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How do you feel about the statements/data presented in the following abstract? (my thoughts are behind the cut at the end of this entry)

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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
2009 Volume 96, Issue 6 (Jun)

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/96/6/
http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=search.displayRecord&uid=2009-07435-001

Interacting with sexist men triggers social identity threat among female engineers.
By Logel, Christine; Walton, Gregory M.; Spencer, Steven J.; Iserman, Emma C.; von Hippel, William; Bell, Amy E.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 96(6), Jun 2009, 1089-1103.

Abstract
[Correction Notice: An erratum for this article was reported in Vol 97(4) of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (see record 2009-16971-002). The affiliation for William von Hippel is incorrect. The affiliation should have been University of Queensland.] Social identity threat is the notion that one of a person’s many social identities may be at risk of being devalued in a particular context (C. M. Steele, S. J. Spencer, & J. Aronson, 2002). The authors suggest that in domains in which women are already negatively stereotyped, interacting with a sexist man can trigger social identity threat, undermining women’s performance. In Study 1, male engineering students who scored highly on a subtle measure of sexism behaved in a dominant and sexually interested way toward an ostensible female classmate. In Studies 2 and 3, female engineering students who interacted with such sexist men, or with confederates trained to behave in the same way, performed worse on an engineering test than did women who interacted with nonsexist men. Study 4 replicated this finding and showed that women’s underperformance did not extend to an English test, an area in which women are not negatively stereotyped. Study 5 showed that interacting with sexist men leads women to suppress concerns about gender stereotypes, an established mechanism of stereotype threat. Discussion addresses implications for social identity threat and for women’s performance in school and at work. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)
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Alrighty, I'm having some issues with a few of the sentences in the abstract above (ok, most of it...lol)

Bolding and underlining below is my emphasis.


"The authors suggest that in domains in which women are already negatively stereotyped, interacting with a sexist man can trigger social identity threat, undermining women’s performance." 

(So, women being treated a certain way *causes* them perform to a lower standard?  Really?  All of a sudden I forget stuff/become overly rattled because someone was a sexist jerk?  That might encourage me to perform BETTER!)



"In Studies 2 and 3, female engineering students who interacted with such sexist men, or with confederates trained to behave in the same way, performed worse on an engineering test than did women who interacted with nonsexist men."

(so, are these female students being yelled at prior to this test "you're stupid, dumb..and hey, you throw like a girl!"?)



"Study 4 replicated this finding and showed that women’s underperformance did not extend to an English test, an area in which women are not negatively stereotyped."

(um, is it just me, or is *THIS* sentence sorta reinforcing said "girls are not good at math/science" stereotype?????  They can't "hack" it when it gets "tough" [via environment]?)



This paper costs $$$ to access online, however, I *may* be able to get somewhat free access to the article in the next day or so. If I'm able to do so, I'll post it here, in a members-only entry. (and will be editing this sentence...)

Hopefully reading the whole thing will lessen my "WTF?!?" feelings about several of these studies.  All I have to say is that these studies better be *WELL* DESIGNED to result in these conclusions!!!

There are points in the abstract that I *do* agree with (women *are* negatively stereotyped in math & science, and women are less likely to speak up about gender stereotypes...*AT WORK*, that is), but I think impacting someone's *technical* performance through sexist behavior has to come into play *far* earlier than the college level, IMO.


And in the interest of giving props where they are due, I found out about this paper in a *highly* roundabout way through  hahathor and
jason0x21


Sound off below!

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
jason0x21
Oct. 3rd, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
"Study 4 replicated this finding and showed that
    women’s underperformance did not extend to an English test, an area in which women are not negatively stereotyped
."


(um, is it just me, or is *THIS* sentence sorta reinforcing said "girls are not good at math/science" stereotype????? They can't "hack" it when it gets "tough" [via environment]?)


Well, the sentence _is_ sort of doing that, but more accurately it should say: "Women appear to be less (or even not) affected by sexist behavior in areas where they are traditionally expected to do well." Meaning stereotyping of you affects you directly, and not just the way people treat you.

