Women’s Suffrage: Crash Course US History #31
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Women’s Suffrage: Crash Course US History #31


Episode 31: Feminism and Suffrage Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
U.S. history and today we’re going to talk about women in the progressive era.
My God, that is a fantastic hat. Wait, votes for women??
So between Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, and all those doughboys headed off to war,
women in this period have sort of been footnoted shockingly..
Mr. Green, Mr. Green. I’d NEVER make a woman a footnote. She’d be the center of my world,
my raison d’etre, my joie de vivre. Oh, Me from the Past. I’m reminded of why
you got a C+ in French 3. Let me submit to you, Me from the Past, that
your weird worship of women is a kind of misogyny because you’re imagining women as these
beautiful, fragile things that you can possess. It turns out that women are not things. They
are people in precisely the same way that you are a person and in the progressive era,
they demanded to be seen as full citizens of the United States.
In short, women don’t exist to be your joie de vivre. They get to have their own joie
de vivre. intro
So, it’s tempting to limit ourselves to discussion of women getting the right to vote
with the passage of the 19th amendment, but if we focus too much on the constitutional
history, we’re gonna miss a lot. Some historians refer to the thirty years
between 1890 and 1920 as the “women’s era” because it was in that time that women
started to have greater economic and political opportunities. Women were also aided by legal
changes, like getting the right to own property, control their wages and make contracts and
wills. By 1900 almost 5 million women worked for
wages, mainly in domestic service or light manufacturing, like the garment industry.
Women in America were always vital contributors to the economy as producers and consumers
and they always worked, whether for wages or taking care of children and the home. And
as someone who has recently returned from paternity leave, let me tell you, that ain’t
no joke. And American women were also active as reformers
since, like, America became a thing. And those reform movements brought women into
state and national politics before the dawn of the progressive era.
Unfortunately, their greatest achievement, Prohibition, was also our greatest national
shame. Oh, yeah, alright, okay. It’s actually not in our top 5 national shames.
But, probably women’s greatest influence indeed came through membership AND leadership
in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU was founded in 1874 and by 1890 it
had 150,000 members, making it the largest female organization in the United States.
Under the leadership of Frances Willard, the WCTU embraced a broad reform agenda. Like
it included pushing for the right for women to vote.
The feeling was that the best way to stop people from drinking was to pass local laws
that made it harder to drink, and to do that it would be very helpful if women could vote.
Because American men were a bunch of alcoholic scoundrels who darn well weren’t going to
vote to get rid of beer hoses. In 1895 Willard boldly declared, “A wider
freedom is coming to the women of America. Too long has it been held that woman has no
right to enter these movements (…) Politics is the place for woman.”
But the role of women in politics did greatly expand during the Progressive era. As in prior
decades, many reformers were middle and upper class women, but the growing economy and the
expansion of what might be called the upper-middle class meant that there were more educational
opportunities and this growing group of college-educated women leaned in and became the leaders of
new movements. Sorry, there was no way I was gonna get through
this without one “lean in.” I love that book.
So as we’ve talked about before, the 1890s saw the dawning of the American mass consumer
society and many of the new products made in the second wave of industrialization were
aimed at women, especially “labor-saving” devices like washing machines.
If you’ve ever had an infant, you might notice that they poop and barf on everything
all the time. Like, I recently called the pediatrician and I was like, “My 14-day-old
daughter poops fifteen times a day.” And he was like, “If anything, that seems low.”
So the washing machine is a real game-changer. And many women realized that being the primary
consumers who did the shopping for the home gave them powerful leverage to bring about
change. Chief among these was Florence Kelley, a college-educated
woman who after participating in a number of progressive reform causes came to head
the National Consumers League. The League sponsored boycotts and shaped consumption
patterns encouraging consumers to buy products that were made without child or what we now
would call sweatshop labor. Which at the time was often just known as
“labor.” And there was also a subtle shift in gender
roles as more and more women worked outside the home. African American women continued
to work primarily as domestic servants or in agriculture, and immigrant women mostly
did low-paying factory labor, but for native-born white women there were new opportunities,
especially in office work. And this points to how technology created
opportunities for women. Like, almost all the telephone operators in the U.S. were women.
