Archives for posts with tag: society

This election, we have the chance to do something really exciting. We get to vote in an MMP Government.

I know, I know, we’ve had MMP in name since 1996, after not one, but two referenda on the issue. In spite of this, in practise, we’ve pretty much had a mostly-two-party system in the intervening nearly twenty years since then, with alternate National- or Labour-majority coalitions having the controlling voices in parliament.

Wow, twenty years is a long time. I was in Primary School when my parents’ generation campaigned to change our electoral system. I’ve been voting for a decade, and we still haven’t had a really equal coalition government.

But I am grateful to those of my parents’ generation who fought so hard to get us MMP, because it is a great system. We just need to trust in it and really utilise it.

First, I want to point out that National and the hard-right have always disliked MMP and have campaigned heavily in favour of FPP on and off the whole time we’ve had it (and before), through both fair means and foul. Notably, a recent failed campaign, Vote for Change in 2011, detailed in Dirty Politics (chapter: El Rushbo of Aotearoa).

So it should come as no surprise that one of National’s classic electioneering tactics (“You don’t know what government you get with MMP, but you do when you vote for National”) is being used again this election cycle, and discussed in the media with some frequency.

Paula Bennett is very much on message in this debate between her and Jacinda Ardern, where she tells Jacinda that Labour policies are unaffordable when combined with the Green Party’s. Jacinda, with a long history of standing up to PB, rightly points out that they are not part of the Green Party.

Likewise, Metiria Turei and Russel Norman are fielding lots of questions about their policies combined with Labour’s, which they have answered by saying that is a question for post-election discussions. Of course, the larger the slice of vote they get, the more they can push for, and it feels like the Green party is gathering momentum in a big way: they’re experienced, credible, and they have strong policy and a strong support base built up over years in parliament watching and learning.

(A quick note on Winston “King-maker” Peters, New Zealand First and the most recent polling. It is possible that he will end up having a deciding voice in the conclusion of post-election coalition discussions. But let’s remember that while almost every poll in the last election overestimated National’s support by around 5%, and Teflon John seems to be on a downward trajectory, the polling has been all over the place in the last few weeks and will continue to be. It is folly to assume that the kind of results we’re seeing now will hold, or as Russel Norman so very sensibly and truthfully says: “it’s dynamic at the moment”. Honestly, Patrick Gower, don’t you know about counting your polls before the election’s hatched?)

And Internet-Mana, those young upstarts (with Hone Harawera and Laila Harré respectively at the helms, and Dotcom providing the funds) have somehow turned into the rockstars of the election campaign if you listen to people who’ve attended their events. Not that you’d know that if you watched the news, because, you know, the party’s supposedly in chaos. But to my mind, what they’re achieving is pretty amazing — a lot of Internet-Mana supporters are young people whose voice was so conspicuously absent in the last election. If they’re attracted to vote in this election by the enthusiasm of the Internet-Mana message that politics is for everyone to participate in, then we all win. (“Only 5.2 percent of people aged 65 years or over did not vote in the 2011 General Election, compared with 42 percent of people aged 18–24 years” Statistics NZ.)

Chaos, obviously:

chaos

This election is more exciting than we’ve had in years.

It’s not just Internet-Mana and their new take on election billboards.

It’s not just Dirty Politics revealed.

It’s not because we have some minor parties in the pool who are strong, united and credible.

It’s not just because the Smiling Assassin is losing his grip on our fellow countrymen’s hearts and minds and being hounded by media and pressured like never before. (And don’t get me wrong, I love that people are finally seeing a little of the Key I’ve long suspected lurks in the background.)

It’s because we finally have a shot at the government we decided on twenty years ago but have never quite had. We finally have a credible group of political parties, who need each other and have to negotiate like never before. It might be a little slower to make decisions and pass law, but haven’t you heard? Slow and steady wins the race.

Because I want our politicians to have to talk things out and discuss them. I don’t want questionable laws passed under expediency. I don’t want our executive to override parliament. I definitely don’t want laws passed that are in conflict with the rule of law itself. And I don’t want a party in power that doesn’t know how to compromise.

It’s really important that there be active, thorough and rigorous debate around law and policy. A true coalition government could provide that.

