The objectification of women is so unremarkable in advertising and popular culture that it’s sometimes hard to envisage what an alternative might look like. Is it possible to advertise lingerie or swimwear without objectifying women, we are asked? Is objectification in the amount of flesh revealed, or is it more than that? Where is the line between women being merely attractive and objectified?
First, let’s define what objectification is. Dr Caroline Heldman has a great test to identify sexual objectification- what she calls the CHIPS test.
1) Commodity: Does the image show a sexualised person as a commodity, for example, as something that can be bought and sold?
2) Harmed: Does the image show a sexualised person being harmed, for example, being violated or unable to give consent?
3) Interchangeable: Does the image show a sexualised person as interchangeable, for example, a collection of similar bodies?
4) Parts: Does the image show a sexualised person as body parts, for example, a human reduced to breasts or buttocks?
5) Stand-In: Does the image present a sexualised person as a stand-in for an object, for example, a human body used as a chair or a table?
Jennifer Moss also wrote about the deliberate construction of women’s poses in advertising, assigning them into categories:
She’s looking over her shoulder or her facial expression is frightened. She has her hands up in protective or shielding position. She’s pulling away from a man. She’s dead. Any image depicting the woman as victim.
B.) POSITIONED FOR SEX/UNDRESSED
She is set up for sex: lying supine or close to it. Her legs are spread. She’s on a bed. She’s in a state of undress in which she wouldn’t (realistically) be allowed in public. Something is in her mouth.
Head angled. Eyes looking away, down. The classic “hunch” pose of the upper torso. Body is not square to the camera. Chin is down. Body language depicting submission, weakness.
D.) OBJECTIFIED/NON-HUMAN/ONE OF MANY
No face or her face is obscured. A group of women all dressed and made up the same. No individuality. A product.
It doesn’t have to be like this- there is another way.
In researching for this blog post, I spent a fair amount of time looking for advertising that did not sexualise or objectify women. Unfortunately, this was a rather fruitless endeavor! I found two examples. One was ad agency, Badger and Winters. (Scroll up to the very top to see their work for lingerie company Naja, and more examples here.)
Badger and Winters
After advertising executive Madonna Badger tragically lost her three daughters and her parents in a fire on Christmas Day in 2012, she made the decision to no longer objectify women in her advertising.
Badger uses the following four criteria to determine if an ad objectifies women:
Prop: Does the woman have a choice or voice in this situation?
Part: Is she reduced to just a sexually provocative body part?
Plastic: Is the image manipulated to the extent that the look is not humanly achievable?
What if: Would you be comfortable to see your sister, best friend or yourself in this image?
You can see Badger and Winters work for lingerie company Naja. This ad campaign shows how it is entirely possible to sell lingerie without objectifying women or replicating porn-inspired scenarios.
Well Made Clothes
The second example is Well Made Clothes- an online marketplace selling clothing from the ‘world’s best’ fashion labels. All stock featured on the website must meet the criteria for one of their values. Their advertising presents women as whole people rather than faceless, objectified and interchangeable.
Handy hints for advertisers
In many ads, women are not portrayed as whole people. They are reduced to a series of sexualized body parts (or even just one), or their identity is based on their sexuality or sexual availability. Objectification occurs when a person is reduced to object status, or becomes a thing, rather than fully human. While this can happen to women or men, this objectification is much more frequently done to women.
Women are often depicted as idle, merely posing to be looked at. There are various examples of advertising for women’s active wear that do just this. Advertisers could have a powerful impact by showing women running, lifting and actually engaging in activity, rather than merely posing- see an example from Cotton On Body:
Audiences are diverse, and as such advertising should not be limited to images of young, thin, white, able-bodied women. Diversity in race, age, body type can send a great positive message that all bodies, all people, are valued.
Context is also important in advertising. While it may be appropriate and relevant for a woman to be depicted in a bikini at the beach, or to sell swimwear, this is a very different context from a woman in a bikini to sell tools, or an unrelated product. In the latter scenario the woman becomes a prop, a merely decorative object.
