1. From your reading by Cheryl Hicks “Bright and Good-Looking Colored Girl: Black Women’s Sexuality and ‘Harmful Intimacy’ in Early-Twentieth Century New York”, how was the societal view of Black women’s sexuality different than the view of White women’s sexuality during this era?
2. From your reading by Davila, Wodarczyk & Bhatia “Positive Emotional Expression Among Couples: The Role of Romantic Competence” describe what their main findings were concerning romantic competence among heterosexual couples.
3. How might negative stereotypes about elderly sexuality impact us as we age, and what are a few things we could do to try and prevent either the negative outcomes or the negative stereotypes?
"Bright and Good Looking Colored Girl": Black Women's Sexuality and "Harmful Intimacy" in Early-Twentieth-Century New York Author(s): Cheryl D. Hicks Source: Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 18, No. 3, New Perspectives on Commercial Sex and Sex Work in Urban America, 1850-1940 (Sep., 2009), pp. 418-456 Published by: University of Texas Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20542731 Accessed: 16-07-2018 17:31 UTC
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"Bright and Good Looking Colored Girl": Black Women's Sexuality and "Harmful Intimacy"
in Early-Twentieth-Century New York
CHERYL D. HICKS University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Mabel Hampton's experiences in early-twentieth-century Har lem never quite measured up to the popular image that many New York ers (and later the world) held of the black neighborhood. In 1924, as a twenty-one-year-old resident, she knew that visitors from other parts of the city would go to "the night-clubs . . . and dance to such jazz music as [could] be heard nowhere else," that the region's major thoroughfares like Lenox and Seventh avenues were "never deserted," while various "crowds skipp[ed] from one place of amusement to another."1 Those crowds of primarily middle-class white voyeurs, fulfilling their own ideas about the primitiveness and authenticity of black life, enjoyed and came to expect Harlem's "'hot' and 'barbaric' jazz, the risqu? lyrics and the 'junglelike' dancing of its cabaret floor shows, and all its other 'wicked' delights."2 As one black observer noted, after "a visit to Harlem at night," party goers believed that the town "never sle[pt] and that the inhabitants . . . jazz[ed] through existence."3 Hampton's everyday life, however, failed to coincide with these romanticized and essentialized stereotypes of black entertainment and urban life. A southern migrant, domestic worker, and occasional chorus
This article is dedicated to the memory of Angela Michelle Meyers (1971-2006), whose life was too short but whose spirit lives on through her family, friends, and the many people she inspired. At various stages of writing I received comments, criticisms, and encouragement from Luther Adams, Norlisha Crawford, Doreen Drury, Kali Gross, Claudrena Harold, Nancy Hewitt, Jacqui Malone, Nell Irvin Painter, Kathy Peiss, Marlon Ross, and Francille Wilson. I would like to thank the panel participants and audience at the 2006 Organization of American Historians meeting, where the ideas in this article were first presented. I would also like to extend special thanks to Chad Heap for extensive feedback as well as to Timothy Gilfoyle for his support and patience.
1 lames Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (1930; New York: Da Capo, 1991), 160-61. 2 Jervis Anderson, This Was Harlem: A Cultural Portrait, 1900-1950 (New York: Farrar,
Straus, Giroux, 1981), 139. 3 Johnson, Black Manhattan, 160-61.
Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 18, No. 3, September 2009 ? 2009 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819
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Blaek Women^s Sexuality 419
line dancer, she understood Harlem's social and cultural complexities as she faced its pleasures, hardships, and dangers. Her time in Harlem also coincided with the historical moment when the neighborhood was touted by white New Yorkers as being one of the most sexually liberated urban spaces in the city.
Like that of most working-class women, however, Hampton's social life, particularly her romantic attachments, faced more critical surveillance. With the increasing popularity of movies, dance halls, and amusement parks, com munity members and relatives became more concerned about how and with whom their young women spent their leisure time. Reformers and the police also attempted to regulate working-class women's social lives and especially their sexuality. During World War I the federal government showed par ticular concern because of its fear that young women would spread venereal disease to soldiers, thereby physically weakening the armed forces and thus endangering the country's war effort.4 General concerns about working-class women's sexual behavior influenced the passing of numerous state laws that were shaped by reformers, approved by legislators, and enforced by police officers.5 As such, young working-class women's interest in and pursuit of romance and sex caused various older adults unease not simply because such behavior rejected or ignored traditional courtship practices but also because evidence of sexual expression and behavior outside of marriage and outside the parameters of prostitution eventually constituted criminal activity.