Which is sort of really damn creepy.
ms_geekette
Oct. 3rd, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
I guess my issue is that, from the limited info I can currently glean from the abstract, apparently female engineers can "spell" ok after being exposed to sexism, but not "add" ok in a similar circumstance?

So yeah, I certainly want to get my mitts on this paper and see how their tests were set up.
fauxklore
Oct. 3rd, 2009 12:47 pm (UTC)
I would not find it particularly surprising that being in an environment that undermines one's confidence would affect one's performance.

Some of us are perfectly capable of saying "ha! I'll show them" but plenty of people are not.

The two questions I have are:

1) what exactly was the behavior of the sexist men? It says they acted in "a dominant and sexually interested way towards an ostensible female classmate." That's pretty non-specific. (And what do they mean by "an ostensible female classmate"? Either the classmate was or wasn't female or the woman was or wasn't a classmate.)

2) What actions, if any, are being recommended as a result of this study? If it led to greater vigilance about harassment, that could be a good thing.
ms_geekette
Oct. 3rd, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
"I would not find it particularly surprising that being in an environment that undermines one's confidence would affect one's performance."


If the test subjects were exposed to sexist behavior over a prolonged period of time, THEN I could believe aspects this study, but the abstract sorta gives the impression that it was a "one-time event" sorta thing. Losing your confidence to the point of your work being affected negatively does not necessarily occur overnight. And a person can be led to feel inferior and it not be tied to gender...but does "feelings of inferiority" equal "decreased testing ability"?

I guess I don't totally buy the whole "FEELING 'stupid'" leading to "BEING 'stupid' in engineering subjects *ONLY*." ;-)


Hopefully I'll get my hands on this paper today or tomorrow and perhaps some of our questions will be answered...or at least clarified a bit!
mrs_dragon
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
I guess I don't totally buy the whole "FEELING 'stupid'" leading to "BEING 'stupid' in engineering subjects *ONLY*." ;-)

I suppose it depends on what they were made to feel stupid about. I could see being rattled on a test if I've very recently been given cause to feel like an idiot. (It's like those times you make a mistake and then feel so stupid that you botch trying to fix it.)

Eh, I'd have to see more to know how I feel about it.

As a general rule though you have to remember that the people who conduct these studies are not female engineers, so often they are using stereotypes to formulate their hypotheses and to interpret their results.
jessiehl
Oct. 5th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
As a general rule though you have to remember that the people who conduct these studies are not female engineers, so often they are using stereotypes to formulate their hypotheses and to interpret their results.

I have more complete thoughts below, but while you're right about this in general, I have to comment on it in this case. Your statement (and the OP's whole take on the thing, which I addressed below) seems to presume that there is something anti-feminist about this research or its implications, that the researchers are backing up their own sexist stereotypes about women. But the people who do stereotype threat research are usually feminist, anti-racist, etc, types themselves. That's why they get into this area of research. When my fiance worked in a lab that did this type of work, the PI that he worked under was a feminist, and the president of the university (someone who is, um, not a popular figure among feminists, or among women in sci/eng in general) was giving them and anyone doing similar work a hard time. Because the work has anti-sexist, anti-racist, etc, implications. It suggests, among other things, that at least part of the much-ballyhooed performance gap between men and women in math (or between whites and blacks in academics in general, or whatever) is caused by something fixable, something that can be reduced or eliminated as we come to understand it better through research, and not some special innate property of the groups at hand.
mrs_dragon
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
Er, I'm having trouble seeing what we disagree on. I never said this work was a bad thing or that the study was a bad thing. However, in my experience many people who are not females in engineering, who mean well often completely miss the boat on things. Often studies can reflect that, which is why I would need to see more to know how I felt about that.

A friend of mine (another female engineer) took a social sciences course that discussed women in the sciences and engineering and how they felt and what would make it better based on "research" and she found the whole thing to be utter baloney. Your mileage may vary.
tiamat_the_red
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
Actually, the reasearch was just about what was wrong with engineering. There was no "And this is how to make it better" which would have pissed me off much less. But mostly, they missed the point because it's far, far too late to help women get into and thrive in engineering by the time they get into college. And the studies I saw reached utter bullshit conlusions like grading on a curve = competitive = women doing poorly. Why, then, do women in other sciences that ALSO grade on curves do well? What about schools like UC Berkeley that are known for sabotage in all majors (I really, really wish I was joking here)?

