Fluency in the language of violence: The toxic masculinity of the Isla Vista Campus massacre

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I have spent the last few days shedding tears and ringing my hands over the Isla Vista Campus Killings. I am horrified and angry, but I am not surprised by it. One of my earliest memories is of a man touching me without my permission because he thought he had ownership over my body; he thought I owed him something. I was only 3. Sadly there has been more occasions in my life when I was not quick enough to avoid the hands and fingers of men.

Elliot Rodger, the 22 year old male responsible for the Isla Vista Massacre at a Californian college campus, believed that women owed him something too. He believed women owed him sex and love, and when Elliot Rodger did not get what he wanted he killed 6 people: he stabbed his three flatmates before moving on to a shooting rampage in which he killed two women and one other man. Rodger reserved special hate for two groups: the women he says denied him sex and kept him a virgin, and the men they picked over him.

There is a trail of evidence left by Rodger that paints a picture of a truly disturbed young man struggling to fit into the narrow confines of western masculinity. Before Rodger committed his massacre he published online his 140 page manifesto which begins like a memoir. This quickly dissolves into a misogynistic diatribe and ends with a final solution he called, The Day of Retribution. Rodger declared he was going to purify the world and believed women should be herded up and imprisoned in concentration camps, to be ‘eventually starved to death’. In his Manifesto he also stated ‘Women are like a plague that need to be quarantined’. Rodger’s final solution was the obliteration and erasure of women everywhere.

The Youtube video Rodger uploaded hours before he went on his rampage is titled Retribution. In it he claimed he was going to prove himself the ultimate “alpha male” and take revenge on all the “blonde sluts” and “popular kids” who had socially or sexually rejected him:

“Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge . . . you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one, the true alpha male.”

Elliot Rodger’s murderous thoughts and actions didn’t happen in a vacuum. As my friend John pointed out to me, “Massacres like the Isla Vista killing happen because the social and cultural environment around those men give them permission to hate.”  Although mass shootings like these are rare, the rape and beating of women happens every day. As Eve Ensler’s human rights organisation V-Day has reported; 1 billion women have survived violence globally. The views and ideology that Rodger held in relation to women are widespread; Rodger just took his deep hate of women to an extreme and violent conclusion.

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The misogyny that is prevalent within Rodger’s manifesto, his alignment with the Man’s Rights Movement, and the Youtube videos he posted leading up to his attack, can tell us much more about why Rodger massacred 6 people than any arguments over gun control or mental health ever will. These two factors are, simply, not enough.

Boys are taught to dehumanise and devalue women from a young age. One of the biggest insults a boy or a man can receive is to be told that he is a girl. We shame men when they behave in a way that is perceived to be feminine. When boys or men cry, or show emotion, they are often called “girly”, “pussies” or “fags”; all words using femininity as an insult with the underlying belief that being feminine is bad.  These are words that are meant to injure and humiliate. They teach men and boys that the last thing you ever want to be is a girl. Boys are taught that being female is lesser than being male. Tony Porter,  the founder of A Call to Men said in his Ted talk,

 ‘Growing up as boys we were taught men had to be tough, we had to be strong, we had to be courageous, dominating. No pain; no emotions with the exception of anger and definitely no fear. That men are in charge, which means women are not, that men lead and you should just follow and do what we say. That men are superior, women are inferior. That men are strong, women are weak. Women are of less value; property of men and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know this is the collective socialisation of men.’

The hegemonic masculinity Porter speaks of is a reflection of a society in which a toxic masculinity is deeply engrained, and where misogyny like Rodger’s is normalised, a society that encourages social and binary gender-types and stereotypes, in which men are taught to dominate other males and subordinate women.  Rodger constantly referred to women as “animals” of lesser intelligence than himself, throughout his manifesto. He did not see women as human; he viewed them as a disease that needed to be eradicated.

Many boys are being raised to believe they are entitled to a woman’s body. Women’s bodies are treated as a form of sexual currency on which men can calculate part of their worth by a large majority of men. Rodger felt worthless because women denied him this currency, so they had to pay. In his manifesto, Rodger often talked of ‘punishing women’ for denying him sex and the love he felt he deserved and was entitled to.