Even though all working-class women were scrutinized for their pursuit of social autonomy and sexual expression, race and ethnicity influenced the nature of reformers' and criminal justice administrators' interactions
with their charges. Immigrant and native-born white working-class women certainly were targeted by reformers and the police for questionable moral behavior, but generally authority figures believed these women could be reformed. Rehabilitative efforts were less of a guarantee for women who were characterized as innately promiscuous because of longstanding nega tive stigmas associated with their African ancestry and legacy of American enslavement. The fact that many African American women lived in Harlem, a neighborhood seen by white partygoers (and other New Yorkers) as a
4 See Allan M. Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); and Elizabeth Clement, Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New Tork City, 1900-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), esp. chap. 4.
5 See Estelle Freedman, Their Sister's Keepers: Women's Prison Reform in America, 1830 1930 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), 109-42; Mary Odern, Delinquent
Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 1-7, 95-127; and Ruth Alexander, The ccGirl Problem": Female Sexual Delinquency in New Tork, 1900-1930 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995), 1-7, 33-66.
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420 Cheryl D. Hicks
center of social and sexual abandon, only reinforced the libidinous im ages of the neighborhood's residents and influenced how police officers and criminal justice administrators assessed black women's culpability in sexual offenses.
Young black women?incarcerated primarily for sex-related offenses on charges that included vagrancy, disorderly conduct, and prostitution?usually rejected reformers' concerns and often believed they were unfairly targeted.6
Mabel Hampton, for example, contended that her imprisonment at the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills (hereafter Bedford) for solicitation stemmed from a false arrest. Other inmates revealed their own
problems with law enforcement and, like Hampton, disagreed with the con tention that their social behavior?in New York and especially Harlem?was criminal. One hundred Bedford case files show that between 1917 and 1928
a range of black women?from southern migrants to native-born New York ers?negotiated the urban terrain as well as their sexual desire. In particular, forty-nine southern migrants' experiences showed how they encountered and embraced a social and political freedom unavailable to most black southern ers. Yet many young working-class black women, regardless of their regional, religious, or familial background, grappled with the relentless surveillance by police officers, reformers, concerned relatives, and community members.
During admission interviews and throughout their association with Bed ford, black women revealed how public perceptions of their sexual behavior failed to reveal the complexity of their personal experiences. Most impor tantly, their wide-ranging responses provide a lens through which we might understand how working-class black women whose imprisonment, in large part, stemmed from arrests for?alleged and admitted?sexual offenses dealt with urban sexuality. Like their white counterparts they experimented with courting, treating, and the sex trade, but the "metalanguage of race" and especially "racial constructions of sexuality" influenced the distinct reactions they received from many authority figures. In particular, the prevalence of racial stereotypes meant that the police and Bedford administrators primarily viewed young black women's "sexual delinquency" as natural rather than judging the independent conduct of individuals.8 Such essentialized render ings of their sexuality as well as black female reformers' concerted efforts to control such negative images by repressing discussions of sexual desire
6 Many women were also incarcerated for public order crimes such as drunkenness, petty larceny, and incorrigibility.
7 Danielle L. McGuire's work provides another example of black women's testimony when she addresses their experiences of rape and sexual violence during the post-World War II era. "'It Was like All of Us Had Been Raped': Sexual Violence, Community Mobilization, and the African American Freedom Struggle," Journal of American History 91, no. 3 (2004): 906-31. I want to thank Nancy Hewitt for encouraging me to think about these connections.
8 Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, "African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race," Signs 17, no. 2 (1992): 262-66. Higginbotham contends that the "metalanguage of race signifies . . . the imbrications of race within the representation of sexuality" (262).
Blaek Women^s Sexuality 421
have obscured ordinary black women's complicated decisions and dilemmas regarding sex. While they enjoyed a greater range of choices regarding the conduct of their social lives, they also dealt with more restrictive treatment from both public officials and their own community. Their broader range of leisure options forced them to make difficult choices about how they would deal with their sexual desires as well as the consequences of their decisions and actions. Thus, black women's responses can offer a window into how they remembered past sexual encounters or, rather, how they chose to characterize them. This study privileges the ways in which working-class black women constructed their own narratives and the kinds of stories they chose to reveal about their sexual behavior. Focusing on early-twentieth century New York, where moral panics about working-class female sexuality shaped urban reform and criminal justice initiatives, this work also shows how local and state officials' racialized conceptions of black women's sexual behavior influenced the dynamics of reform efforts in black communities as well as the tenor of Bedford's institutional policies.