As for this abstract, I could see being pissed off enough that I did less well than I might have. What do they suggest we do about it? That's the important thing.
jessiehl
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
But mostly, they missed the point because it's far, far too late to help women get into and thrive in engineering by the time they get into college.

But they aren't even speaking to that point. Of course, I think it's important to be addressing to these points before college, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't also be looking into the students, men and women, who are already there, and how to maximize their performance and retain them. Saying that they missed the point seems to me like saying that epidemiologists are missing the point because they aren't studying immunology - it's apples and oranges, and both are important.

What do they suggest we do about it? That's the important thing.

I don't know if this study goes into it or not, but there's existing literature on this topic that does go into it. For example, here (focus on African-American students), here (focus on women in math), and here (focus on African-American middle school students).
tiamat_the_red
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:26 am (UTC)
*whoops, this got a lot longer than anticipated, sorry*


Of course they aren't speaking to that point, but they should. The studies I saw in my class felt like the authors were studying and trying to understand an entirely new species by anthropomorphising it. Naturally, this is a pretty futile exercise so I think they should stick to trying to even things out in grade school and high school and leave becoming an engineer to the girls who now, one hopes, have the confidence to make it.

I suppose it's also that they fail utterly to see the point when they DO study engineers in college. There was a myriad of "things that make women feel alienated" that were things I loved like grading on a curve and cars in the examples. There was stuff like "The girl gets relegated to the secretary roll" except that she volunteered for it in their example, perhaps because she was well aware that those particular classmates suck at note-taking and getting shit done on time. And why do the researchers automatically assume that it's soley as notetaker that she has volunteered? Our notetaker ran the show, kept us on task and made sure we had and reached our milestones. She was our fearless leader. Why the automatic assumption that this girl was in the powerless position? And if she WAS in the powerless position, perhaps she isn't cut out for engineering anyway, which is cold and heartless of me I know but if you can't stand up to your classmates, you're screwed in the work world.

Or the whole "engineering is competitive and that's bad" thing. Of COURSE it's competitive. When you put a large number of very good students in a class together, it's going to be. I don't care if they're all men, all women or a mix of both. They were good students BECAUSE they were competitive, except for the very rare one who was just really awesomely smart. And competition doesn't mean backstabbing evil bitchiness. It means going "WOOHOOO!!! I got an A! Rock on!" and being happy that you did better than your classmates because you worked harder or were smarter, not because you sabotaged them better. I don't know anyone who doesn't get a rush out of that feeling, so I'm kind of failing to understand how "competition is a turn-off for women." The fact that they site grading on a curve as an example of the kind of competition that turns women off baffles me, since grading on a curve is common in science and math fields that don't have anywhere near the issues getting and retaining women. And, as one of my math professors said, why should there be such a wide spread for failing? Shouldn't there be just as wide a spread for succeeding? It also saves your bacon if your professor is horrible and no one learns a damn thing.