By 1920 office workers and telephone operators made up 25% of the female workforce, while
domestic servants were only 15%. A union leader named Abraham Bisno remarked
that working gave immigrant women a sense of independence: “They acquired the right
to personality, something alien to the highly patriarchal family structures of the old country.”
Of course this also meant that young women were often in conflict with their parents,
as a job brought more freedom, money, and perhaps, if they were lucky, a room of one’s
own. Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document?
Please let it be Virginia Woolf, please let it be Virginia Woolf. The rules here are simple.
I guess the author of the Mystery Document. I’m either right or I get shocked.
Alright, let’s see what we’ve got. “The spirit of personal independence in
the women of today is sure proof that a change has come … the radical change in the economic
position of women is advancing upon us… The growing individualization of democratic
life brings inevitable changes to our daughters as well as to our sons … One of its most
noticeable features is the demand in women not only for their own money, but for their
own work for the sake of personal expression. Few girls today fail to manifest some signs
of the desire for individual expression …” Well, that’s not Virginia Woolf.
Stan, I’m going to be honest, I do not know the answer to this one. However, it has been
Woodrow Wilson for the last two weeks. You wouldn’t do that again to me, or would you?
I’m gonna guess Woodrow Wilson. Final answer. DANG IT.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the book Women and Economics? What? Aaaaaah!
The idea that having a job is valuable just for the independence that it brings and as
a form of “individual expression” was pretty radical, as most women, and especially
most men, were not comfortable with the idea that being a housewife was similar to being
a servant to one’s husband and children. But of course that changes when staying at
home becomes one of many choices rather than your only available option.
And then came birth control. Huzzah! Women who needed to work wanted a way to limit
the number of pregnancies. Being pregnant and having a baby can make it difficult to
hold down a job and also babies are diaper-using, stuff-breaking, consumptive machines. They
basically eat money. And we love them. But birth control advocates like Margaret
Sanger and Emma Goldman also argued that women should be able to enjoy sex without having
children. To which men said, “Women can enjoy sex?”
Believe it or not, that was seen as a pretty radical idea and it lead to changes in sexual
behavior including more overall skoodilypooping. Goldman was arrested more than 40 times for
sharing these dangerous ideas about female sexuality and birth control and she was eventually
deported. Sanger, who worked to educate working class
women about birth control, was sentenced to prison in 1916 for opening a clinic in Brooklyn
that distributed contraceptive devices to poor immigrant women.
The fight over birth control is important for at least three reasons. First, it put
women into the forefront of debates about free speech in America. I mean, some of the
most ardent advocates of birth control were also associated with the IWW and the Socialist
Party. Secondly, birth control is also a public health issue and many women during the progressive
era entered public life to bring about changes related to public health, leading the crusade
against tuberculosis, the so-called White Plague, and other diseases.
Thirdly, it cut across class lines. Having or not having children is an issue for all
women, regardless of whether they went to college, and the birth control movement brought
upper, middle, and lower class women together in ways that other social movements never
did. Another group of Progressive women took up
the role of addressing the problems of the poor and spearheaded the Settlement House
movement. The key figure here was Jane Addams. My God,
there are still Adamses in American history? Oh, she spells it Addams-family-Addams, not
like founding-fathers-Adams. Anyway, she started Hull House in Chicago in 1889.
Settlement houses became the incubators of the new field of social work, a field in which
women played a huge part. And Addams became one of America’s most important spokespeople
for progressive ideas. And yet in many places, while all of this
was happening, women could not technically vote.
But their increasing involvement in social movements at the turn of the 20th century
led them to electoral politics. It’s true that women were voting before the passage
of the 19th amendment in 1920. Voting is a state issue, and in many western states, women
were granted the right to vote in the late 19th century. States could also grant women
the right to run for office, which explains how the first Congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin,
could vote against America’s entry into World War I in 1917.
That said, the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment is a big deal in American
history. It’s also a recent deal. Like, when my grandmothers were born, women could
not vote in much of the United States. The amendment says that states cannot deny
people the right to vote because they are women, which isn’t as interesting as the