What Can Bedford's Prison Records Tell Us about Black Women's Sexuality?
Incarcerated women offer a perspective that places black working-class women's ideas about and experiences with sexuality at the center of discussions regard ing early-twentieth-century urban life.9 Using the cases of female offenders to address this issue, however, does not suggest that black working women
were linked with criminality. Rather, this approach reflects the encounters of a particular segment of women who grew up and lived in certain black communi ties. Their experiences coincided with as well as diverged from those of other women but also vividly underscore the complexity of the black working class.10
9 My thinking about working-class women's sexuality has been influenced by Kathy Peiss, "'Charity Girls' and City Pleasures: Historical Notes on Working-Class Sexuality, 1880-1920," in Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, ed. Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 57-69; Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New Tork (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); Odern, Delinquent Daughters; Alexander, The "Girl Problem"; and Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New Tork, 1789-1860 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987). Some examples of black working-class women expressing same-sex desire are found in Karen V. Hansen, "'No Kisses Is Like Youres': An Erotic Friendship between Two African-American Women during the Mid-Nineteenth Century," Gender and History 7, no. 2 (1995): 153-82; Farah Jasmine Griffin, ed., Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Rebecca Primus of Royal Oak, Maryland, and Addie Brown of Hartford, Connecticut, 1854-1868 (New York: Knopf, 1999); and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community (New York: Routledge, 1993).
10 My thinking about the complexity of the black working class has been influenced by the work of Nell Irvin Painter, The Narrative ofHosea Hudson: The Life and Times of a Black Radical (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994); Nell Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996); Tera Hunter, To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's
422 Cheryl D. Hicks
Such an inquiry emphasizes how some black women understood, experienced, and expressed heterosexual and same-sex desire while simultaneously dealing with how others perceived their sexuality, including police officers, prison administrators, black reformers, relatives, and white Americans generally.
Addressing black women's sexuality?which usually appears in literature or through the figure of the 1920s blues woman?from the perspective of a specific group of working-class women takes into account scholar Evelynn Hammonds's directive to consider "how differently located black women engage[d] in reclaiming the body and expressing desire."11 Hammonds notes that scholarship on black women's sexuality typically focuses on how black women at the turn of the twentieth century refrained
from discussing sexual desire and instead advocated behavior that rejected those stereotypes that defined them as representatives of deviant sexuality. Black female activists, in particular, promoted what scholar Evelyn Hig ginbotham has termed a "politics of respectability" in which appropriate behavior and decorum provided a defensive response to immoral images as well as corresponding civil and political inequalities.12 Black women also
Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997); Tera Hunter, "'The Brotherly Love for Which this City is Proverbial Should Extend to All': The Everyday Lives of Working-Class Women in Philadelphia and Atianta in the 1890s," in W. E. B. DuBois, Race, and the City, ed. Michael B. Katz and Thomas Sugrue (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 127-51; Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working-Class (New York: Free Press, 1994); Robin D. G. Kelley, "'We Are Not What We Seem': Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South," Journal ofAmerican History80, no. 1 (1993): 75-112; and Elsa Barkley Brown, "Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom," Public Culture 7, no. 1 (1994): 107-46.
11 Evelynn Hammonds, "Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality," differences: AJournal of Feminist Cultural Studies 6, nos. 2-3 (1994): 138. For discussions of black women's sexuality in literature see Carol Batker, '"Love Me like I Like to Be': The Sexual Politics of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Classic Blues, and the Black Women's Club Movement," African American Review 32, no. 2 (1998): 199-213; Farah Jasmine Griffin, "Textual Healing: Claiming Black Women's Bodies, the Erotic and Resistance in Contemporary Novels of Slavery," Callaloo 19, no. 2 (1996): 519-36; Deborah E. McDowell, "'It's Not Safe. Not Safe at All': Sexuality in Nella Larsen's Passing" in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, ed. Henry Abelove, Mich?le Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin (New York: Routledge, 1993), 616-25; and Hazel V. Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); see also Deborah E. McDowell's introduction to Nella Larsen, Quicksand andPassing'(New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986), ix-xxxv.