My personal favorite reason women feel alienated in engineering: all the examples use cars. Uh, duh? I'm assuming they mean in a mechanical engineering course because a chemE wouldn't much care about cars nor would they be doing any problems that might use them as examples so I'm failing to see the issue here. I'm a mechanical engineer. I like machines. Big ones, fast ones, complex ones, simple ones, I like them all, which is why I'm a mechanical engineer. Cars are machines I see every day and probably use nearly as often so using them in examples makes a lot of sense for dynamics, where you're talking about moving things and trying to give your students something they can relate to and combustion engines, etc. You don't have to waste any time trying to set the stage, your students already know what cars do, how they move and how they react to sudden changes in the applied forces. Dynamics in a moving frame of reference used cars too, which made a little sense, but the better example was rockets and satelites and who knows what the study authors would have thought of that. The only ME I know who doesn't like cars/engines is the one who wishes she'd skipped the ME and gone with straight materials science. I could see a more traditional woman who isn't an ME seeing cars as a turnoff, but that's why she's not an ME. It's not a turnoff to us. We LIKE machines. If we didn't, we wouldn't be mechanical engineers.
tiamat_the_red
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
I guess what I was trying to say was that because they are outside of the field, they fail to understand what draws people to it and what drives us away. Competition? Bring it. Get my hands dirty in shop class? Sign me up! Military applications? Not so much of interest for me but others see the chance to work on cutting edge, life-changing tech like the Luke Hand and those cheeta legs that amputee runner who was banned from the Olympics uses. No other women in my class? Welp, too late to change that while I'm here. No female roll models? Bit of a chicken and the egg problem, ain't it? Yes, it sucks and yes it makes life harder but stop studying it. You can't change it NOW, so why bother poking at it and saying "this is a problem,"? We already know it's a problem. We're here anyway.

I don't know any women who dropped out because they felt that cars were alienating. They dropped out because they felt they weren't good enough or realized they hated the major or felt like they'd hate the work. Women drop out of engineering with higher GPAs on average than men do. This is a confidence problem, or perhaps a lack of ability to lie to oneself. I lied to myself about being a good engineer all the way into my professional engineering license. Guess I wasn't lying after all. Good thing I'm too damn stubborn to give up and have a firm if occasionally misguided belief that I can do anything. Imposter syndrome, though, is not by any stretch of the imagination soley the realm of female engineers. Men feel like they're faking it, too, in nearly the same numbers as women do. They just stick it out longer because they're either too stubborn or too proud to quit. Knowing you aren't alone helps a lot, so maybe they should do more studies on Imposter Syndrome and how to aleviate it. Hate the major? How long were you there? Did you stick around long enough to get to the cool classes like power plants, combustion engines and machine shop? Or did you jump ship midway through your second year because, Oh. My. GOD, I cannot take the math anymore. Have councelors encourage people to stick it out at least until Junior year. Things get really neat after that. Still hate it? Then yeah, this branch of engineering isn't for you. Good thing that you've got an excellent background to go into a lot of other things now, isn't it? Think you're going to hate the work? Trust me, you can find something you'll love. Engineers do EVERYTHING. Work alone, work in a team, build a robot, give it life with a program, help a wounded soldier tie his shoes, design a better power plant, come up with technical solutions for your co-workers, build bridges, find the materials that will get us onto Mars, make a better battery. Show students these things. Help them find their passion, men and women. A lot of women supposedly don't want to work alone and that's great because engineers rarely do. Make sure they know that. Help them find mentors, male or female. These things are not rocket science. They are also not demonstrable problems with engineering itself.

Female engineers, from what I've seen, and the plural of anecdote is NOT fact I know, don't quite operate on the same wavelength as most women. It makes a lot of sense to me that engineering is the way it is. Seeing feminists bash my major, the very same one that I loved and thrived in, pisses me off. Seeing them fail utterly to understand that what they see as problems are a large part of why I loved it? That makes me even madder. I went in because I loved physics and was good at math and didn't particularly want to hole up and write equations for my whole life. I stayed because machines fascinate me. I know how a car runs, isn't that the coolest thing?
tiamat_the_red
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
I understand that octane number doesn't have a damn thing to do with actual octane. I know that the powerplant that's giving me the electricity to run my computer is basically a compressor being run backwards. One of the coolest field trips I've ever been on was to Hoover Dam after a wedding. I take pride in knowing that I passed a test that more than 50% of the takers fail and the test before that I was one of only 25% who passed. I love knowing that when I turn the key in my car, I'm starting a chain reaction that will keep the car going and it's using the Carnot cycle to do it. These things that are turnoffs to women? They are what I love. So thanks, feminist study authors, for sidelining me and those like me. Do us a favor, try to figure out why those of us who last make it. Then start looking at what's wrong.

*Damn character limits*
jessiehl
Oct. 6th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
Sorry, I guess I am misinterpreting and overreacting to things. I thought you were saying that they had done something that was biased against women because it reflected their own stereotypes about women, and I was objecting to the idea that this research was somehow, albeit unintentionally, anti-feminist, which is apparently not what you were saying.

