Kickass Women

History is filled with women doing all kinds of kickass stuff.

Smart Girls

Watch these girls... they're going places!

Inspiration

Need a dose of inspiration? Here you go.

SRPS Entertainment

Some of my entertainment recommendations with awesome female characters and stars.

She's Crafty!

Some of the awesome items made by kickass women!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Florence Chadwick - record-setting open water swimmer

Florence Chadwick (November 9, 1918 – March 15, 1995) was an American long-distance open water swimmer who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in both directions, as well as crossing the Catalina Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Bosporus, and the Dardanelles.



She'd always loved swimming, and was extremely competitive. From the age of six on, she was determined to swim in and win as many competitions as possible. Her childhood heroine was Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, and what little Florence wanted most was to follow in her wake by completing her own channel swim. When she was 10 she became the youngest person to swim across the mouth of San Diego Bay, setting a precedence that would eventually guide her swimming career.

She trained with several internationally known swim coaches, and winning cups and titles in both open water and pool events. While in high school, she traveled from San Diego to Los Angeles to swim with the LA Athletic Club swim team, where one of her teammates was Esther William. Florence cut her amateur swimming career short in order to appear in one of Esther William's films, although she didn't enjoy synchronized swimming. She preferred open water competitions.

After graduation, she attended night classes studying law while working in her family's restaurant business during the day, teaching swimming classes, and training as often as possible. Her first marriage ended when her husband became jealous of the time she spent swimming. Her second ended when she discovered her husband with another woman. Unhappy, she knew she needed to make a change. She quit night school, and began looking for a way out of the family business. In 1948, she was sure she'd finally found a way to pursue her lifelong dream to swim the English Channel when she read an article about a woman making a great deal of money working for an oil company in Saudi Arabia.

Florence knew she could train in Saudi Arabia while also making enough money to afford the otherwise prohibitively expensive quest to swim the English Channel -- she'd need a crew and boats as well as travel expenses, all of which was impossible on her restaurant salary. After taking a few business exams she was hired, and without telling anyone of her plans, she began to prepare for her new adventure.

In Saudi Arabia, she trained relentlessly while saving money. At the end of her contract, she'd managed to save $5000, which would be just enough to pay for the time spent training and for the crew to help her during her attempt. She arranged to return to the US by way of France. She trained for two months in the cold water off the north of France. She learned about an English Channel swim competition sponsored by the London Daily Mail, but when she tried to enter they gently rebuffed her, telling her the contest was for serious athletes only. Undaunted, she scheduled her attempt two days before their race.

Shortly before 3 am on August 8, 1950, she walked out into the water off the coast of France and began her trip across the channel. Unknown to her at the time, another woman would also attempt to swim across that day. Shirley May France had even brought her own film crew and had arranged for several boats to carrying reporters to record her attempt. While Shirley had to quit because of cramps and nausea, the reporters still had a fantastic story to run when they saw Florence swimming into shore on the English side of the channel, beating Gertrude Ederle's world record from decades earlier.

Overnight she became and international swimming celebrity, launching her professional swimming career. Sponsors were more than happy to finance her training and channel swims. She completed the more difficult crossing of the English Channel by swimming from England to France, becoming the first woman to have swam it in both directions. Over the course of the next few years she completed 16 other long-distance swims, becoming the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel in California, and re-crossing the English Channel twice more, besting her previous records each time.

You can read an excellent biography about her: "Against the Current: Florence Chadwick in and out of the water" published in the San Diego Reader in 1982.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Kickstart This! Guardian: A Fantasy Armor Coloring Book

If you haven'y already guessed, I have a special place in my heart for women in armor. So when I saw a notice for a new coloring book filled with all kinds of fantasy femmes in kickass armor, naturally I was all in.

There's something so empowering about seeing a strong woman in armor, ready to defend her friends and family. Heck, I'm also pretty inspired by badass femme rogues and thieves out causing mischief. Illustrator and comic creator Pamela Kotila agrees. And lucky for us, she's turned her talents to creating more of these armored heroines for us to admire.