We’re heartened to see agencies like Badger and Winters committing to a higher standard, and we hope other companies follow suit.
Do you know of any other companies doing the same? Let us know in the comments!
This extract, quoting the mother of Grace Bellavue (Pippa O’Sullivan) is taken from ‘Sex Worker. Writer. Activist. Social Media Star. Who was the real Grace Bellavue?’ by Caroline Overington (writing in The Weekend Australian, September 10-11, and in the online version ‘Who was the real Grace Bellavue? Sex worker, writer, activist, social media star – the many faces of a smart, sassy, tragically flawed young woman’)
I want to know why this GP is still practicing. He must be deregistered immediately for what he did to Grace Bellavue after she sought help for mental illness. If he is not identified and dismissed, women in the industry will be even less likely to seek help, along with other women struggling with mental health issues, as well as women in general.
If anyone knows who he is please contact me. He is a threat to women and a disgrace to his profession.
Suicide rates for young Australians double in a decade
This report on ABC News yesterday, ‘Suicide rates for young Australians highest in 10 years, researchers call for new prevention strategies’, reveals the distressing situation regarding the numbers of young people wanting to end their lives. In my talks in schools around the country, young people not infrequently approach me to acknowledge suicidal ideation and self harm. But if support services are stretched to the limit, where are they to go?
Suicide rates among young Australians are at their highest level in 10 years, despite a range of prevention strategies and investment from government, according to new research.
The report, carried out by youth mental health service Orygen, has found the system is not working and a new suicide prevention strategy for young people is needed.
Jo Robinson, head of Orygen’s suicide prevention research, said of the current system: “We’re clearly not getting things right.
“We really lack national leadership when it comes to youth suicide prevention.
“So despite a lot of investment, despite a lot of talk at government level … we really need a reinvigorated approach to youth suicide prevention.”
This is possibly the most chilling segment of the article. I had to stop and re-read, thinking I had read wrongly – ‘tens of thousands’ of young people being turned away?
Young people being turned away from help.
The report calls for a national suicide prevention strategy, supported by a specific youth suicide prevention strategy.
It also found more mental health services were needed for young people who were at high risk of suicide.
“We know that there are tens of thousands of young people who are turned away from services every year because services don’t have the capacity to respond to them,” Dr Robinson said.
“Unfortunately, very tragically, some of those young people will go on to take their own lives.”
I shared the article on my Facebook pages (public page here) I then received this very distressing message from a Melbourne mother which bring the findings home. I share it here with her permission.
Suicide services are so woeful that they can’t help you unless your child is actually physically in danger *now*. In 2015, after I pulled my 9 1/2 year old out of the sandpit (where he had planted himself headfirst in an effort to suffocate himself) I cleaned him up and we talked and when he was calm I called the child adolescent mental health service. They couldn’t advise me at all. He’s too young to access the service, and they couldn’t give me the most simple help like letting me know some safety measures I could take (in addition to what I had already taken care of, like locking the chemicals up and removing knives or checking blind/ curtain cords).
Apart from the situation we found ourselves in (horrifying enough) we got more help from the GP the next day, and due to timing (it was the last week of a school term) and service demands in the community it was 3 weeks till we could see a child psychologist. We did everything we could to make him feel and be safe, from supervising showers (unbenownst to us he had made 2 previous attempts by swallowing hair shampoo – it’s a good thing he was 9 because while the methods he chose weren’t successful, he was very determined) to changing doorknobs – took the lock off the bathroom and put it on the laundry, to doing without our cooking knives for 6 months until we were absolutely certain he was safe. I wouldn’t wish dealing with those services on anyone. The situation is bad. The services are a nightmare.
I asked how he was now. She replied:
He’s well now. Modest, caring, sensitive and curious. In some ways we were lucky to have the chance to help him learn that there are ways to help you feel better and think better, and he has the emotional vocabulary to voice his needs. I have shared the story with Bill Shorten a couple of weeks ago because we do need to do better in this area.
We are thankful this child is doing much better. But what of all the other young people for whom suicide is now a leading cause of death? This is a collective tragedy. Surely we can do better.