A truly multi-party coalition, with a more even balance of power, can work to hold our elected officials to account — to hold each other to account.

And it’s not just debate and argument. For the first time, I think we’ve got a group of parties who actually might have more similarities than differences in their policy issues. They’re on the same page about a lot, never mind that it might be different sentences on that page. This is a good place to start in a negotiation.

Poverty, inequality, the environment, the economy, health and education are all on the table. And those are the key ingredients that make up the essence of the society we live in. Those are good things to discuss!

And that conversation will be an interesting one, not only because each party will need each other, but because they’ve all had a taste of the years of being in opposition together, and they’ve had to figure out how to work with each other with a controlling government who’d rather bully, belittle and avoid than be held to any kind of account or take any responsibility for issues raised. (Seriously, you should watch question time in parliament, if everybody did, I doubt the right honorable John Key would have ever had the nice guy reputation he held until recently; New Zealanders are not fans of arrogance at all.)

Bryan Bruce:
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rowing

In National’s latest ad campaign, John Key and the National Party are doing what they’ve always done — using our electoral system to take a jab at the opposition parties. (The boat with the red, green and purple people in life jackets rowing in opposite directions. Yeah, we get it, National, it represents the opposition parties. Haw haw!)

But it goes further than that: it’s a jab at the MMP system that gives more people a voice and enables a diversity of participation that we fought for and we should actually embrace. More people get a chance for their voice to be heard! We get to explore the next phase in our democratic system! That’s awesome! It’s exciting! It’s not a problem; it’s the solution to one.

When National makes fun of MMP by proxy, they are not only making fun of the regular New Zealanders who worked hard in the past to bring us that system, but the inevitable and promising future of our chosen inclusive political system and utilising its best qualities: co-operation, compromise, communication and a shared vision of the future woven together from the many diverse points of view in New Zealand society.

No, it’s not always going to be easy, but maybe making new laws shouldn’t be as easy as it’s been under National for the last six years. I’m not sure how great some of those fast and easy laws are. Probably not that great if the “a body as authoritative and dispassionate as the Law Society feels forced to report to the United Nations that the Government in New Zealand is acting in conflict with the rule of law” (NZHerald).

So what sort of society do we want to be? Compromising and caring, working together to make something more than the sum of its parts?

Or a big group of bullies, who don’t listen, break the law, don’t care about half of us, try to trick us rather than woo us, and think they’re above the rule of law, while they race to the finish line leaving most of us struggling in their wake?

I know what I want.

A positive vote is a vote for any of the parties of the left right now, because they’re going to be part of building a co-operative future in politics, not one of bullying and standover tactics that leaves most of us struggling to keep up.

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I just finished reading Dirty Politics. What can you say?

Oh dear.

Regardless of the outcome of this situation, I personally feel somewhat relieved and grateful that Nicky Hagar has uncovered the answers to a few questions, even if while doing so he has shone a light on a lot more questions.

On p.119 of Dirty Politics Hagar writes:

Many ordinary people began to feel that something was not right, that a dirty kind of politics was at work.

He’s right.

My own growing concern over the oddly intimate relationship the Key National Government has had with much of New Zealand media was sparked several months ago. It is clear now that the driving force behind this was the manipulation by the Party via proxy attack-dogs Whale Oil and Kiwiblog, alongside other organisations. It also eventuates that their influence on the mainstream media was hotly contested in under-staffed newsrooms and based on a not insignificant amount of fear.

Dirty_Politics_Oh_dear

The media’s (then) strange complicity in selling the National message was clear even when covering Key’s blunders. In many instances, the framing of a story alone made it borderline propaganda. Other times, journalists failed to press the Prime Minister, and allowed him to repeat pre-written party-political broadcasts — failing to confront the issue that he doesn’t answer questions. (Although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions to that, which are somewhat illuminating if you are media-savvy.) Other times, the story is dropped altogether, worn-out by the Prime Minister’s tired repetitions.