She started drawing more women in armor and thus Guardian: a Fantasy Coloring Book of Women in Armor was born. It features women and femme mages, rogues, and warriors in a variety of fantasy costumes and armor as the heroes of their own stories, ready for duty and adventure! I'm so excited about this I can't wait to spend some quality rainy day coloring time. Honestly, I think this would make a great afternoon project for a bunch of fantasy geek girls, sitting around coloring and telling stories. (Note: Guardian is slated to deliver in November, just in time for holiday gifting!)

Pamela was kind enough to chat with me a bit about her work.



SRPS: First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?

PK: Sure. I've been making webcomics since 2003, though I took a slight break while getting my degree. I have a BFA in Fashion Design/ Textiles, where I played with incorporating story into fashion performances and installations. While teaching in Japan I joined a hip hop studio, where I learned to express myself through dance. I don't do much fashion design or dance lately, but those experiences have only enriched my other work.

I launched one of my current comics six years ago, and currently release two webcomics as well as work as a colorist with Ododon Games Company. I've got a wide background of work experience as a freelancer from editing to fashion sketching, as well as teaching (ESL or art).

I love sci fi and fantasy. Watching even some of my favorite movies made me wish there were more fantasies that included more women, queer people, and people of color, so I began writing it. And seeing beautiful diverse work like Dragon Age Inquisition just makes me want to see even more of it. Stories have helped me through hard times in my life, and I hope that my work can have that impact for someone.



SRPS: What is Guardian? What inspired you to create a coloring book featuring fantasy women in armor?

PK: My partner asked me if I'd ever thought about making a coloring book, so I made a few pages which I released digitally. When I shared them on Facebook, my coloring-book enthusiast friends were really excited. I narrowed the general fantasy concept to feature women in armor after feedback from friends.

There are many ways for people to be strong. It was a symbolic thing for me to draw women and femmes in armor as the heroes of their own stories, whatever that meant for each of them. For some this appears to be a scouting mission or guard duty; for others it seems like a peaceful walk or a short rest is in order. These are just snapshots of moments in their lives.

I tend to draw mostly practical armor, but I understand there are aesthetics at play in character design. I just wish that when that argument is used to defend women in fantasy it's less about metal lingerie and more about gigantic pauldrons, spikes, and impossibly long capes flowing in the wind. I just want to see more variety. Sexy characters are fine. What I am tired of is seeing women so sexualized they're basically objects or props.

Guardian is something I want to see more of and knew I would enjoy working on. I really love drawing armor.



SRPS: Looking at the images in the your Kickstarter, it seems like the images in Guardian represent not only a wide range of fantasy races, but also appears to show diverse human-style features and body types. Was this a conscious decision?

PK: Absolutely. I've been working on drawing more body types over the years and on paying more attention to facial features. I wanted to focus on the beautiful diversity of faces, hair, and bodies rather than offer the same face that is largely read as white on page after page of a book that's supposed to be about women and femmes in general. I know I cannot do justice to every woman with this one coloring book, but it is a start.

It's repeated often but it's true: Representation matters. When I realized there were gender-ambiguous characters in Attack on Titan, I was all over them. And though I suspected as much, it was great to have such an iconic character like Jughead state that he is asexual in print.

Seeing ourselves in media and genres we love can be validating. I believe in producing positive media: work that can reach out to someone who wants to see it or needs to see it. And I will make more.



SRPS: This isn't your first book, or your first Kickstarter project. Can you tell us a little about your previous work? Where else can people find your illustrations?

PK: I have two current webcomics — both are queer romances and sort of quiet adventures. Spidersilk is an ongoing fantasy webcomic about to hit its six year anniversary; it's part of the webcomic collective Ink Drop Cafe. My first two Kickstarters were to have the first two volumes compiled and edited for print. Fell Swoop is an ongoing science fiction that will end next year and be released as a one-shot graphic novel. It's a featured comic at the monthly online comic magazine, StArt Faire.