political organization and activity that led to its passage. Alright, let’s go to the
Thought Bubble. The suffrage movement was extremely fragmented.
There was a first wave of suffrage, exemplified by the women at Seneca Falls, and this metamorphosed
into the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, or NAWSA. Most of the leadership
of NAWSA was made up of middle to upper class women, often involved in other progressive
causes, who unfortunately sometimes represented the darker side of the suffrage movement.
Because these upper class progressives frequently used nativist arguments to make their claims
for the right to vote. They argued that if the vote could be granted to ignorant immigrants,
some of whom could barely speak English, then it should also be granted to native born women.
This isn’t to say that the elitist arguments won the day, but they should be acknowledged.
By the early 20th century a new generation of college-educated activists had arrived
on the scene. And many of these women were more radical than early suffrage supporters.
They organized the National Women’s Party and, under the leadership of Alice Paul, pushed
for the vote using aggressive tactics that many of the early generation of women’s
rights advocates found unseemly. Paul had been studying in Britain between
1907 and 1910 where she saw the more militant women’s rights activists at work. She adopted
their tactics that included protests leading to imprisonment and loud denunciations of
the patriarchy that would make tumblr proud. And during World War I she compared Wilson
to the Kaiser and Paul and her followers chained themselves to the White House fence. The activists
then started a hunger strike during their 7-month prison sentence and had to be force-fed.
Woodrow Wilson had half-heartedly endorsed women’s suffrage in 1916, but the war split
the movement further. Most suffrage organizations believed that wartime service would help women
earn respect and equal rights. But other activists, like many Progressives, opposed the war and
regarded it as a potential threat to social reform.
But, in the end, the war did sort of end up helping the cause. Patriotic support of the
war by women, especially their service working in wartime industries, convinced many that
it was just wrong to deny them the right to vote. And the mistreatment of Alice Paul and
other women in prison for their cause created outrage that further pushed the Wilson administration
to support enfranchising women. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, women’s long
fight to gain the right to vote ended with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in
1920. But, in some ways, the final granting of the franchise was a bit anti-climactic.
For one thing, it was overshadowed by the 18th Amendment, Prohibition, which affected
both women and men in large numbers. Also Gatsbys.
You could say a lot of bad things about Prohibition, and I have, but the crusade against alcohol
did galvanize and politicize many women, and organizations such as the WCTU and the Anti-Saloon
League introduced yet more to political activism. But, while the passage of the 19th amendment
was a huge victory, Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party were unable to muster the
same support for an Equal Rights Amendment. Paul believed that women needed equal access
to education and employment opportunities. And here they came into contact with other
women’s groups, especially the League of Women Voters and the Women’s Trade Union
League, which opposed the ERA fearing that equal rights would mean an unraveling of hard-won
benefits like mother’s pensions and laws limiting women’s hours of labor.
So, the ERA failed, and then another proposed amendment that would have given Congress the
power to limit child labor won ratification in only 6 states.
So in many ways the period between 1890 and 1920, which roughly corresponds to the Progressive
Era, was the high tide of women’s rights and political activism. It culminated in the
ratification of the 19th amendment, but the right to vote didn’t lead to significant
legislation that actually improved the lives of women, at least not for a while.
Nor were there immediate changes in the roles that women were expected to play in the social
order as wives and mothers. Still, women were able to increase their autonomy
and freedom in the burgeoning consumer marketplace. But it’s important to note that like other
oppressed populations in American history, women weren’t given these rights, they had
to fight for the rights that were said to be inalienable.
And we are all better off for their fight and for their victory. Women’s liberation
is to be sure a complicated phrase and it will take a new turn in the Roaring 20s, which
we’ll talk about next week. I’ll see you then.
Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith
Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history
teacher, Raoul Meyer, Rosianna Rojas, and myself. And our graphics team is Thought Café.
Every week there’s a new caption to the Libertage. You can suggest captions in comments
where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered by our team of
historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we
say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome. I’m gonna go this way, Stan, just kiiidding! Suffrage –

