump Way”

By Emily Kane

European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 05: (L-R) Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump and Melania Trump attends European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards on December 5, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for European School of Economics Foundation)

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Jill Filipovic addresses “Why Men Want to Marry Melanias and Raise Ivankas,” referring to the traditionally gendered division of responsibility Donald J. Trump celebrates for his wife but seems to reject for his daughter. Filipovic goes on to note public opinion data suggests men favor independence and strength in daughters more than wives, but sweetness and attractiveness in wives more than daughters. This is an important pattern to note, with clear implications for reproducing gender inequality. And it’s a pattern that shapes the way some fathers participate in gendering their daughters even in early childhood. In my book The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls, I approach these patterns with explicit attention to the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality, and find that the way Donald Trump looks at things is more common among men privileged by race and class.

In my analysis of interviews with parents of preschoolers from a wide variety of backgrounds and social locations, I identify five distinct groups based on their parenting practices, one of which I call “Naturalizers.” These parents tend to view gender as rooted in nature, celebrate gender differences as positive, and reject seeing gender as a source of power. Though parents from all social backgrounds were represented in this group, a particular strand within it was expressed by upper-middle class white fathers with both sons and daughters. They encouraged a modest expansion of gendered expectations for their young sons, who they viewed as “hard-wired” for rough-and-tumble competitiveness but hoped to round out with just a small infusion of domestic skills and nurturing orientation. For their daughters, they viewed that nurturance and a maternal instinct as the hard-wired element, which they more actively hoped to round out with the skills to “choose” male-dominated careers if they wished to do so. This emphasis on choice, especially expressed by privileged fathers who often viewed it as unconstrained by structural power, is very much consistent with accepting traditionally gendered wives and more career-oriented daughters who still show that supposedly natural material instinct. As Filipovic quotes in her piece, Donald Trump praises his daughter as “a devoted mother and an exceptional entrepreneur.” Continue reading

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Is this what African American freedom looks like?

By Dawn Marie Dow

A couple of weeks ago Jesse Williams, an actor most known for his role as Avery Jackson on the hit television show Grey’s Anatomy, delivered an incisive speech at the Black Entertainment Television network awards.  Williams critiqued law enforcement, calling it out as a system that may have changed in form and application but has consistently oppressed black and brown Americans. Though some accused him of attacking white people, his speech was directed at a system, and systems are not the same thing as people! Williams called out a system of beliefs, policies and practices that privilege white bodies over black (and other non-white) bodies in many arenas of life. This system views black bodies, particularly black male bodies, as automatically guilty and worthy of death and thus requiring overwhelming proof of innocence.  In everyday interactions, blacks in America feel they are viewed as guilty and must constantly prove themselves innocent if given an opportunity to do so. As the recent shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile illustrate, such an opportunity is not guaranteed.  While the critique may be systemic, the beliefs, policies and practices that give rise to a systemic state of affairs are enacted by individuals, and are instilled in the minds and hearts of individuals in obvious and subtle ways, and dramatically influence how one acts towards different groups of people.  These beliefs, policies and practices have institutional effects in areas like policing that play out in how police officers criminalize those they should ordinarily protect and serve.

Just days after Williams’ speech, over the course of 48 hours two more African American men were violently gunned down by police officers. Continue reading

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The Gender Pray Gap

By Landon Schnabel 

Despite men holding most religious leadership positions, on any given Sunday there are typically more women than men in U.S. churches. Twenty seven percent of women but only 19 percent of men say they attend religious services at least once a week. Women also pray more frequently than men, with 66 percent of women and only 43 percent of men reporting that they pray daily. The gender gap in religion is so strong that U.S. religious congregations are getting creative in their attempts to attract more men, from changing décor and musical styles to hosting mixed martial arts fights in churches as depicted in the 2014 “Fight Church” documentary.

Are There Gender Differences among U.S. Elites?

Some scholars have argued that hormones make females more religious than males. They used a 17th century theological argument, Pascal’s Wager, to claim that being irreligious is risky. Then they said that because males have more testosterone, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior—such as violent crime and not going to church. But feminist scholars have consistently demonstrated that most gender differences are the result of social (i.e., gender), rather than biological (i.e., sex), factors, and that all women and all men are not the same. In this article, I use the case of U.S. elites to consider how gendered social experiences can make people more or less religious. On average, women are more religious than men, but are high-earning women (those who make more than $100,000 a year) more religious than high-earning men?Schnabel_final color

Among high earners, women are no more religious than men. High-earning men are just as likely as high-earning women to be religiously affiliated, to pray daily, to identify as a strong member of their religion, and to attend religious services weekly. This convergence occurs because the relationship between earnings and religiosity operates differently for women and men. High-earning women are consistently less religious than low-earning women, and high-earning men are consistently more religious than low-earning men. Continue reading


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