Or instead — BANG! — a sudden scandal involving the left, seemingly out of no-where (not actually no-where though! From Slater&Collins&Farrar&Key): a misrepresented letter; an Official Information Act request of little relevance but ingenious timing; who visited Dotcom how many times when; whether someone has a copy of Mein Kampf … But never a story about anything that seems to matter, and never in any great depth — just more one-liners and tired, tired, oh-so-tired accusations of corruption that never quite add up to anything but providing ample ammunition for accusations of untrustworthiness for politicians and partisan political commentators alike. (And fun-time accusations that “the left doesn’t want to talk policy”, which the media reinforces by failing to report policy! )

And oh! the talking heads do talk, don’t they? Cameron Slater and David Farrar are one thing, but don’t forget Key’s other partners in the embarrassing politics-blogosphere-media three-way handshake! Our long-time friends, the World-Infamous-in-New-Zealand Paul Henry and our “impartial” upcoming moderator of the Leader’s debate, Mike Hosking — with his NewstalkZB radio show where he chums it up with the PM about anything but politics. (But the Left don’t want to talk politics!)

They talk a lot, don’t they? But do they ever say anything worth listening to? Do they ever listen to themselves talk? Do they listen to the answers to their questions or are they just waiting until it’s their turn to talk again?

Coverage of recent politics have made it hard to figure out what’s going on in New Zealand politics. There’s so much blame and accusation, you’re hardly to be blamed if you were put off.

Voter disengagement and political fatalism is exactly what they want:

‘There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.’ In short, many people simply stop participating in politics. If politicians cannot be trusted, if politics looks like a petty or ugly game and if no one seems to be talking about the things that matter, then what’s the point of bothering to participate? Just leave them to it. There are innovations in US Republican Party thinking on this point: election tactics do not have to be just about winning votes; they can be equally effective if groups of people in society just stop voting altogether. We should not assume that everyone thinks low voter turnout is a bad idea. (p.132, Dirty Politics)

Please don’t let them put you off. A healthy democracy is dependent upon participation from the people. That’s you. Our politicians need you. And not just every three years when an election’s on. All the time.

Politicians need you to question them.

Need you to critique them.

Need you to keep them honest.

Push them for the answers and don’t let them put you off with trivia or spin.

Make them talk about the things that matter. Like policy, which I’ll spend a little time on, because I’m not trying to avoid it.

All of the political parties are trying to get their message out right now, but you might not get at it yourself if you don’t do a little digging around. Check out political websites and social media. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how we communicated these things in the past, but in this pocket of time, the internet’s always going to be your best bet.

What’s their plan on child poverty? What do they plan to do about environmental issues? What about climate change? Do they even believe in climate change? What about public transport? Health? Education? Tax? What do they plan to do about NZ’s growing inequality? Welfare? Employment relations? International relations issues and agreements like the TPPA? Government transparency and accountability? Do they even mention some of these issues or brush them aside?

Think carefully about who you vote for in the upcoming election. This is our chance to evaluate our politicians, and for me at least, one section on John Key (Prime Minister)’s report card is headed “Ethics and conduct”.

You make your own evaluation of course. I’d recommend you take into account all the current available evidence, personally. I think you should know what kind of politics our government is engaged in.

The fallout from the book, and National and Key’s fates, are still undecided at present. This is worthy of note, because there are some in the media who are saying the decision is already made.

But unfortunately for National, I do not think these allegations are “dissolving”, “what ifs” or “a screaming left-wing conspiracy theory”. And I do not think people will be pleased with what they read in Dirty Politics.

And the decision about this is not made by talking heads in the media. It’s made by us.

The media will have some very different decisions to make.

 

If you follow the news at all lately, you’ve probably heard about Cunliffe’s apology for “being a man”. You might’ve heard that John Key thinks it’s silly. You might’ve seen Judith Collins referring to it in her ironically-wonderful twitter titbits.

You might not’ve heard the context though, and as we all know, context matters. David Cunliffe was addressing a women’s violence conference. He also affixed a qualifier to his statement — he said “I’m sorry for being a man right now” (emphasis mine) and then went on to explain his statement; “because family and sexual violence are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men”.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. This statement is borne out by statistics. We don’t need to discuss whether or not Cunliffe’s statement was “insulting” or not, John Key. It’s factually accurate. And that’s what the media should be focusing on.

But no. Instead of discussing the facts, we are discussing politician’s opinions in a media-manufactured gender war.

Let’s talk about how this apology has been received not just by its detractors, but also its supporters.