An individual owes no other individual anything based on the sex they happened to be born as. No women owes any man anything. What is owed to women and all people is a safe world to live in, one where you don’t get murdered or raped because of the sex you were born as or become.

Since the massacre, men and women took to twitter and it has exploded with the powerful hashtag #YesAllWomen. It paints a grim but powerful picture of the everyday sexism and violence women face. Many of the tweets spoke to the misogyny women are confronted with daily, but which is often invisible to many men.

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The hashtag has now got its own twitter profile, and in under two days has over 10,000 followers. There is something going on in our society and it goes far beyond Elliot Rodger massacring 6 people.

The world rightly claims horror and shock at the actions of Elliot Rodger, however if the #YesAllWomen hashtag is anything to go by then it becomes evident that his ideology and misogynistic views are widespread.  A powerful example is the epidemic rape crisis on college campuses; the college town of Missoula, Montana, recorded at least 80 reported rapes over three years as Time Magazine  recently reported.  Colleges and Universities have become a place where young women are being systematically targeted by men in “horrible and violent attacks”. Campus rape does not end in the mass killing of people, but it is mass violence against women – perpetuated by a sense of ownership over women’s bodies, and often a deep hatred of women. As Isha Aran reported for Jezebel,

“…his rhetoric and general view of entitlement to women is engendered by the same anti-women notions that houses the men’s rights movement. We are told not to give attention to the ideology of a deranged killer, but what are we supposed to do when that ideology is as widespread as misogyny?”

The method in which Rodger carried out his violence may be an anomaly, but he is not an aberration.  As Elizabeth Plank argued on Policymic, most school shooters are white men, most victims of school shootings are women, many school shooters target females that have rejected them in the past, and most school shooters exhibit a large sense of entitlement. If news sites such as Fox and other corporate media are the only sources of news you read, you would come to the conclusion that most school shooters are ‘lone madmen’ with “serious mental health issues’ – ignoring the historical pattern which Plank points to in her article. Plank concludes school shootings are often hate crimes against women.

The everyday sexism Rodger has left as part of his digital legacy on social forums and in his Manifesto, speaks also to a much wider culture of normalised hate speech against women. Jeff Perera – who works for White Ribbon, said when interviewed in relation to the massacre; “Most men do not go to the extreme of violence, but it is important to take a look at some young men who are fluent in the language of violence, where this is the way they resolve conflict… we deny young men emotional literacy.”

We raise boys to comply with a system that works against them. Toxic masculinity teaches boys to deny and subjugate some of the most powerful emotions they have; vulnerability, compassion and empathy. Men are taught not to have emotions – with the exception of anger, but I believe that compassion and vulnerability are our greatest strengths; they are our connection to other people. All people, not just men, are taught to distrust our emotions, when emotions have inherit logic and can as Eve Ensler  said, “lead to radical saving action”. The most defiant act we can perform in a world that tells us to disconnect our hearts from our heads, is to stay connected.

This impact is clear in Rodger, who often wrote about feeling isolated, lonely, frustrated and disconnected from the world.  Tony Porter went on to say;

“Stay stoic and quiet, it is part of the unspoken male code: ‘toughen up son’, ‘suck it up’, ‘Man up’ – this is how we learn to process emotion. This is the cause of our emotional illiteracy. No wonder so many men bury their wounds and insecurities in alcohol, drugs and violence.”

There is a code for men and it promises if you acquire certain things – wealth, a six pack, a nice car, expensive clothes – you will obtain women, and status. This code failed for Rodger and in turn he felt the world had failed him. He didn’t get the girl, despite the fact he came from wealth, drove a BMW,  spoke of wearing Armani suits and considered himself “the perfect gentlemen”. Rodger was a white male from a background of privilege and he was promised the world, but as he perceived it, the world had turned on him. As Jeff Perera asserts in his interview “the quickest way to ascend this [failure] is to use violence.” Perera had previously posted on his facebook;

“Young men are sold an idea that the ‘World Is Yours’, and use women as the rungs to climb that ladder towards being ‘The Man’. When some realize they are not allowed to the highest level of the ladder (an elite level of privilege), their rage is placed towards women.”

