The Atlantic Denounces Facial Hair

by W.F. Price on January 28, 2014

I’ve been reading The Atlantic off and on for over twenty years, and have enjoyed a number of articles despite the fact that I’ve never felt that it represented my own point of view. I’ve even found some borderline feminist pieces engaging, including a couple written by Sandra Tsing-Loh, who, despite being a bit of a nutcase, sure can entertain in print.

But under Scott Stossel, scion of a Harvard clan, the magazine is going to shit, and that’s quite literal in the case of Stossel, who regaled us with tales of his vomiting and diarrhea in a recent piece.

Now, according to the publication, the history of the beard is fraught with racism. Who would have thought that how we choose to wear our facial hair should provoke deep introspection on the matter of race? As a man, no matter what I do with that stuff that grows out of my face, I can’t escape the vile legacy of racism. Do I shave? Do I grow it out? Ah, this is all such a conundrum. Perhaps I should hire a sensitivity coach to give me the proper advice.

The article, written by Sean Trainor, a man who majored in women’s studies, begins with this subheading:

“Washes and razors for foofoos,” scoffed Walt Whitman. But the story of 19th-century facial hair is more tangled than modern nostalgists may realize.

Hmm. I have facial hair, so I’d better read on…

Let me declare what many already know: 2013 was a landmark year for men’s facial hair. From flamboyant beards to the proliferation of “old-fashioned” shops, evidence of the trend abounds, embracing groups as diverse as the Boston Red Sox, the men of Movember, and the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty. In dens of hipsterdom, one can hardly throw a PBR without hitting a waxed moustache. And the online craft marketplace Etsy now sells a limitless variety of wares imprinted with images of mustaches, from wine glasses to electrical outlets….

Ah, so having facial hair is cool these days. So far so good…

What follows is the lost story of American facial hair. Like countless other histories, it is rife with contradictions. It begins with white Americans at the time of the Revolution who derided barbering as the work of “inferiors.” It continues with black entrepreneurs who turned it into a source of wealth and prestige. And it concludes with the advent of the beard—a fashion born out of desperation but transformed into a symbol of masculine authority and white supremacy.

Oh crap… “white supremacy”?! Does this mean my beard makes me a Nazi? I’d really better read the whole thing!

One of the barbers’ most vexing tasks involved maintaining order in their segregated workplaces. While the gentility of many shops helped restrain customers’ worst behavior, lapses were frequent. In moments like these, white patrons might squabble over politics, grow belligerent when “full of drink and insolence,” or even light each other’s hair on fire.

Keeping the peace required the lightest of touches. The laws of white supremacy—both written and unwritten—effectively forbade men of color from giving orders to customers or physically restraining them. Besides, many barbers understood the cruel reality that customers’ ability to flagrantly disrespect them was part of the space’s appeal.

But perhaps barbers’ most difficult challenge was the simple intimacy of the shop: the physical closeness of barber and patron. Here, men of color listened in on the schemes and foibles of the American elite, keeping their secrets in confidence.

Little did his customers suspect that Natchez, Mississippi, barber William Johnson was studiously recording the rumors that permeated his shop—from vicious acts of violence to white citizens’ gambling losses and marital infidelities. Johnson’s diary even refers to a moment of unexpected intimacy between two townsmen: “Mr [Blank],” Johnson confided, “attempted to suck Mr [Blank]s El panio.” Just as Johnson had intended, no one discovered this record until long after he had died.

Oh man, this is not good. Not only are we bearded white men violent drunks, but cock-suckers as well…

Finally, we learn that simply being able to grow a beard is racist:

An anonymous “lady on beards,” writing in an 1856 issue of the New York Tribune, made the case even more succinctly. The “bearded races,” she proclaimed, “are the conquering races.” And in “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman transformed the case for beards into poetry: “Washes and razors for foofoos … for me freckles and a bristling beard.”

But the “manly appendage,” as one commenter grandly called the beard, also served a number of important functions closer to home. As historian Sarah Gold McBride contends, beards were one response to a growing women’s rights movement, typified by the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Faced with threats to their prerogative, men grew beards “to codify a distinctly male appearance when other traditional markers of masculinity were no longer stable or certain.” The 19th-century beard may have sprouted from a fear of razors and a distaste for black barber shops. But it grew into a symbol that set white American men apart from smooth-faced foreigners as well as powerful women at home.