100 Comments

  • kayneassasin

    The progressive era…. One of America's greatest failures

    Giving blacks rights instead of shipping them back to Africa has ruined whole cities, like the aforementioned Chicago in this video and women voting has lead to less house wives and with that less strong nuclear families

    America's two greatest flaws right there. Thanks socialist progressives which if anyone else is keeping score, being socialist is an unconstitutional form of government

  • TheMisogynist

    Nope. Western women have never been oppressed. Men handed women privilege (not rights, which come with responsibility).

    You think an armed revolt by women under a fictional patriarchy would have succeeded?

    Laughable.

    Men built civilization.
    Women consume it.

  • Im Done

    They were also used to build armys. And slaves. For example hitler and his camp focused on impregnating women or Young women by the ages of 18

  • Maxime Veilleux

    Getting the right to vote is not an achievement for anyone I am a man, I have the right to vote, but I find it useless since most voters either can't organize complex ideas in their mind, or are ignorant. Moreover, politicians encourage people to vote, no matter what. I think it's because they are scared that if the only people who vote are interested and understand the issues, they will get voted out and replaced by honest people that don't enjoy lying.

  • Virgo v

    Not arguing against suffrage but I do wish people would stop using the term Misogyny since it is the wrong term as john green used it against his past self but he means Gender Bias. Misogyny means hatred of women or an ingrained dislike or bias against women. He is right in all other terms used in that joke though.

  • Ad Mark

    Send women to DIE IN WARS DEFENDING THEIR COUNTRY ON THE BATTLE FIELD shot to pieces by an enemy machine guns, or half their bodies blown off, and then we'll see how much they shout the mindless BS garbage you hear in this video.

    Stop being cowards and fakes, women; step up to the plate and take a bullet in the chest. Until you do so, YOUR WORDS AND COWARDLY PROTESTS MEAN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Stop wasting our time and go have a few babies, you're boring the rest of the world.

  • Atlas

    My grandmother says women shouldn't be able to vote. She is a patient and kind soul, but the more she went into that argument the more I realized she is very self depricating.

  • M Sagri

    Well looking at it this way, (I am all for Women’s suffrage btw/) there are many arguments for both sides. For example, women had fewer legal responsibilities, and therefore less rights. In fact, you can argue that it is unfair that women can vote without having to apply for selective services and the draft. People need to not demonize the other side even though one seems more correct today. Remember that the largest opponents to women’s suffrage were blacks and women, and some of the largest proponents were white supremacists

  • M Sagri

    First I have to say that I am all for women’s suffrage so trigged people don’t call me a Nazi fascist terrorist or whatever,

    But fun fact some of the largest opponents to women’s suffrage were blacks and women, and white supremacists largely supported women’s suffrage

  • MattWeigs Covers

    "As it turns out, woman are not objects, they are people" I felt bad laughing bc reality but still 😂

  • Megan McDonald Tukey

    This should not be watched in the classroom, there was an inappropriate image peppered in. The narrator speaks far too quickly for students to understand and engage. I am confused as to why this video would be mentioned or populate in the 'women's suffrage for kids' search. I recommend that you not show this in the classroom. Sincerely, a concerned 4th grade teacher.

  • Lila Wijaya

    Crash Course US History #31 Notes
    – Some historians refer to the 30 years between 1890 to 1920 as the "women's era"
    – The era was the high tide of women's right and political activism
    – 19th Amendment: States cannot deny people the right to vote because they are women

    – 19th amendment did not significantly improve the lives of women

    Economic Opportunities for Women
    – Vital contributors to the economy as producers and consumers

    – Aided by legal changes; Rights for properties, make contract/wills, control wages

    – Women mainly worked in domestic services or light manufacturing (garment industry)
    – African American women worked as domestic servants or in agriculture
    – Immigrant women did low-paying factory labor
    – New jobs for native-born white women, especially in office work; Heavily influenced by technology
    – Ex: Many women were telephone operators

    Women in Reform Movements
    – Allow women to be brought into state or national politics before the Progressive Era
    – Many got involved in the prohibition movement; Influenced through Women's Christian Temperance Union
    – WCTU became the largest female organization in the United States
    – WCTU embraced a broad reform agenda under the leadership of Frances Williard; Fought for suffrage
    – Pass local laws to stop people from drinking, and it would be advantageous for women to vote