12 Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 185-229. Elsa Barkley Brown raises a critical point regarding the problems associated with the entire community following a politics of respectability when she notes that "the struggle to present Black women and the Black community as 'respectable' eventually led to repression within the community" ("Imaging Lynching: African American Women, Communities of Struggle, and Collective Memory," in African American Women Speak out on Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas, ed. Geneva Smitherman [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995], 108).
Black Women's Sexuality 423
enacted what scholar Darlene Clark Hine calls a "culture of dissemblance."
In this sense they "created the appearance of openness and disclosure but actually" fashioned a protective silence "from their oppressors" as it related to their personal and sexual lives.13 While acknowledging the power of such theoretical concepts, Hammonds argues that using the "politics of silence" as a defensive strategy worked so successfully that black women eventually "lost the ability to articulate any conception of their sexuality"?with one exception: women performing the blues.14 This scholarship, then, suggests that the most prominent and public articulation of black women's sexuality appeared through the experiences of early-twentieth-century blues sing ers who expressed sexual desire through explicit lyrics and performance.15 Discussions about female entertainers, however, present one particular viewpoint on how black women addressed sexual desire.
13 Darlene Clark Hi?e, "Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West: Preliminary Thoughts on the Culture of Dissemblance," in Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History, ed. Ellen Carole DuBois and Vicki L. Ruiz, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1994), 342^7. See also Hazel V. Carby, "Policing the Black Woman's Body in an Urban Context," Critical Inquiry 18, no. 4 (1992): 738-55; and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Daughters of Sorrow: Attitudes toward Black Women, 1880-1920 (New York: Carlson, 1990). For scholarly
work that explores black women's responses to negative stereotypes see Hine, "Rape and the Inner Lives"; Dorothy Salem, To Better Our World (New York: Carlson, 1990); Higginbotham, Righ teous Discontent, Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy A Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves (New York: W W Norton, 1999); Mich?le Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); and Kevin Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
14 Evelynn Hammonds, "Toward a Genealogy of Black Female Sexuality: The Problematic of Silence," in Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures, ed. M. lacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohantry (New York: Routledge, 1997), 175. Hazel V. Carby addresses the heroine in Harlem Renaissance literary texts: "The duty of the black heroine toward the black community was made coterminous with her desire as a woman, a desire which was expressed as a dedication to uplift the race. This displacement from female desire to female duty enabled the negotiation of racist constructions of black female sexuality but denied sensuality and in this denial lies the class character of its cultural politics" ('"It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime': The Sexual Politics of Black Women's Blues," in DuBois and Ruiz, Unequal Sisters, 332). See also Mich?le Mitchell's discussion of this issue in her "Silences Broken, Silences Kept: Gender and Sexuality in African-American History," Gender and His tory 11, no. 3 (1999): 440.
15 For a discussion of black women's sexuality and its relationship to blues see Carby, "It Jus Be's Dat Way Sometime," 330-41; and Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude ccMa" Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday (New York: Vintage Books, 1998). Davis argues that the "blues songs recorded by Gertrude Rainey and Bessie Smith offer us a privileged glimpse of the prevailing perceptions of love and sexuality in postslavery black communities in the United States…. The blues women openly challenged the gender politics implicit in traditional cultural representations of marriage and heterosexual love relationships" (41). See also Ann Ducille, "Blue Notes on Black Sexuality: Sex and the Texts of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen," Journal of the History of Sexuality 3, no. 3 (1993): 418-44; and Hortense J. Spillers, "Interstices: A Small Drama of Words," in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 74.
424 Cheryl D. Hicks
Not solely representing black women enacting a "politics of silence" or blues women expressing a public identity as sexual beings, imprisoned Bed ford women provide examples of both perspectives. Answering the explicit questions that Bedford administrators asked all women during the admissions process, black domestics, laundresses, factory workers, and children's nurses between the ages of sixteen and twenty-eight revealed sexual experiences that exemplified a variety of behaviors, including desire, ignorance, and abuse.16 Yet there were instances when administrators became frustrated because some
black women acknowledged their involvement in the sex trade but were reticent about conveying further details. For example, one twenty-year-old Virginia native was characterized as "pleasant" and "truthful," but she was also said to have provided officials with "little information about herself."17 Thus, white female administrators (and one white male superintendent) also documented black women's sense of propriety when they, as inmates, refused to talk about their sexual experiences or indicated how they attended to traditional moral proscriptions by rejecting premarital sex.