My stories and art can be found through my website alakotila. Because I'm in a heavy comic focus, most of my work lately is comic pages, but I keep my gallery updated with my favorite and most recent artwork as well.

SRPS: What has been the initial reception of Guardian among fantasy fans you've encountered?

PK: It was a bit of a pet project at the start so I didn't talk about it early on. I'd meant to rush a few images out and make a few print-on-demand copies to sell at a local art fair to gauge interest in such a product, but early feedback was so enthusiastic I realized I shouldn't rush it. I was excited to hear people say they hadn't realized they'd needed such a thing until now. One person even said it was pretty much their dream coloring book!

I really want this to be something anyone can color. Whether they are seeing themselves as a hero, or seeing women and femmes as heroes, I think those are valuable things.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

María de Zayas - pioneering feminist writer

María de Zayas y Sotomayor (1590 – 1661) was a pioneering feminist writer during Spain's Golden Age of literature. She was the first Spanish woman to earn an international reputation as a writer, which lasted nearly 200 years, and used her stories to address feminist issues in Spanish society in the 17th century.



She was born in Madrid in 1590, probably a few days before her baptism which was recorded on September 12. It was the height of the Spanish Inquisition, a period of approximately 350 years of enforced Catholic orthodoxy where those deemed to be heretics were tortured and murdered, and others who fell afoul of the proscribed behavior risked fines or imprisonment. Women were expected to be subservient to their fathers and husbands, and aside from being a nun or a prostitute, their roles were limited to that of wives and mothers. Not surprisingly, this oppressive culture gave their fathers and husbands an inordinate amount of power over them.

As the daughter of an infantry captain, de Zayas was privileged in that she had enough wealth to afford to live somewhat on her own terms, and that provided her access to education and the freedom to write. She used her writing as a means to address the patriarchal system and how it bound women in often dangerous positions. In 1637, de Zayas published her first collection of novellas which told the stories of violence women experienced and illuminating their vulnerability in a society where this kind of brutality is acceptable. It was an instant hit and quickly spread across Spain and throughout Europe. Her second collection was published in 1647 and continued her mission to illustrate the challenges facing strong women.

It has been argued that de Zayas' female characters exist in within an interesting paradox. While they are all strong women, they are powerless to change the system. She was not telling the stories of the average woman, but instead of women with financial and intellectual means who were still unable to break down the societal forces against them and who then turned to using whatever small power they had to change their own circumstances. Certainly she must have realized it would be impossible for any one individual to change the entire social structure, especially with the power of the state and the church supporting it, but within the system each woman could fight for a measure of independence, and each man could address his own tendencies toward violence.

Her two collections remained immensely popular for nearly 200 years, and only fell into obscurity in the late-19th century when women's roles in society began to shift again. More emphasis was on the purity of womanhood, and critics' attitudes toward her work turned sour. Although you or I might think a review calling her work "the filthiest and most immodest that I have ever read" intriguing, readers of the 19th century did not.

It wasn't until the 1970s that her work again began to attract attention as the second wave feminist movement encouraged more interest in women authors of the Golden Age of Spanish literature. Since then there have been several excellent analyses of her work, as well as important study of its changing reception over the past 370 years. I have not read more than a few pages of a recent English translation, but I am certainly intrigued. In many ways her story reminds me of the experiences of Emilia Bessano Lanier, another female writer of that era. I only recently finished a new fictionalized biography of her life, and am beginning my own research into her work, which also addresses the experiences of women. (A review of that book is coming soon!) It would be interesting to compare the lives and works of each woman, and find the ways they may have influenced other women who came after them.

You can read her first collection Novelas Amorosas y Ejemplares online.

[Image: Mary Magdalene by Spanish painter José de Ribera, 1641]

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Euphemia Haynes - trailblazer and educator

Euphemia Haynes (September 11, 1890 – July, 25 1980) was a mathematician and educator, who became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics when she graduated from the Catholic University of America in 1943, at the age of 53.