    Political Opportunities for Women

    – Many reformers were middle-class or upper-class women in the prior decades
    – Growing economy and expansion of social classes (middle/upper) gave more educational opportunities
    – College-educated women became leaders of new movements
    – Increasing involvement in social movements in the 20th century led them to electoral politics
    – Women were voting before the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920
    – In the western states, women were granted suffrage in the late 19th century
    – Some states granted women the right to run for office

    Consumerism and Effects on Women
    – 1890s saw the start of American mass consumerism
    – Products made in the second wave of industrialization; Aimed at women as "labor-saving" devices
    – Women were primary consumers who shopped for their home; Leverage to bring about change
    – Florence Kelley became the leader of the National Consumers League
    – National Consumers League sponsored boycotts and shaped consumption patterns
    – Encouraged consumers to buy products made without child labor

    Changes in Traditional Views
    – Working gave women a sense of independence; "Form of individual expression"
    – Contrast ideas of patriarchal family structures; Job brought them freedom and money

    Fight for Birth Control
    – Birth control advocates argued that women should be able to enjoy sex without pregnancy
    – Seen as a radical idea; Led to changes in sexual behavior

    – Famous individuals include: Margaret Sanger & Emma Goldman
    – Goldman arrested and deported for sharing ideas on birth control and female sexuality
    – Sanger was sentenced to prison for opening a clinic that distributed contraceptives to the poor
    – Effect #1: Women became part of debates on free speech in America
    – Some advocates part of IWW and the Socialist party
    – Effect #2: Birth control is a public health issue; Women entered public health, fighting against diseases
    – Effect #3: Similar problems with pregnancy brought upper and lower class women together

    Women Addressing Problems of the Poor
    – Settlement House Movement established to help the poor and complete social work
    – Jane Addams started the Hull House in Chicago in 1889; Spokesperson for progressive ideas

    Suffrage Movement
    – First wave of suffrage was exemplified by women at Seneca Falls
    – Establishment of National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA)
    – Progressive leaders of NAWSA frequently used nativist arguments for their rights to vote

    – Idea that if the vote could be granted to immigrants, it should be grated to native-born women
    – Creation of National Women's Party in the early 20th century under the leadership of Alice Paul
    – Members of National Women's Party were more radical than early suffrage supporters
    – Use of aggressive tactics with protests, loud denunciations, and harsh methods
    – Ex: "Whitehouse Picketing" (1917) where she chained herself to the white house fence

    Effect of War on Ratification
    – Wilson had halfheartedly endorsed women suffrage in 1916; War split the movement further
    – Wartime service would help women gain respect thus suffrage
    – Progressives opposition to war as a potential threat to social reform
    – Patriotic support from women convinced many to grant them suffrage
    – Mistreatment of women fighting for the cause created an outrage that pushed people to agree

    After the Ratification of the 19th Amendment
    – Overshadowed by the 18th Amendment (prohibition); Greatly affected women and men
    – National Women's Party was unable to muster the same support for an Equal Rights Amendment
    – Other women groups: League of Women Voters, Women's Trade Union League

  • Booga04 Minecraft

    This is what feminism SHOULD be! Not today's "feminists" who are literally anti-male. They are doing the opposite of what feminism is. Not to mention women are very equal to men now so I don't get what feminists today are fighting for to begin with.

  • Iced Sodie

    What history does not mention about Margaret Sanger, was that her fight to push birth control was more towards minorities because she was blatantly racist and wanted to prevent especially African American children from being born.

    Also she had connections to the KKK

  • v S

    I'm so glad I have the rights I have, I wish I had the RIGHT to be a wife and mother, which seems to be a huge taboo these days.

  • Katherine Pagan

    I appreciate he mentioned that women weren’t “given” these rights. They weren’t gifts, and we shouldn’t have to feed grateful for men for giving them to us. They were always ours, and we finally got them recognized. In the continuing fights for civil rights, we should always remember that rights are not privileges, and should never be viewed as such. They belong to you, and you should demand that they be recognized : )

  • Matthew Hutchinson

    12:05 they should have passed the ERA. Men aren’t superior to women. They are both equal, thus they deserve the same responsibility’s and same opportunities.