Why do some young people injure themselves?
Self-harm and non-suicidal self-injury are still surrounded by considerable stigma – if we are to begin to support young people who are engaging in this behaviour, it is vital that we understand the reasons for it. Dr Claire Kelly from Mental Health First Aid Australia addresses the myths and misperceptions around self-injury, highlighting the common reasons that drive young people to do so, challenging us to think of it as connection-seeking rather than attention-seeking, as well as evaluating their risk of suicide.
Tasmanian Labor’s agenda for its conference in Queenstown this weekend has promised an opportunity for ‘robust and spirited debate’.
While the decriminalisation of brothels and the legalisation of some illicit drugs are being proposed by two separate branches of the party, the coupling of both proposals is difficult to avoid.
A more cynical person would thank members of the Labor party for at least acknowledging that ‘working’ in brothels requires chemical support in order to dissociate to survive the reality of the sex-trade.
I challenge Young Labor to cite research behind their claim that decriminalising brothels results in further autonomy and protections for ‘sex workers’, and could give them the power to ‘unionise’ and ‘collectively organise’.
If Young Labor had done their homework, they would know that brothels are the means of keeping violence against ‘sex workers’ behind closed doors. Those selling sex in brothels have less negotiating power, are forced to adhere to conditions imposed by the brothel-keeper and any bargaining power becomes increasingly hypothetical, with the sex-buyer dictating with his wallet, which sex acts a woman must perform.
Young Labor’s naive assumption that ‘sex workers’ will unionise independently of third party profiteers, male and female pimps now ‘managers’, drivers and landlords, under the obfuscating title of the ‘operational aspects of sex work’ is staggering.
While it is already legal to buy and sell sex under Tasmanian law, extending this decriminalisation to pimping and other forms of third party profiteering leave those selling sex at high risk of imposed control, including fines for lack of adherence to clothing policy, fines for tardiness, and, most obviously, having a large percentage of their income taken from them. As for other ‘protections’, in a decriminalised brothel in NZ recently, a woman who over-dosed on ‘illicit drugs’ was removed unconscious from the premises in order for the brothel not to come under scrutiny. In fact, in-house knowledge of violent assaults, theft of personal items and money from ‘sex workers’ in decriminalised brothels are rife, but hidden, both by the prostituted who fear losing their livelihoods and scoring a black mark against their name, and the brothel owners themselves.
States with decriminalised legislature are target destinations for sex-traffickers, whereas countries in which buying, pimping and procuring sex is illegal, and those selling sex are completely decriminalised themselves, such as in Sweden, are a turn-off for these same traffickers (*intercepted call via Swedish police). Increased sex-trafficking is evidenced with the international and domestic trafficking of women and girls in both decriminalised New Zealand and NSW.
Putting aside the innate horror of sex-trafficking, an influx of brothel ‘workers’ increases survival competition and women’s livelihoods are substantially reduced. Women are more vulnerable, not less, to endure added sexual violations they otherwise would not.
While it is appreciated that this proposal comes from the ‘rank and file’ of party members, is it also understood that any advice from so called ‘sex worker organisations’ such as Scarlet Alliance, comes not from the ‘rank and file’ of the majority in the sex-trade? These are a minority of those in the sex-trade, often in positions of ‘management’ and/or wholly independent of brothel ‘work’ themselves!
Why take advice from government funded groups in these positions who also minimise the need for exiting strategies for those who want to leave prostitution?
And what ‘union’ worth it’s salt argues for a model of legislation which empowers pimps over ‘workers’?
Perhaps it is understandable that Young Labor has produced an ill conceived policy based on old notions about the politics of prohibition. After all, if high profile human rights organisations such as Amnesty International can be infiltrated by pimps, drafting it’s policy on ‘sex work’ on the basis of brothel-owner Douglas Fox in the UK, brothel owners Escort Ireland, and convicted sex-traffickers such as Alejandra Gil, Mexico, why wouldn’t others?