By and large, those who live in feminist/women’s rights/rape crisis circles have been supportive and positive. Women’s Refuge Chief Executive Heather Henare said it was “gutsy” (a statement I might not have agreed with had it not become clear just how negatively the media perceived the event).

But here’s the thing guys — the people who support his statements are actually just pleased the Leader of the Opposition considers these issues at all. Because it doesn’t really feel like our incumbent government cares about issues like domestic violence and rape. It’s not hard to see why.

It seems like the detractors of Cunliffe’s speech want to focus on the apology part of his statement more than the explanation bit (“family and sexual violence are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men”), which is the part that describes the world supporters of Cunliffe’s apology actually live in.

The part of Cunliffe’s speech that matters is that he understands himself as part of that world too.

And all this talk about whether or not Cunliffe’s comments were insulting is missing the point. The point we’re all ignoring when we’re forced to engage in this media-created, two-sides-to-the-coin, knee-jerk reaction “debate” about Cunliffe’s words. Here’s the facts, not the opinions: Family and sexual violence are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men.

If Labour ends up gaining votes over this issue, it won’t be because Cunliffe said “he’s sorry to be a man”, it will be, in part, because National are making it so easy to feel sorry if you’re a woman.

But it will mostly be because Cunliffe did something simple that these voters want; something our Prime Minister and our media seemingly cannot: he recognised that we have a problem and saw himself and his country in that context.

Let me explain a little more about this minimalism thing.

Essentially, my interest in minimalism was piqued due to my gradual and growing disillusionment with consumerism. Well, I’d had some issues for a while with a system that says more more more, but never enough. Because my experiences of having more didn’t mean better (in fact, the times when I’d had more tended to coincide far more frequently with the times that were worse. It’s a personal anecdote, but personally, it was all I had to go on. Since personal experience is how we make decisions and view the world, here I am.

My had believed for quite some time that consumerism’s promises of happiness, contended-ness and fulfillment were actually lies. And then I realised that I, like most people, given the opportunity and means, would spend and accumulate as much as the next person, even in spite of this knowledge. This led me to the conclusion that consumerism, as much as it is a way of life, is also, and perhaps even more strongly, a mindset. One that I held, even as I rejected it. Thanks, Society.

But it was only through having plenty that I was able to see how little I actually needed to be happy. The things I personally need to be happy? Not a lot, although obviously like everyone, I have basic needs like food, shelter (all the stuff that Maslow talked about) — and more importantly, I believe that the things we are told we do need (by advertising etc) are there to mask our inner insecurities about our own personal value. We live in an economy that measures our value as our buying power, and we’ve managed to layer some other abstractions on top of it; i.e. if I own this I will be beautiful, this will make people like me, that thing will get me respect. Is this really the world we live in? And maybe more importantly, is this the world we want to live in?

So, I started to realise that I wasn’t quite living my life in alignment with my own value systems, and if I wanted to live in the way that I believed more ideal, I would have to start living in a way that was perhaps sometimes at odds with the way society says we should live, or do things in a slightly different way that is predicated on a personal understanding of the things that actually make me happy, alongside reducing my waste and consumption. Stop buying so much goddam stuff, stop wasting things, start reconnecting with activities that give me joy.

It’s tricky — I’m surprised how often the suggested solution to a problem is to buy something, even when it doesn’t exactly make sense. Here’s an amusing example; I’ve started running about a month ago (not huge runs, just around 5km every second day, building to longer runs), something I was doing barefoot until recently, when my mum bought me some running shoes (yes, I know this is completely cheating, but I was also increasingly aware that running barefoot in summer is an entirely different beast to winter barefoot running, and winter is approaching, somewhere beyond this insane drought we’re in).

So anyway, I injured my ankle last week, because the ground was so hard in the Wairarapa due to the aforementioned drought (I’ve been visiting family). Not badly, I can still run (in fact, when I’m running is one of the few times it’s definitely not uncomfortable), but it’s a bit of a twinge that doesn’t quite seem to be going anywhere. Anyway, the advice of my brother-in-law as to how to deal with this? Buy new shoes. Yes, this was five days after I just got some. Not, go to a doctor, but buy new shoes. Weird. (In fact, if it keeps up, I will see a doctor. I live in hope it’ll go away — along with us getting some rain.)