Sexism and misogyny is not an individual choice. In reality misogyny and gendered violence is largely structural, cultural and systematic. It’s an arrangement of power. A curious thing happened when women started speaking out about the massacre: men, not all, but enough, pulled out the old “not all men…” and “men were killed too” chestnuts. Saying men died in this tragedy does not magically prove it was not a misogynistic act; it means misogyny hurts men too.  The cries of defense are just a way of refusing to acknowledge that the violence is structural, cultural and systematic. It is just a way of denying that a problem exists. A denial that sadly serves the purposes of the brutal system perfectly.

I know there are good men everywhere, and we need more of these good men to take responsibility for the global issue of violence against women. We desperately need more men to join women’s voices in the fight to end violence, not drown them out. It can be as simple as calling bullshit on the dude telling a sexist joke at work that belittles or demeans women. It can start with not accepting sexual harassment of women; a women should be able to walk down the street without being whistled or yelled at.  It can begin with refusing to adhere to the suffocating construct of toxic western masculinity.

These hegemonic systems of patriarchy that normalise violence and oppression need to be disrupted.  What we are seeing is a resurgence of the assumption that somehow patriarchy is positive and empowering for boys – they are being sold an epic lie.  As Bell Hooks said, “

Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love. Patriarchy will not heal them. If that were so they would all be well.”

 

27 COMMENTS

  1. I’m going to have to differ on this one. Rodger was a misogynist, but as Hadley Freeman pointed out in the Guardian, this doesn’t prevent him from also being barking mad. He seems to me to be like a male version of Valerie Solanas more than anything else. His manifesto reads a lot like hers (although hers is vastly more entertaining).

    The Men’s Rights movement is a problematic phenomenon. Any legitimate complaints that men might have about things like treatment in custody cases have been smothered by the extreme misogyny that characterises the movement. But with Rodger it just faces the same problemd that all radical movements face, and these are that mentally unstable people find that such movements legitimize their mental illnesses and that it is hard for such movements to exclude such people, because any attempt to do so is seen as “repressing legitimate complaints”.

    The feminist movement has had exactly the same problem. Solanas is quite like Rodger in many respects (although her mistreatment at the hands of men was far worse than anything that women did to Rodger). The other feminist who comes to mind is Shulamith Firestone, and the latter parts of Rodger’s manifesto sound eerily like Firestone’s recipe for ending gender inequality by cybernetic control of reproduction (the main difference is that Firestone wanted everyone to be humping everyone else in every imaginable fashion, whereas Rodger wanted to enforce celibacy). Of course, Firestone herself suffered terribly from mental illness later in life, and it’s hard to read her book now without seeing it as an early expression of her illness (which is not to say that it is a bad book, or that it doesn’t contain many insightful remarks).

    I honestly don’t think that this is a political crime. Political crimes look like the Baader Meinhof gang or Al Qaeda. This guy, like Marc Lepine, hooked into a movement that he saw as legitimising his mental condition.

    • yeah you are right this is not a political crime it is a hate crime against women and an act of terrorism:

      http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/26/santa-barbara-shootings-show-that-hating-women-is-an-ideology-and-killing-people-for-ideological-reasons-is-terrorism.html

      Sure we can talk about mental health issues and we can discuss that clearly this dude was nuts and his world view was seriously twisted, but to reduce the conversation around the massacre to “a lone madmen” means this dude was acting in some kind of magical vacuum… pretty sure he wasn’t my article points this out.

      • My point is that almost any ideology which “otherises” those outside the true believers and asserts that only the beliefs of the victims of the “others” possess authenticity as opposed to the false consciousness of the oppressor is going to have a hard time keeping the mentally ill from appropriating the ideology as a justification for their mental illness.

        This has happened over and over again, whether it be Maoism, Mormonism, Feminism or the Men’s Rights Movement.

        That’s not to say that all ideological violence is the result of mental illness. Neither Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, nor Gudrun Ensslin were mentally ill. They all made the leap from talking about violence to committing violent acts for political reasons in a way that Tame Iti and his friends did not (which is why the Ruatoki raids were so absurd).