I encourage a dialogue with Young Labor as it is likely their motivation comes from an ethos of ‘worker’s rights’, but it has been misled by those with a vested interest in opening up opportunities for profiteering from brothel owners and keeping the status quo of pimps over the prostituted. As we know decriminalisation leads to an expansion of the sex-trade from which the majority simply want to get out.
One hopes in the predicted ‘spirited debate’ fiction does not obscure fact, although it seems unlikely. Meanwhile, hundreds of women are trafficked into decriminalised NSW, and a ‘sex worker’ bound and raped in legalised Victoria is remunerated with a phone and money that was stolen from her wallet (rape as theft?)- cases which the Scarlet Alliance vehemently ignore . One wonders which ‘sex workers’ are considered, by them, to be worth fighting for.
Young Labor’s challenge should be to fight the global humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, not cater to the mutli-billion dollar sex-trade and further cement in to the GDP money taxed off the sexually exploited.
*Simone Watson is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia, and the Director of NorMAC (Nordic Model in Australia Coalition). She is a prostitution survivor and a contributor to the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist
• Andrew Minney in Comments HERE: … The correct approach to male violence is obvious. To identify it and to repudiate it. The commercialization of exploitation is absolutely the antithesis of Labor principles. Please lead the way forward for a better, safer, respectful future for women and girls by condemning the men who harm them.
Rape, humiliation and sick fantasies: Baby-faced ex-prostitute whose clients paid her to ‘act like a little girl’ reveals what REALLY goes on inside Australia’s sex industry
By Belinda Grant Geary For Daily Mail Australia
A former sex worker has lifted the lid on the secret world of prostitution and claims violence, child sex fantasies and rape are commonplace for the women who sell their bodies in the industry.
Alice started working as a prostitute in Queensland at the age of 22 when she lost her job and could not find employment while she studied a law degree.
But the 28-year-old said she learned to use her body at a much younger age after being sexually assaulted at the tender age of five.
Alice said the profession slowly stripped her of her humanity and has spoken out against the industry that allowed her to be verbally abused, beaten, degraded and raped in the hopes she can stop other women being lured into prostitution.
Alice said her descent into the world of sex work started when she would trade sexual favours for cash, mobile phone credit or alcohol as a teenager.
‘People, including myself, had been using my body to make money since I was five so [prostitution] wasn’t a new idea to me and wasn’t something that shocked me,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. Read more
Our new ambassador in her first media interview in the role
The hypersexual world and its impact on young girls and boys
In the two weeks since you heard Donald Trump’s confessions – unintended – of groping women, the strongest response has come from US First Lady Michelle Obama. You may have heard her say that Trumps’ words shook her to the core.
Well, this culture has also shaken, and motivated, Kerryn Baird, who’s the wife of New South Wales premier Mike Baird. This week, Kerryn Baird became the new ambassador for Collective Shout, an advocacy group for women and girls.
Listen to the interview below:
I was honoured to be invited to deliver the biennial Bishop Manning lecture hosted by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations at the Kirribilli Club recently. Bob Hawke and Noel Pearson preceeded me and I was the first woman to be asked. I spoke to our new book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the sex trade to support my thesis that sex was not work. The Commission has published this summary:
Tankard Reist challenges Bishop Manning audience
This biennial Bishop Manning Lecture was delivered on Tuesday night by author, commentator and advocate for women and girls, Melinda Tankard Reist.
We host the Bishop Manning Lecture as a way of acknowledging and celebrating workplaces that champion justice, human dignity, productivity and fairness. It is also an opportunity to honour the work of a Church leader who has in his life, borne witness to the pursuit of fairness in workplaces wherever they might be.
Bishop Manning is known for his commitment to these and many other important social justice issues including Aboriginal people, migrants, refugees, women and families. He has been described as having a passion for the “battlers” and a genuine interest in people no matter who they are. And of course, behind all these achievements, he is a humble man of God and a good shepherd.
Our lecture series focuses on principles of the common good, community, human dignity, justice and their practical application in society. But we are not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.
Melinda Tankard Reist is best known for her work addressing sexualisation, objectification, harms of pornography, sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence against women.