I am just very confused by this whole thread because several people here do seem to think that this research is bad and somehow anti-feminist, and it would never have occurred to me to think that way. I mean, I admit that I'm a little biased here myself, because I'm engaged to someone (a feminist) who used to work on this for a living (and who also has little tolerance for poorly-done psych research, of which I agree that there is much), but I knew about it before I met him - I trained in neural & cog sci before I switched to an engineering field - and it always seemed like a very positive thing to me, as a woman in sci/eng.

(And I think this crossed over into semi-coherent late-evening babbling somewhere in that paragraph, so I will shut up now. :))
tiamat_the_red
Oct. 6th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
I think the people who are protesting are like me in that we feel feminists don't understand female engineers at all and thus we dismiss them as irritations. I know my dislike of them often shows up as a dismissal of their work in any way possible. Alternately, we feel that their work is useless because it boils down to a laundry list of problems and no solutions, something I LOATHE as an engineer. Especially when half those problems don't look like problemsn to me.

and yeah, definitely bed time.
jessiehl
Oct. 6th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
I actually agree at least in part with a lot of your points - though I think you are painting feminists with an incredibly broad brush here (I mean, as far as I'm concerned, the feminist movement, or at least part of it, is a major reason why I'm able to pursue a career in science and engineering, or for that matter a career at all). Like pretty much all major social movements, feminism has a lot of different strains.

If you are interested, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, looks in part of the book at the thing that is bothering you (and that bothers me too) - the "We need to make foo field more stereotypically feminine to get women into it" problem, in the context of computer games mentality - from both sides.

I'm like you in a lot of ways, albeit translated to a different field, based on the way you seem to be describing yourself. I work in defense, and I like it. I work in a field with few women, in a subfield with even fewer women, and some of the things that I like about the field are things that are considered turnoffs for many women. My favorite field trip ever was for my Design for Demining class, when we traveled to an Army base to learn about different kinds of explosives, and operate giant robots, and learn how to spot hidden booby traps in the woods, and practice demining on inert mines in full gear in the field. So yeah, I'm with you there (and also consider myself very much a feminist, by the way).

However, the particular research that prompted this thread, is not the sort of research that you are complaining about. It is part of a subfield that studies how stereotypes and prejudice negatively effect people's performance (and one thing they have found is that everyone is affected similarly by this in domains where they belong to a negatively stereotyped group - it's not something unique to women). And there is quite a bit of literature on this topic that is specifically about solutions - I linked to some of it. So I guess I am saying that I'm not sure how your (very valid) criticisms of other feminist-related social science research apply here.
jessiehl
Oct. 5th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
I don't really relate to your reaction. I mean, it's pretty well-known that social factors, for lack of a better phrase, can temporarily raise and lower people's performances (my fiance used to work in a lab that did this sort of research, and he told me one time that he could probably artificially raise or lower the performance of anyone we knew). It is already well-documented in the literature on stereotype threat that women who are even reminded of their gender (let alone treated badly because of it) before a math test end up doing worse on the test (and men end up doing better), and that it affects high-ability women more (and this isn't just a phenomenon of women - it applies to any subgroup of people that are high-ability in an area where their larger group, like gender or race, is stereotyped as being bad).

The good news, though, is that women who know about stereotype threat are considerably less affected by it - apparently awareness helps. :) Also, if I remember correctly, it has less of an effect on Asian-American women (if they are "primed" about race as well as about gender), because the stereotype about Asians being good at math balances the one about women being bad at it.

Another way to counter the effect, actually, is to not portray the test as a test of innate ability.

um, is it just me, or is *THIS* sentence sorta reinforcing said "girls are not good at math/science" stereotype????? They can't "hack" it when it gets "tough" [via environment]?

No, that is not what it is doing at all. The reason why stereotype threat, which is what this is, doesn't affect women's performance in English, is because there's no stereotype about women being bad at English. It has nothing to do with women's ability.