Here are the things (aside from running shoes, which I sort of think was a necessary expense, what do you think?) that I foresee being problems in my whole ‘not-buying-things’ plan:

  • Yarn for knitting. Yes I’m a knitter. This is okay at present as I’m using up some old yarn I had. But when I run out of that I’m not sure what I’ll do. And knitting is about the act of creating as much as it is producing a garment, so I feel like it sits in a grey area.
  • Paint. I kind of wanted to get back into making some art, something I used to do a lot. I’d like to use paint, but I don’t have any. My plan is to start out sketching and drawing, and I do have oil pastels, and paper (and my ex-flatmate, an architect, left me some huge design poster-type-things she had that I plan to use the backs of), and then maybe I can get into this whole painting thing again. However, I’m not sure paint is something I can buy second hand. I’m not sure where things like this fit in to the minimalist’s world …

So there’s a few things to figure out still. I guess it’s partially about negotiating a different path. If the main reason I’m doing this is to I think about my actions more, then I suppose we can consider this a success?

There is a truth universally acknowledged: Facebook is as loathed by its users as loved by them; it is in equal parts a useful and revolutionary tool, capable of reaching out to people otherwise distant, as it is a medium of creating distance. Make no mistake – if logging on to this “social” network makes you feel lonely and alienated, in this feeling, you are (ironically) not alone.

In a world of false faces, masks of contentedness and deliberate illusions of success and happiness, Facebook is yet another implement in our toolbelt of social constructions of a life of triumph. Increasingly, in a spirit of social competitiveness equal to “quantity equals quality”, we are coming to measure ourselves by a little number that tells us not only how many “friends” we have, but the subtle inference that this little counter implies a social value. In this we are mistaken: cacophony is not community. And the number of “likes” a Facebook status receives is about as useful a measure of self-worth as the amount of money we make is an accurate measure of our success in life. Which is to say, very inaccurate indeed.

If Facebook is a means of connection, then it is not one that is concerned with the quality of that connection. This, in spite of the fact that quality of connection, or depth of connection, is the very thing that makes living in this world worthwhile. If artists (writers, painters, film-makers, musicians) are not trying to forge a deep connection with those who consume their art, then I misunderstand their purpose. Everything in our lives that is not about accumulating wealth or day-to-day getting by, (so then, anything that has real meaning), is about finding a sincere moment of common ground with another living soul. A moment to thrust away the artiface of society and convention and say in equal parts trust and fear: “This is me. This is who I am. I am you.”

This is a moment that Facebook, sadly, encourages us to discard. A moment that it does not know how to value. A moment so genuine, this technology of disingenuous, shallow connection throws away in a crowd-pleasing fury of “fucking loving” science, misusing the apostrophe, or sharing a particularly “clever” pun. Facebook values chatter over connection.

Claims have been made that enjoyment of the social network is simply a matter of knowing what to share or what not to share, as if that were the question. Whereas what is more important when it comes to true connection is who am I sharing with? This is the question that we do not always have an adequate answer to. Our inability to choose who to share what information with online is problematic to say the least. What Facebook lacks is nuance, and the flexibility to allow me to be a multi-faceted person who has different types of interactions with different types of people. And in a world where we are increasingly demanded to interact with a wide variety of people, who do not always share our experiences and ideologies, we have become adept at being a multitude of characters.

When in real life would I share some facet of my liberal belief system with a friend (or group of friends) I knew was resolutely (and combatively) conservative, if I did not wish to embark upon a lengthy discussion (or outright argument) of political beliefs? In practise, I would be far more likely to avoid a conversation of politics altogether with this person. Online (and on Facebook specifically), to do this would be remarkably time consuming and difficult, if not altogether impossible.

One could argue these are examples of topics best avoided online, as well as in real life. I disagree. I believe that online is an excellent and powerful forum for sharing ideas, information and beliefs. And I believe that Facebook’s lack of social controls over sharing are leading to people discussing less and less these vital topics and more and more to creating a persona of performance designed to be uncontroversially entertaining, and unthreateningly un-confrontational. A Facebook persona is not honest. It is a false projection of an idealised, charismatic, agreeable, attractive version of you. And more importantly it is flat and shallow, not allowing us more than one facet, one projection, of our self.