Ms Tankard Reist delivered a powerful lecture that sought to demolish the claim that prostitution is ‘just work’, a ‘job like any other’.
Step by step, the 2016 Bishop Manning lecturer went through confronting characteristics that define the industry in great detail. Ms Tankard Reist challenged our audience with stories of violence against women, health impacts and criminal trafficking.
We were asked to consider the heavily gendered nature of the sex industry. Without men, argued Ms Tankard Reist, without male demand and entitlement, there would be no prostitution industry.
Ms Tankard Reist argued that the global experiences of women show that even where the sex industry enjoys the legalisation and protection of the government, the violence, degradation, abuse, and trauma are common experiences.
Ms Tankard Reist also rang alarm bells about sexual trafficking here in Australia citing Australian Federal Police commander Glen McEwen who told the NSW state inquiry into the regulation of brothels that the AFP’s investigations into sexual servitude were just the tip of the iceberg, that the problem is ‘wide and vast’.
The nub of Ms Tankard Reist’s primary message is that mainstreaming prostitution gives permission to men to believe that buying women is legitimate. Any form of prostitution undermines all women’s safety and dignity by entrenching the commodification of women and by sending a message to men and boys that they have a right to be sexually serviced anytime. There is a deep connection here between the sexualisation of women and girls and the attitude of men.
How should we respond? Tankard Reist is an abolitionist and envisions ‘a world without prostitution’. To achieve that she believes an important part of the solution is the Nordic Model, a framework for addressing demand for prostitution.
As Ms Tankard Reist stated on Tuesday night:
“The Nordic Model completely decriminalises women whose bodies are bought. It provides exit services for women to escape prostitution and make a new life. And it criminalises those men who buy women, and the pimps who sell them.
In 1999 Sweden changed the law to decriminalise women and criminalise the buyers, to tackle demand as the basis of the prostitution system. The Nordic model offers high quality services for those in prostitution: housing, legal advice, addiction services, long-term emotional and psychological support, education and training, childcare, and addresses all factors that drive people into prostitution (for example, minimum wage levels).
Norway, Northern Ireland, Canada, South Korea, Iceland and mostly recently France, have introduced a version of the Nordic Model“.
Ms Tankard-Reist also champions the importance of exit services for women who feel trapped in the industry and education to teach children about boundaries, self-respect and self-worth.
“Identify the girls who are at risk and mentor them, inspire them, value them. Teach them about good relationships, and how to spot someone who is trying to exploit them. Show them how to get help. Catholic agencies are specially placed to be able to discern risk factors in teenage girls. And of course we need to do more to educate boys about healthy sexuality and respect for women.”
Our lecturer wanted to make it clear that women mostly enter the industry because of vulnerabilities and lack of choice. She concluded by speaking to Catholic Social Teaching
“… the exploitation of prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person (woman) who is prostituted by reducing that person to a thing to be used for the ends of another.
Abolitionists are also calling on governments to structure society and the economy on this basis, so that we can build a world without prostitution.
We want justice for women who have been trapped in prostitution, for women hurt by prostitution.
Justice for women who are living in poverty, giving them the dignity of a proper job that they can enjoy and develop their professional skills.
Laws and social policies affirming the dignity of every woman.”
Collective Shout, the grassroots campaign movement against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls, announces Kerryn Baird as its new Ambassador.
The announcement was made at a fundraising event for the movement held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney last night for International Day of the Girl Child. Addressing the event was Ms Baird’s first function as Ambassador.
Attending the event with her was her husband and NSW Premier Mike Baird.
In her speech, Ms Baird said she decided to accept the invitation to become an Ambassador because she believed children were at risk of losing their childhood.
“I want more for our girls. And boys,” she said.
“Like many of you in the room, I have daughters. I have hopes for them. I want them to fulfil their potential. To be able to contribute.
“I want a world where words to describe girls not as sexy, and hot, but as worthy, strong, healthy, active, imaginative”.
Co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist, who also spoke at the function, said she was delighted to welcome Ms Baird as Ambassador.