        On the other hand, Valerie Solanas and Marc Lepine appear to have been mentally ill. Note that Al Qaeda, the Baader Meinhof Gang, and the militia were organised movements in which the perpetrators of the violence received actual, material aid from others in the organisation to help them carry out the violent acts. That’s in stark contrast to people like Rodger, who acted alone. My guess is that if he’d asked others on the MRA boards for help in carrying out his plan, they would have dismissed him as a loony or reported him to the police.

        Who does Rodger look more like: Seung-Hui Cho or Tim McVeigh?

        • Elliot Rodger may have been mentally ill, but he in no way appropriated the ideology of feminism. He derided it, hated it, and dismissed it. He did not appropriate it.

          He may very well have been mentally ill. But the hatred he expresses towards women? Common.

          You’ve missed the analysis of power differentials in Chloes piece Tom. Its important.

          • I think you misunderstand me.

            I think that misogyny is a problem. I think that everyday sexism is a problem. All of these things can be remedied by changing social attitudes, and have been to a great extent during my lifetime.

            That’s compatible with believing that certain kinds of criminal behaviour in which women are the victims are not really motivated by general social attitudes, and consequently thinking that traditional gender politics will do very little to reduce the instances of such crimes, and might possibly make them more common.

            • and it ignores completely the fact that the reasoning displayed by Elliot Rodger in his ramblings is entirely consistent with common attitudes to women, men and sex in our society

              Elliot Rodger was not created in a vacuum

              he had an entitled attitude to women, he believed he was entitled to access to their bodies for his sexual pleasure, and when he didn’t get what he wanted he killed

              many men display this entitled attitude, and when they don’t get what they want they sometimes use violence against women

              read sites like “everyday sexism” to get an idea of HOW COMMON violence against women is. we live with it almost every day dude, and from the smallest incident of being shouted at to the biggest incidents of being physically abused it all adds up over time.

              Elliot Rodger is at the extreme end of the continuum

              what’s so hard to understand about that?

              why can you not see the problem with your line of “but he’s clearly a nutter, and so this has exactly nothing to do with negative attitudes to women and everything to do with his craziness”? If we take that line then we ignore the reasons for his killing he clearly wrote for us, and then we miss a chance to DO something about violence against women

              and finally, this may make you uncomfortable, but I suggest your argument hurts the movement from women to confront and change violence against us, and if you were a woman who had experienced violence and especially sexual violence you would be much less likely to make your argument as you do

              • many men display this entitled attitude, and when they don’t get what they want they sometimes use violence against women.

                True enough, but Rodger’s case isn’t really like those cases in anything but a superficial way. Those people are just assholes; Rodger was mentally ill and had been in therapy for years.

                There are plenty of hate crimes where the perpetrators were not mentally ill. The rape and murder of Brandon Teena is the most obvious one I can think of. I get that lots of people want Elliot Rodger’s case to be just like that one because it suits their political purposes, but it’s not, and facts matter.

                Read his manifesto. He wanted to be the divine dictator of humanity and abolish all sexuality outside of reproduction. Sound sane to you?

                why can you not see the problem with your line of “but he’s clearly a nutter, and so this has exactly nothing to do with negative attitudes to women and everything to do with his craziness”? If we take that line then we ignore the reasons for his killing he clearly wrote for us, and then we miss a chance to DO something about violence against women

                So religious lunatics who go on a rampage should force us to suppress religion then?

                Rodger’s embracing negative attitudes towards women were caused by his mental illness. Seung-hui Cho’s negative attitudes towards everyone were the same. Jared Lee Loughner hated the government, but it was a stretch to blame his shooting of Gabby Giffords on the Tea Party. He shot Giffords, because he was mentally ill. Wackos tend to grasp worldviews that make sense of their own feelings of exclusion – that’s not new.

                No matter how you swing it, this crime just isn’t what you want it to be. There are plenty of other crimes that fit the bill. People who shoot at abortion doctors are one, the murderers of Brandon Teena another, and any number of lynch mobs as well. All such crimes are motivated by bigoted ideology and are usually committed by sane people who do so purely for ideological reasons. In that respect, they’re no different from the Baader Meinhof Gang shooting at bank managers.