She was born into a prominent fourth generation black family in Washington, D.C. Her father worked as a dentist and invested in black-owned businesses. She was valedictorian of her graduating class of M Street High School in 1907, and went on to graduate from Washington D.C. Miner Normal School with distinction in 1909 and shortly thereafter began her long career in the Washington, D.C., school system.

While teaching she continued her own education to better serve her students and the larger community. In 1914, she graduated from Smith College with a major in mathematics and minor in psychology. In 1930, she earned her master's degree in education from the University of Chicago, with her thesis, "The Historical Development of Tests in Elementary and Secondary Mathematics." That same year, recognizing the importance of math education, she founded a new department at her alma mater, the Miner's Teachers College, to address the needs of young teachers learning how to teach mathematics: Division of Mathematics and Business Education, where she continued to serve as professor and chair of the department until she retired in 1959.

In addition to her duties to the college, she also taught in the public schools, moving through a variety of positions as she was needed. She taught elementary classes as well as high school mathematics, serving different schools throughout the district. She also occasionally taught part-time at Howard University.

In 1943, she became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics when she graduated from the Catholic University of America. She was 53 years old, and her dedication to mathematics and the students of Washington, D.C., was as strong as ever. Continually frustrated by the lack of opportunities for black students to pursue academics instead of vocational training, she pushed for desegregation of the school system. In 1960, she joined the District of Columbia Board of Education, where she continued her mission to improve conditions for all students. In 1966, she became the first woman to serve as chair of the Board of Education.

Throughout her life, her devotion to education was equaled only by her devotion to her religious beliefs. In 1934 she helped found the Catholic Interracial Council of the District of Columbia, an  organization that sought to increase cooperation and understanding between African Americans and whites and advance the cause of social justice and equality for African Americans. She was the first vice-president of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, and belonged to and served on the boards of several social welfare and civil rights organizations, including the Executive Committee of the DC Health and Welfare Council , the NAACP, the Urban League, and the AAUW.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ola Mildred Rexroat - brave pilot

Ola Mildred "Millie" Rexroat (August 28, 1917 – June 28, 2017) was born in Argonia, Kansas, in 1917. Her father was a white man who worked as a publisher and editor, and her mother was an Oglala-Lakota Indian who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. While Millie's family moved from town to town as she was growing up, she spent plenty of time visiting her grandmother on the reservation in South Dakota. In 1932, she graduated from St. Mary's Indian High School for Girls in Springfield, South Dakota, but didn't have much of an idea of what she wanted to do with her life. Over the next few years she bounced around from location to location, and job to job, before finally settling down to complete her bachelor's degree in art from the University of New Mexico in 1939.

When the US finally entered World War II, Millie and her mother and sisters moved to Washington, DC, where they found work at the Army War College. But Millie wasn't content to spend the war working in an office. She wanted to do something more. At first she considered joining the Women's Army Corps (WAC), or maybe the United States Naval Reserve (WAVES), but when she learned of the WASPs, she was sure that was where she belonged.

Millie had no prior flying experience, but that didn't stop her. She found a local flight school that offered a series of lesson for only $8 an hour. After 35 hours of flying, she was qualified to apply. After graduating from training in Sweetwater, Texas, in 1944, she became the only Native American woman to serve in the WASPs. She was stationed at Eagle Pass Army Airfield where she took on the dangerous job of towing aerial gunnery targets to help new recruits learn to operate the big machinery.
"You didn't have time to be frightened or scared or anything like that. I was usually more concerned about my landings."
Sadly for Millie, the WASP program was disbanded later that same year. But she had found her place. Even if she wasn't able to fly, she could still work with other pilots. She joined the Air Force Reserves, where she was called into active duty during the Korean War, and later served for ten years as an air traffic controller.

For more information about her life and career, check out her bio on the Fly Girls series site.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hazel Ying Lee - fearless flyer

Hazel Ying Lee standing in front of an airplane wing wearing flying garb.
In 1932, Hazel Ying Lee (August 24, 1912 – November 25, 1944) became one of the first Chinese-American women to earn a pilot's license. It was only months after her first airplane ride, when she'd been so thrilled by the experience she immediately joined the Chinese Flying Club of Portland, Oregon, where she'd lived her entire life. At the time, she was working as an elevator operator at a department store, one of the few jobs a  Chinese-American woman could get at the time. Her mother tried to talk her out of flying, but Hazel wasn't having it. She was going to become a pilot and find a way to fly as often as possible.