“Kerryn heard me speak at a private girls’ school in Sydney recently. She asked what she could do to help the cause. I asked if she would consider becoming an Ambassador. She said yes!” Ms Tankard Reist said.
“We look forward to achieving more in future with her support.”
Great show of support for Collective Shout at MCA
MTR shares the work of Collective Shout
Our new ambassador Kerryn Baird addresses the crowd
CS volunteer Suzanne Spence, Chair Sarah McMahon, Kerryn and Mike Baird and National Operations Manager Coralie Alison
By Lauren Gurrieri, Helen Cherrier, Jan Brace-Govan
Advertisers, challenged with cutting through a cluttered marketing environment, sometimes aim to shock. Unfortunately while their aim may be to get their client noticed, our research shows they continue to glorify the violent exploitation of women.
This is despite increasing community support, matched by public policy efforts to counter violence against women.
Flick through any glossy high fashion magazine today, and you will be confronted with images of women who have been assaulted, brutalised or murdered.
In our study, we examined how advertisements that depict violence against women shape women’s subjectivities. We found that women were positioned in three ways – as “teases” who despite the violent contexts suggestively offer a promise of sexual intimacy (e.g. this Dolce et Gabanna advertisement), as “pieces of meat” dehumanised in order to be controlled, dominated and consumed (e.g. this Beymen Blender advertisement) and as “conquered” subjects who are submissive, vulnerable and psychologically adrift (e.g. this advertisement by Fluid salon).
Representing women as sexualised, zoomorphic and subjugated beings fosters a rape culture in which treating women in degrading ways through the use of violence is considered acceptable. By communicating that it is ok to dominate, sexually touch and assault women, violent advertising representations undervalue the right of a woman to say no. In turn, the taboo of violence against women is not only weakened but questioned.
When the inevitable public backlash arises against such advertisements, how does business respond? More often than not, they dine out on the free publicity generated until the tide begins to turn against them.
In our study, we analysed the public statements offered by advertising agencies and their clients when they were asked to justify violent advertising representations.
Essentially, businesses either attempt to subvert interpretations of the representations by positioning the violence as “art,” make authority claims to discredit those who speak out against the advertisement, or deny responsibility for the “unintended consequences”. They use public relations spin, such as insincere apologies or donations to women’s charities. In some cases they choose to remain completely silent on the issue. In other words, business either diverts the focus to those offended by the advertisement or seeks to minimise its role in the outcry.
Since the advertising industry is self-regulated, action is either too little or too late. Compounding this is the industry’s long and chequered history in fostering a culture of sexual objectification of girls and women.
Advertisers need to catch up with contemporary attitudes that there is no place for misogyny, sexism and violence against women in advertising, as the recent case of Wicked Campers demonstrates.
The repeated and widespread use of violent representations of women in advertising can dangerously perturb how we understand women and their right to be portrayed in manner that respects their safety. It counters the broader efforts of legislation, the media and social marketing campaigns to combat violence against women.
If advertisers are to profit and benefit from their role as cultural intermediaries, they must shoulder their responsibilities as well.
One agency has taken a stand on the issue of objectifying women in advertising. However, with little other change on the horizon, public policy efforts and continued consumer activism are needed to bring greater accountability for ethical representations in advertising practice to the fore.
Support our campaign up update ad code of ethics to include objectification and sexualisation
A code of ethics that ignores sexism is a roadblock to equality
In Australia we have a self regulatory advertising system. This system is in place to (supposedly) ensure that “advertisements and other forms of marketing communications are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and a sense of fairness and responsibility to competitors.”
As part of this system a ‘code of ethics’ was drawn up. Each time a complaint is made the Advertising Standards Board goes back to this code to see if the ad is in breach of one or more of the codes. But how effective can the code of ethics be when it completely ignores sexism?
The research is quite clear that sexually objectifying portrayals of women are harmful.
The Advertising Standards Board are giving the green light to harmful advertising because the code of ethics that was originally put together is missing sexism and objectification.
Sign the petition today to call on the Advertising Standards Bureau and the Australian Association of National Advertisers to revise the code and stop allowing harmful content.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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