  • Forbiddenjadetheonly

    Don't forget girls, feminism is about women's right to civil equality. Women are at today the most discriminated group, worldwide. Enough said.

  • Justin Green

    I’m seriously just looking through videos looking for a site to a fact checked article that women didn’t want the right to vote because they were required to sign up for the draft if they wanted it

  • Laura Salo

    You skipped the part where many women opposed women's suffrage because they feared being conscripted into war alongside their fellow man and that when women were granted the vote it was under the stipulation that they would not be forced to enlist — unlike all male voters.

    The history of Feminism: All of the rights, none of the responsibility.

  • Jolo7t

    but the ERA needs one more state to ratify it so it might not be dead yet although it is way past its expiration date

  • Bill Boyd

    "Votes for women, on the same basis as men" is what the ssuffragettes in the Uk wanted. When are we going to see women drafted and sent off to die by the millions? They want all the benefits but none of the responsibilities!

  • Prometheus

    I like how John Green constantly has a neutral perspective in these controversial topics. It shows how ANYONE can accept and have a radical indifference to any injustice, given enough time.

  • Susan Philpott

    The NWP protesters never chained themselves to the White House fence. They picketed the White House and were arrested for "obstructing traffic" or "failure to move on." Also, although Alice Paul was sentenced to 7 months in jail after her arrest in October 1917, she and the other suffrage prisoners serving time then were released by the end of November. Many women got arrested and imprisoned over and over between June 1917 and February 1919, most notably Lucy Burns who would get released and turn right around to protest and get arrested again.

  • roedhunt

    Seriously, you want to know the TRUTH about suffragettes, watch MY video on it. I posted this comment once before but obviously this channel doesn't want you to hear the truth, so they deleted it.

  • Savannah

    Why cant people… just not have sex? Is this new to you? That you can not have sex? You dont have to have sex.

  • Daniel Maynard

    Didn't mention that the Republicans were the ones that voted in the 19th amendment…first introduced by the Republicans in 1878 and had it voted down by the Democrats 4times until it was finally voted in by the Republicans in 1920 when the Republicans finally had control of congress. Conveniently left those facts out !

  • Day R

    I miss the presidents from the last century.

    America was, while certainly much more mature than the century before it, still trying to truly grow into what its ideals really should be. And it for a while needed the guiding hand of lots of leaders who were willing to push far and new ideas into law despite how alien they seemed.

    While their motives at times were questionable, a lot of the time it was noble people, presidents, or senators and such who were determined to use their office not for personal benefit, but to genuinely solve the issues that came to light.

    Nowadays, issues are less obvious. It appears even more utopian than before from the outside. Supposedly we solved the issues of race and sexuality (despite racism and discrimination still existing if not by large than by small).

    Supposedly civil rights are solved, yet corruption can never guarantee such a thing being possible.

    Our country still has problems, but because they are less obvious, less talked about, and less concerning to the majority of citizens, it is questionable if our leaders even are willing to solve such problems.

    Most of todays problems are blamed on the opposing party, or something outside domestic affairs. But I think that if we put another man like Teddy Roosevelt on office, we would see immediate attempts at the least at decent change

  • w41duvernay

    CrashCourse, should have showed us how minority women affected this movement as well. That would have been interesting.

  • Christina Masden

    Hi im a black woman white woman we can vote now . Genteel cannibals police state sick control over me robbing me already acting likr jews at firms

  • Christina Masden

    Hi im a black woman white woman we can vote now . Genteel cannibals police state sick control over me robbing me already acting likr jews at firms. Civil rights and desegregate for what? This?

  • Francis Mausley

    Great presentation as always… Tahirih ("Pure One") was a poetess & Baha'i Faith martyr. Her last words just before her strangulation in 1852 were: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you will never stop the emancipation of women.” (Táhirih called to me and asked me to go to the Chief of Police with a special request. “It seems that they wish to strangle me,” she said. “Long ago, I set aside a silk handkerchief which I hoped would be used for this purpose. I deliver it into your hands and I want you to ask that drunkard to use it for the purpose of taking my life.”)

  • Ruminating Reptillian

    Ah yes, back when Feminism was NORMAL.

    "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

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