The very next year, when Japanese forces began to make incursions into China, Hazel traveled all the way to China planning on volunteering for the Chinese Air Force. They turned her away because of her gender, despite their dire need for trained pilots. She stayed in China, working for a private airline. In 1937, when Japan finally invaded China, with large scale bombings, it was Hazel's ability to remain calm in a crisis that likely saved the lives of many of her friends and family, as she was able to locate a safe shelter for them during the attacks. In 1938, she escaped to Hong Kong, and then made her way to New York, where she worked for the Chinese government as a buyer to help them secure materials for their war effort.

Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas; Faith Buchner, Hazel Ying Lee and Grace Clark with BT-13.
When the US joined the war, Hazel looked for opportunities to serve, but there were few openings for women. In 1943, though, with the creation of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), she found a job that suited her perfectly. She enlisted as soon as she could, and was in the 4th class of pilots accepted and sent to Sweetwater, Texas, for training. She was then assigned to the third Ferrying Group, based out of Michigan, where the auto factories were now building aircraft for the war. Her group was tasked with flying the planes from the factory to central locations around the country where they would then be shipped to the either the European or Pacific fronts.

Hazel was well respected by her fellow service pilots as well as her superiors. She was often heard saying she'd "take and delivery anything." No risk was too much for her. During her time as a WASP, she had two forced landings -- where she had to land a plane under less than ideal circumstances -- and in both cases it was her cool demeanor that probably saved her life. In one case, she had to set the plane down in a Kansas wheat field, and then fend off an angry farmer who was convinced she was a Japanese invader.

 WASPs being briefed in ready-room, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, May 1943. Front row, l to r: Group Commander Charles M. Sproul, Irma Cleveland, Faith Buchner, Martha Lundy, Mary Jane Stevens, Anabelle Kekic. Back row, l to r: Ruby Mullins, Hazel Ying Lee, Virginia Harris Mullins.
Photo caption: WASPs being briefed in ready-room, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, May 1943. Front row, l to r: Group Commander Charles M. Sproul, Irma Cleveland, Faith Buchner, Martha Lundy, Mary Jane Stevens, Anabelle Kekic. Back row, l to r: Ruby Mullins, Hazel Ying Lee, Virginia Harris Mullins. Source: Texas Women's University.

In 1944, she was selected for a prestigious series of intensive training classes at the Pursuit School at Brownsville, Texas, where she and a handful of other women pilots who flew the faster, higher powered fighters.

Photo caption: Portrait of Hazel Ying Lee. "To Heckle: Happy Landings"
Unfortunately, her flying career ended entirely too soon. In November 1944 she was sent to upstate New York to pick up a plane to deliver to Montana. As she was approaching the runway for her final landing on this multi-leg journey, there was a mix up in the control tower, and she collided with another plane. Both went up in flames, and while they were able to pull her from the wreck, she died two days later from her burns.

I wonder what would have become of her after the war had she lived? Would she have gone on to become one of the female pilots who continued flying for either private or military projects, like WASP director Jackie Cochran? Would she have traveled the world with her husband, another Chinese-American pilot she'd met in Portland, while he served as a Chinese diplomat? Would she have been the first Asian American selected as a candidate for the Mercury 13 group of possible female astronauts? Who knows?

Even though she died young, she had already established herself as a brave young woman unafraid of taking risks and using her skills for the greater good. It's telling that the one of the first things she decided to do once she'd earned her license was to head off to a war front to serve. And for that, she's definitely a Self-Rescuing Princess Society role model.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eleanor Davies-Colley - pioneering surgeon

Eleanor Davies-Colley (21 August 1874 – 10 December 1934) was one of first few women to pursue a career in surgery in the United Kingdom. Coming from a family with a long background in medicine surely influenced her decision to take up the scalpel, despite the lack of opportunities or support for women in such a highly competitive and demanding field. Her determination paid off not just in terms of her own success, but benefited countless women throughout London over the course of her career.