So, women being treated a certain way *causes* them perform to a lower standard? Really? All of a sudden I forget stuff/become overly rattled because someone was a sexist jerk?

Yes. Even if you don't know you're doing it (general "you" here, I assume it affects some people more than others). It's not like you are necessarily "aware" of being "rattled". The factors that affect performance (again, not just for women) can be very subtle, and the effect can be very subtle. It's kind of like how what you've been eating recently, or getting an hour less sleep than normal, or something like that, can affect your performance, even if you don't feel "wrong", or even necessarily think that you did badly.

I would also like to see the design and such of this study, because heaven knows that there's enough bad psych research out there, but it's consistent with the findings of earlier work that is pretty good. And I...I just interpret this completely differently than you apparently do. I see it as a very positive thing to have research like this! We can't overcome problematic phenomena until we understand them! And it also speaks to possible, fixable reasons for a performance gap between men and women (as opposed to the innate, unfixable ones that are always such popular hypotheses among the more sexist elements of society).
ms_geekette
Oct. 6th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
Late to the party here, but I think you come at this from a different perspective than maybe I do with your background. I guess I'm not a fan of the blanket statements that the abstract puts forth. (And, after reading the full paper once, I still have some problems with claims put forth.)

I was trying to figure out *why* the abstract statement bothered me, and I guess it boils down to I'm tired of the "women are weak/inferior/what have you" insinuation. I'm sure this is not the intent of the study and the authors *at all*, but that is how it struck me, at first.

"It is already well-documented in the literature on stereotype threat that women who are even reminded of their gender (let alone treated badly because of it) before a math test end up doing worse on the test (and men end up doing better), and that it affects high-ability women more (and this isn't just a phenomenon of women - it applies to any subgroup of people that are high-ability in an area where their larger group, like gender or race, is stereotyped as being bad)."

I got my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. After a certain point in my undergrad coursework, there were MANY times when I was the ONLY female in the class. So, in light of these studies, I should've done worse in all of my classwork where I was the only female present, just b/c I might be reminded of my gender? Where do you draw the line at "absolute truth" and "possible excuse" for poor performance?

(I officially only had one female engineering instructor during undergrad, a female grad student that taught one of my lab classes. I was exposed to several other female engineering professors as part of SWE and such. This is not counting math and science instructors, of course.)

I don't know...I just have a lot of feelings about these issues and I don't think I can articulate them all at the moment.


And yes, I'm glad people are doing research geared toward female engineers, but it's got to be GOOD. Not half-a$$ed.

I'll be *very* interested in hearing your thoughts with the latest post (with all the *cough* stuff). :-)
jessiehl
Oct. 6th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
So, in light of these studies, I should've done worse in all of my classwork where I was the only female present, just b/c I might be reminded of my gender?

That's not quite what I meant - being the only female present isn't necessarily priming (sorry for the jargon), though I guess it could be if you're constantly angsting about it. Priming is bringing the issue to the forefront (albeit possibly subtly). If the cover page of the test makes you check a box for your gender, that's priming. If a classmate makes a sexual comment at you when you walk into the exam room, that's priming. I've seen some fascinating priming that has nothing to do with gender - in my undergrad o-chem class, the instructors spent a while early on talking about how people who took a certain version of the prerequisite weren't as well prepared and should think about dropping, and then, after having inflicted that stereotype on the class, when we took exams, the cover page of the exam would ask you to write down what prereq you took. That is a fine, though unfortunate, example of priming.

And as I said (somewhere - I'm losing track of all my comments in this thread), there has been work done on how to stop this problem of stereotype threat. And one of the best methods that they've found (though there are several others) is that much of the effect goes away if you teach the people at risk about the effect's existence. Which is wacky. People's brains are weird. :P

At least to me, the idea isn't to provide excuses, it's to understand a fixable problem, so that we can go about fixing it.

Abstracts tend to make kind of blanket statements because they're usually talking about the general conclusions across a sample.

Is there a new post up with more of this paper? Unfortunately, I can't log on to lj at work, so I can't see anything in the community that's friends-locked until I get home.
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