Female offenders' responses to prison administrators might be seen as evidence of the state's continued intrusion into black women's lives as well
as its attempt to construct and promote derogatory images.18 No doubt, black women understood administrators' skepticism when what they re counted failed to coincide with longstanding racial and sexual stereotypes. Consider, for instance, the sexual history of one inmate who revealed the complex parameters of a life that included being raped, her revelation that she prostituted herself twice, and her adamant stance that she was not promiscuous. The administrator seemed to dismiss the woman's difficult circumstances by focusing solely on her interview demeanor. The officiai concluded, in part, that the woman's "better education [had given] . . . her [a] superior manner" so that she did not have an "attractive personality" because she seemed "distant and haughty."19 Indeed, what administrators thought as well as how they documented what they observed and chose to hear from black women shaped the information within all case files.20
16 On a practical level, all women who entered Bedford were queried about who told them about sex, when and at what age they had their first sexual encounter, and if that encounter was consensual. Finally, they were asked whether they practiced prostitution, and if they did, at what age they entered the trade as well as how much money they accrued.
17 Inmate #3724, Admission Record, August 1924, Series 14610-77B, Bedford Hills Cor rectional Facility, 1915-30, 1955-65, Records of the Department of Correctional Services, New York State Archives and Records Administration, State Education Department, Albany, New York (hereafter BH). I have used pseudonyms for inmates' names but have retained their original inmate case numbers.
18 Hammonds, "Toward a Genealogy," 176. 19 Inmate #3706, History Blank, 8 July 1924, BH. 20 Regina Kunzel addresses how historians need to understand that "case records often
reveal as much, if not more, about those conducting the interview as they do about those inter viewed." See her "Pulp Fictions and Problem Girls: Reading and Rewriting Single Pregnancy in the Postwar United States," American Historical Review 100, no. 5 (1995): 1468-69. See
Black Women's Sexuality 425
Yet these partial transcripts also show how inmates challenged the public discourse that delineated all black women as pathologically promiscuous. These women's responses were also influenced by attempts to negotiate Bedford's indeterminate sentencing, which, based on how an administrator assessed an inmate's behavioral improvement, could include a minimum sentence of several months or a maximum sentence of three years. While exploring offenders' responses to questions about sexual behavior,
this study takes seriously the possibility that black women who felt compelled to silence may have seen the admission interview as an opportunity to docu ment their incidences of desire as well as abuse. Some women described
experiences that ranged from initial romance to participation in the sex trade. Others revealed the dangers found by young and independent women living in a large city. Understanding that society questioned most black women's complicity in their rapes, these inmates may have viewed administrators' direct question about whether their first "sexual offense" was consensual or rape as a chance to address their abuse in ways that may not have been possible among friends, family members, community leaders, or the police. Administrators' decision to label young women's first sexual encounters as criminal offenses reminds us of their moral position on premarital sex and makes clear their preconceived notions about all incoming and primarily working-class women.
Officials also documented "harmful intimacy" or, rather, the interracial relationships they observed at Bedford. While acknowledging the preva lence of same-sex desire among white inmates, administrators seemed most
concerned with developing attachments between black and white women. Evidence of such relationships stemmed largely from the various conduct violations (described …
Positive Emotional Expression Among Couples: The Role of Romantic Competence
Joanne Davila, Haley Wodarczyk, and Vickie Bhatia Stony Brook University
We examined the association between romantic competence and positive emotional expressions in a relationship-promoting task serving the dual function of (1) furthering our understanding of the skills needed for adaptive expression of positive emotion that can foster intimacy among couples, and (2) further validating the construct of romantic competence. Eighty-nine emerging adult couples in different-sex relationships were assessed with the Romantic Competence Interview for Emerging Adults and partici- pated in an interaction task, which assessed their ability for adaptive positive emotional expression. Results indicated that women’s romantic competence was positively asso- ciated with both her and her partner’s ability for positive emotional expression, even controlling for relationship satisfaction. Implications for understanding positive emo- tional expression in young couples, as well as the need for increasing romantic competence to facilitate it, are discussed.
Keywords: romantic competence, emerging adults, relationship satisfaction, positive emotion, couples
The ability to express positive emotion to one’s partner is considered an important aspect of what makes relationships succeed (see Gott- man & Gottman, 2015, for a discussion). The- ory and research in a variety of domains support this notion. For example, research on capitaliza- tion indicates that perceiving one’s partner as responding enthusiastically to the sharing of a positive experience or event is associated with greater satisfaction, trust, and intimacy, and less conflict (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). Having part
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