                That’s a whole lot different than a paranoid lunatic shooting up his town because he’s externalised his paranoid, narcissistic delusions onto the world’s women, or Muslims, or blacks, etc.

                and finally, this may make you uncomfortable, but I suggest your argument hurts the movement from women to confront and change violence against us,

                No, what hurts it is feminism being treated as if it were a form of religious belief, in which every single event has to be interpreted so as to fit in with a pre-existing ideology (which is a tedious, warmed over version of 1970s sociology).

                If you want to turn people off of feminism, the best way to do it is to make outrageous claims with little regard for the actual facts of the case.

          • @TOM, also I would like to point out that feminism has killed far fucking fewer people than misogyny has and ever will, WEAK ASS comparison yo.

            @lara thanks for your kind words it seems this topic, in NZ has made little traction in relation to exposing the fact misogyny kills. The media has done a piss poor job on reporting on it.

            • thanks for writing this Chloe

              I know how hard it is to publicly say things about violence towards women, it often ends up with the writer being derided by a bunch of dudebros.

              misogyny kills women in NZ every year, and most women in NZ have been on the receiving end of at least some small kind of violence towards us. from the smallest incident of being shouted at in the street (which can be very frightening, especially if you are alone and the shouters are a group of men) to the biggest incidents of rape, murder and abuse.

              if we don’t keep on about the causes of this violence then it will never end.

              and we need all the good men, who are the majority of men, to stand up with us and not accept women being treated as sexual playthings to be shouted at, groped, and abused.

              I will not hold my breath waiting for MSM to see violence towards women as a cultural issue. they treat each incident as isolated.

      • Chloe, labeling a mentally ill as “nuts” is not helping mentally ill to find understanding and treatment, it is “labeling” and stigmatising, I am afraid.

        What about he was out of mental order and behaved “nuts”, instead of writing a person off as “nuts”?

        I have learned a lot about mental health and disability, and I am always furious, when people that do not suffer such challenges simply use language, that stereotype, label or basically write people off.

        Even the worst cases deserve some fair treatment, as when or if they act “insane”, there is usually a good enough cause for it.

        • yeah thanks for that my mum has worked in mental health for over 10 years my twin has bi-polar and my partner has clinical depression. Sorry for using ableist language. But sure lets keep diverting from the topic of misogyny.

  2. oh and p.s as his family members have reported to the media that he had Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is not a mental illness – it is a neurological condition, and it does not predispose people to violence. Correlating Asperger’s with violence is wrong and uninformed and you are doing more harm than good by saying that.

    • It’s pretty obvious his problems went well beyond Asperger’s. I read the manifesto: he’s a full on nutter.

    • It’s not a formal diagnosis, the family just think he might of had it. I’ve noticed it’s become the psychiatric condition to pull out in these mass shootings, it’s a distraction IMO to look away from the real issues shame on the media for doing it. Another common thread is that he was on medication most these mass killers are usually on or had come off psychotropic drugs usually an SSRI anti-depressant. Mixed in with a toxic ideology produces stuff like this

      • The NZ media coverage of this case has been dismal to the point of embarrassing, so little talk of the extreme misogyny that clearly fueled his shooting, of course there are other factors: mental health, gun control but these two things are not enough, alone. In America this massacre has publicly opened up the conversation of everyday misogyny in society and the ingrained hatred of women some men hold. And in nz? the same old fucking bullshit in relation to events like these “lone madmen massacres people”, reductive news titles that barely scrap the surface.

        • Mainstream media in the US was no better it’s where the NZ media were getting their sound bites from even RT were doing it. Alternative media like this blog on the other hand are paying more attention to the wider context.

  3. Great piece. One thing though… Elliot was Malaysian/American (or British). He was extremely racist and I got the feeling from his writings that he felt his Asian side gave him his short stature and that he resented it and therefore all non white or half white men who had ‘blonde, beautiful, white women’ over him.

    • I read his Manifesto and i am aware that he was euro/asian but this does not stop him from being perceived as white as many social commentators pointed out. He still benefits from male privilege, regardless of race.

      • I have met “victims” claiming “female privilege”, as they claimed they suffered, at times irrationally.

        So perhaps this is not just a “male” problem?

  4. There is always a danger in using an exceptional example to make a generalisation and in this respect I think you have erred slightly. I don’t reject most of the points you make, but this man’s behavioural example is extreme, not typical, and therefore a tenuous connection to “the norm.”