After graduating from Queen's College, she spent a few years as a social worker in the East End of London, working mainly with the children of poor families. It was here where she became acquainted with the dire need for medical services to treat those who couldn't afford to see a private doctor or get treatment at the existing hospitals around London. In 1920 she enrolled in classes at the London School of Medicine for Women, where she graduated with a MB BS in 1907.

She was adamant about becoming a surgeon, following in her father's footsteps. She took a position as house surgeon at the New Hospital for Women (Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital), while earning her medical degree from the University of London. It was believed that surgery would be too taxing for a woman, and many people tried to talk her out of it. But she persisted, and in 1911, she was named the first female fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

In that same year she and her colleague Maud Chadburn began raising funds for a new South London Hospital for Women and Children. They were both working at the New Hospital for Women in central London, and both recognized the need for another hospital serving the people of south London, many of whom were being turned away for lack of space. Their mission was to create a facility that would not only address the needs of women and children, an often under-served population, as well as provide career opportunities for women in medicine, who were generally refused employment at other hospitals. It was a win-win for the women of London, and the South London Hospital for Women and Children was funded almost entirely by donations by feminists who were all too familiar with the needs of both segments of the population.

On 4 July 1916 Queen Mary opened the newest all-female hospital in London, pledged with the mission of only serving women and children under 7 and only hiring women. Dr. Davies-Colley worked there throughout her career in a variety of positions, including senior surgeon.

In 1917 she helped to found the Medical Women's Federation, to broaden the efforts to provide professional opportunities for women in medicine while also working to improve health care for women and their families.

Her dedication to treating women from all backgrounds, as well as her meticulous attention to detail and gentle bedside manner, made her a much-beloved and respected member of the medical community. In addition to her duties at the South London Hospital, she also served as the senior obstetrician at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, and surgeon at the Marie Curies Cancer Hospital, where she treated patients with uterine and breast cancers using new therapies derived from radium.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Margaret Hamilton - pioneering software engineer

Today's the birthday of computer science pioneer Margaret Hamilton. A lot has been written about her over the last couple of years, and I think most everyone has seen the photo of her standing next to the stack of binders filled with the code written by her and her team for NASA's Apollo program.

What I find fascinating about her work was the fact that she was building the field of computer software engineering as she went along. The brilliance of her work wasn't so much that she build a system to help the astronauts reach the moon, but that she built it to basically save them from their own mistakes.


"There was no second chance. We all knew that."
When NASA began its quest to send the first humans to the moon, there was immense pressure to make certain that whomever went up into space also came back down safely. Too much was riding on the success of the moon landing and any mistake could have dire consequences for the astronauts. It would be devastating to the space program if something terrible happened with millions of people around the world sitting on the edge of their seats watching each space launch and landing.

Astronauts are highly trained, intelligent people, selected for their ability to function under extreme pressure. But even astronauts make mistakes, push the wrong button, switch the wrong knob. How do you reconcile the absolute need for "no room for error" with the fact that "to err is human?"

Margaret Hamilton figured out a way.

When she joined the team of engineers working on the Apollo program, she brought with her a brilliant mind trained in both abstract mathematics and philosophy. This might seem like an unusual combination of interests, but its exactly what made her the perfect person to solve the problem facing NASA. Not only did she manage the team that wrote the code for the computers running the space ships, she created the entire system that would handle each process and correct for any human error that might endanger the astronauts while in space. She studied the mistakes they made in training exercises and made sure to include responses in the code to prevent these kinds of accidents from becoming an international tragedy during the actual mission.

And because there was no such thing as a software engineer before, she did it all from scratch, creating an entirely new field of engineering in the process.

[Image: Margaret Hamilton in one of the Apollo capsules, with an overlay of a photo of the Apollo command code printed on green bar paper.]

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