This is the funhouse version of your life: it’s shots of you at the beach with some friends, it’s the status update that tells people that you got a new job (but almost never that you lost one), it’s that profile pic where your hair looks just right and that pimple isn’t showing. Of course this isn’t your life – it’s a show reel, a best of, only the highlights (and never, never the lowlights). No one sees that you had a fight with your boyfriend last night, no one sees you struggling to pay the rent.

This is okay if it is not also now a huge part of the way our generation communicates regularly. But it is. This is okay if we do not conflate “friending” with friendship and you do not believe that those who have the most friends have the most important things to say; although we tend to. This is okay if we do not confuse numbers with value – a thing our society as a whole does rather indiscriminately. And this is okay if we understand that the photos and status updates we see are only a tiny percentage of the picture, and one that largely misrepresents the whole; something that unconsciously, many of us struggle to see.

And these confusions and fusions (combined with the terrible addiction of the instant gratification that is the internet) have served to make many users of this unsocial social network feel alienated, isolated, and envious of this funhouse mirror which we use as a representation of our lives online. This is not new information, I believe we all know these things. But like unhappy 1950’s housewives, most of us try to medicate ourselves against it, by creating rules for its use, or barriers to overuse, thinking unconsciously that the problem is us.

You are not the problem. The problem is a system that tells you and others that we are this collection of online performances, a program that does not allow you the real flexibility of truly social interaction, and a social mindset that informs a belief that growth and inflation can only be positive. This is a social network that is totally unworthy of the generation that has created it. It is this social network that helps us talk, but not communicate. It is a social network that values numbers but never quality. It is a social network that does not understand that people are more than meets the eye. It is this “social network” that is broken; not you.

After a conversation with a male friend of mine I felt compelled to say a few things on this topic. I know a lot of women are ashamed to say they’re feminists these days. I’m not – because I think that shame comes from a misunderstanding of what feminism is about, what it’s trying to achieve and how equal the societies we live in really are. I hope this doesn’t upset anyone unduly.

Feminism does not say women are, or should be, superior to men.

Man-bashing talk is not feminism. It is bigotry, or misandry, disguised as feminism.

Gender (social construct) and sex (biological reality) are two different things.

No one should be made to feel bad for having a sex drive. Or for not having one.

Feminism rejects the gender binary.

Feminism tells us that gender roles (or stereotypes) trap us all. A man should be allowed to cry if he wants, and stay home and look after the kids if he wants, just like a women should be allowed to get angry if she feels angry, and have a job as a CEO if she wants. Having said that, any man who wants to go chop down a tree, and any women who wants to stay at home and raise their family should be free to do this as well. The point is equality of opportunity, not superiority. Men, as much as women, are victims of the social gender roles that tell us because we have a certain bit of genitalia we should act a certain way.

Of course men can be feminists!

Second wave feminism was not about “chopping men’s bits off” (you’re thinking of The SCUM Manifesto, this is where it gets murky – but I’d argue only Valerie Solanas ever thought “eliminating the male sex” was a serious objective, and she was a statistical outlier). It was about women having the same rights of access to and opportunities in the workplace as men.

We all have privilege. Yes, there is such a thing as women’s privilege, just as there is such a thing as men’s privilege (and white privilege and all sorts of others). The point is being aware of it is so we can do our best not to take undue advantage of it. A lot of women aren’t really too fond of “women’s privilege”, since it tends to amount to something like “I am weak, therefore I should get first dibs”. This is patronising.

This is pretty much the same reason some women don’t like “chivalry” – they find the notion that they can’t do something for themselves a little patronising. This doesn’t make them crazy, just a little sensitive (and maybe for good reason).

Talking divisively never helped anyone. Avoid “us vs them” cliches if you want to talk constructively. I don’t think an “us vs them” attitude helps anyone.

I believe, not that we are exactly the same, but that there is more that unites us, than that which separates us.

I don’t think men’s rights should be ignored or are less important than women’s; men can be victims of abuse too (and in fact, if women often don’t report rapes etc, men almost never do, which means our statistics on these things are inaccurate).

Feminism is fluid; it does not tell you what to believe, it tells you to believe what you want about who you are and what your path should be, independent of gender roles.

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