    One male with misogynist tendencies can touch the lives of scores of women. A billion effected women does not equate to a billion misogynists. My own experience in being raised, and in turn raising three sons is one whereby such attitudes are entirely foreign. I have never taught them “not to rape women” because it is simply unnecessary. Do they have misogynist views? Absolutely not – as the women in our lives will strongly testify. As with attitudes that glorify violence or dishonesty, they are viewed as wrong and immoral, despite being a feature of the real world.

    The danger I mentioned in generalising to establish societal problems as gender based, is in the alienation of the wrong group. Citing that there are “good men out there” makes them seem irrelevant “old chestnuts” used simply to defend the indefensible. “Men” may be the problem when generalising, but “men” are undoubtedly the key to the solution as well. Alienation is counter productive.

    As an aside … I’m a little surprised by these discussions that the societal conditioning responsible is seldom identified specifically. On that score, the burgeoning pornography industry is a key player, with it’s grossly misogynist depictions, and the ease of access for young males.

    • I pointed out his violence was an extreme conclusion, what is not extreme but in fact commonplace is the everyday language people use to talk about and describe women – Rodger’s misogynistic views of women are wide spread. Some men may not want to admit to it or face it, but this does not men it does not happen. Start reading the #YesAllWomen tweets to understand how wide spread extreme misogyny is. Sure not all men are misogynists, but all women have been harmed by misogyny.

      The coverage of this massacre has been so pathetic in NZ, whereas in America it has cracked open the massive and important conversation of everyday sexism that impacts women. In NZ we can barely bring ourselves to admit to sexism with cries from men of “not me”.

      • Then should you not be grateful I joined the conversation? Obviously you would prefer I remain a silent old chestnut. Alienation is also a choice. And when men are forced to feel part of “the problem” for simply declaring their distance from, as well as their distaste for misogyny, it is not they who have disappeared over the horizon. I declared my recognition of the problem and agreed with all but one aspect of how the problem could be addressed and am immediately placed in the “problem camp” and voted down. My wife, albeit a victim herself finds that more distasteful than I do. It lacks balance. Such are the fruits of alienation.

        • err never said you are the problem yo, but if you don’t take responsibility then nothing changes. Women have been taking responsibility for the violence of men for decades ya know what with allllll those anti-violence organisations they started.

  5. Want to help eliminate misogyny. Regulate the porn industry. This is the daily diet and progamming of hundreds of millions of young men around the world – and I was one of them.
    I’m no prude, but I’d have to say that the easy access to images devoid of love and emotion, where violence is normalised and every female orifice a place to exert male dominance has had a massive impact on the collective male psyche.
    Luckily in my early 20’s I stopped watching because I had an innate sense that what I was watching wasn’t entirely ‘right’. However, stopping for many males may be quite hard as it’s an addiction.
    Since abstaining I found that my ability to fantasise returned, and everyday that I see my partner I am excited to see her, be with her and treasure her without the stimulus of exploitative imagery.

  6. Dear author, you quote:
    “One of my earliest memories is of a man touching me without my permission because he thought he had ownership over my body; he thought I owed him something. I was only 3. Sadly there has been more occasions in my life when I was not quick enough to avoid the hands and fingers of men.”

    Well, you have had your bad experiences and deserve respect for raising concerns, I must say.

    But is this shooting incidence not a case, not one where the young shooter went around harassing and raping, but simply felt he was not liked by the other gender?

    I think you are turning this into something that is a bit too far from what you wish to stereotype, which sadly does not serve the cause of raising concerns about rape, abuse and so.

    This guy had serious mental issues, and that is more of the cause of what happened, combined with the too easy access to guns in the US! He appears to simply have tried to “connect” and flirt and whatever with the opposite sex, just as most young males and females do. He did for some reason not succeed much, which appears to have devastated him.

    That is a far stretch from being a sex maniac and rapist, I must say.

    Of course it does not justify anything the young guy did, and it is shocking what happened. In the end he sacrificed his own life anyway, seeing little sense in life.

    Taking abuse and gender issues to such levels, to exploit this sad event for political or other motives, that is not what I can support.

    Sorry, perhaps take another event to write a story like this next time.

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