This may not be the story bewhiskered moderns would like to hear. It’s easy to imagine the 19th-beard and barbershop revival as an homage to a quaint, innocent fashion trend. But today’s revival presents a chance to redeem the legacy of facial hair with a more complete understanding of the men who shaped it—a better grasp of what to keep and what to cut.

As Trainor takes us on and on through the years, we can learn more fascinating tidbits about the violent, racist, misogynistic history of facial hair. Truly fascinating work. However, I am left at a loss. To be a proper, right-thinking American, how should I wear my facial hair? I’m not sure, but the implication seems to be that to be that I should simply stop growing it, period. Perhaps castration might help in that regard, but Trainor demurs.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

geographybeefinalisthimself January 28, 2014 at 17:48

Excessive hair follicles is about the only thing about any of my heritage that I like. (In the interest of full disclosure, my face is clean-shaven as I type this.) I have hair follicles going pretty far down my neck, and pretty close to my eyes. I guess I must be really racist, violent and misogynist thanks to my Italian heritage (this is the reason I am so hairy).

Next thing you know, The Atlantic will be saying the exact same thing about hair below the neck. I hope their hostility to the fact that men are hairier than women will be the last straw for the magazine, but I’m not holding my breath. Again, apparently guineas are misogynist because they are so hairy. This is the logic of The Atlantic, not mine.

I also wonder how gay bears are going to react to the fact that their facial hair is somehow a reflection of their alleged violence. I am pretty confident your average gay bear is noticeably more masculine than Scott Stossel ever will be.

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Professor Highbrow January 28, 2014 at 18:00

Hi Bill, I would like to point out the one mistake you made in writing this piece:

“The article, written by Sean Trainor, a man who majored in women’s studies”

Sean Trainor is clearly not a man. In my opinion, a more accurate description would have been ‘limp wristed, skirt wearing poof’. I have poncy, feminine gay friends that are more manly than this jackass.

Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 1
minuteman January 28, 2014 at 18:04

After ten years as a soldier where I was expected to shave every day whether I was living in a tent in the arctic or a trench in the desert I decided that when I left the army I would never shave again. I haven’t. Sometimes I have the full duck dynasty model, sometimes it has been neatly trimmed.

It has never been a political statement. It’s more about laziness than anything else. Besides that my wife likes it.

Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 1
gwallan January 28, 2014 at 18:10

When feminists were attacking Movemeber just recently racism WAS one of the clubs they attempted to use. Stossel has nothing new to offer.

My suggestion to master Stossel is that he get back to us when he is capable of growing a beard.

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Aaron January 28, 2014 at 18:48

Once again, an ancient Greek saying comes to mind: “those whom the Gods would destroy they first drive insane”. Future historians will look back upon our era and call it the “Eve of Destruction”.

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Jabberwocky January 28, 2014 at 18:51

I plan to fashion my hair and beard off of what I’ve seen on “Vikings”. I like “Vikings”. Season 2 starts late Feb. on the History channel.

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GT66 January 28, 2014 at 18:59

There’s no accounting for the sort of idiocy that passes for journalism in today’s mainstream rags. Salacious, hateful dreck written for bitter, insecure women.

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GT66 January 28, 2014 at 19:06

“To be a proper, right-thinking American, how should I wear my facial hair?”

Where it like a proper, right-thinking woman. Like this women’s studies professor for example.

http://i121.photobucket.com/albums/o237/handsomebeewonderful/Baird.jpg

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greyghost January 28, 2014 at 19:36

GT66
that guy looked like an ugly woman

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TFH January 28, 2014 at 19:59

Oh crap… “white supremacy”?! Does this mean my beard makes me a Nazi? I’d really better read the whole thing!

The idiot…. so US-centric despite being an SWPL leftist….

The most bearded people of all, of course, are Muslims.

The most bearded whites of all, of course, are hippies and other Berkeley sloths. White supremacism? I thought they were known for often having shaved heads (thus being the least hairy above the neck)…

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Jabberwocky January 28, 2014 at 20:36

Who the fuck doesn’t like “Vikings”! I’ll fucking kill you with my axe motherfucking bitch! (do I need to say jk?)

Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1
tiredofitall January 28, 2014 at 20:58

Oh for fucks sake, seriously?

If this is all the liberal feminist SWPL types can find to complain about, I’d say we’re pretty damn close to shuttering feminism for good.

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Leonidas January 28, 2014 at 21:20

There are two kinds of people without facial hair: women and boys. I am neither.

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Days of Broken Arrows January 28, 2014 at 22:26

“The 19th-century beard may have sprouted from a fear of razors and a distaste for black barber shops. But it grew into a symbol that set white American men apart from smooth-faced foreigners as well as powerful women at home.”

Factually wrong. In several historical texts, I remember reading about Italian soldiers in that era who had “beards that practically covered their faces.” If I can remember the source, I’ll cite it in another comment.

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Brian January 29, 2014 at 00:57

What will The Atlantic denounce next? Pubic hair? Armpit hair? Giraffes are racist?

Hilarious stuff, though.

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Gilgamesh January 29, 2014 at 02:09

You can actually read the atlantic? I’ve tried to read articles from the atlantic (and similar shitrags like slate) to double check that they’re as ridiculous as people say they are, but all I can see is a wall of text that looks like it was written by a neurotic jewish woman (but I repeat myself.)

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Gilgamesh January 29, 2014 at 02:13

“My suggestion to master Stossel is that he get back to us when he is capable of growing a beard.”

How about when he’s capable of using the toilet?

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DCM January 29, 2014 at 03:08

Clearly beards are a racist insult to east Asians and American Indians, both of which groups are generally less hairy than white and black people. Any man who grows a beard obviously hates Asian and Indian people and is making it known in a subtle way that pretends to be merely a fashion statement.
And of course it’s sexist since few women of any group can grow facial hair.
Oh, those MEN!

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El Bastardo January 29, 2014 at 04:55

So what happens if a black man grows his beard? Is he then a white supremacist?

Wow, what would all we men do if it weren’t for feminist technology in the “social sciences.” This dude needs to grow a beard and let his sack out of his pelvic area. Not that I’m sure he has any balls.

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meistergedanken January 29, 2014 at 05:22

I wish we wouldn’t have to hear about this guy again, because people might confuse/conflate him with his uncle: John Stossel, who as a libertarian and skeptic of the Party Line, is a rare shining light in the journalism world.

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Mike January 29, 2014 at 05:53

Beards are distinctly masculine.

Hence – they are evil.

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Atlanta Man January 29, 2014 at 06:46

I currently have a beard and I am black, I must be a racist. Nope, just a self loathing house negro that hates my self ,and a misogynist too . Thanks for the heads up The Atlantic , I am going to look in the mirror so I can tell myself to go back to Africa .

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Marissa January 29, 2014 at 07:11

Sean Trainor is researching the rise in social status of beards and other facial hair during the Civil War era.

Thank God someone is laboring on this, God’s work!

Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0
artist January 29, 2014 at 07:31

Oh for Christ’s sake, as my mother used to say.

Will these people stop at nothing in this continuous war to insult everyone and everything? A constant bitchfest. Every week a new and ridiculous accusation accompanied occasionally by a head on a pike. And as another poster pointed out, why the focus on white men? Are not beards part and parcel of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and who nows how many other non-white groups? Don’t these people have editors?

Speaking of heads on pikes, the our betters in Delaware are attempting some New Soviet police state tactics to silence dissent.

http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20140129/NEWS02/301290026/Biden-subpoena-seeks-identity-Facebook-page-s-creator

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Jeremy January 29, 2014 at 07:34

Someone paid that man at the Atlantic to write that shit.

Someone paid that man at the Atlantic to write that shit.

Words fail.

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Piroko January 29, 2014 at 07:43

Sounds like they need to go re-watch Gettysburg.

Chamberlain had a handlebar mustache you could build a bicycle with.

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Tam the Bam January 29, 2014 at 08:06

Atlanta Man, are you this evil, rayciss, conquering, sexist etc? Long way to go, man. Africa and that.

Being old, I go for the Clooney/De Niro/Connery shape, as I don’t want to unnerve customers, although in hot weather I do go the full Walter White, inc. the skull which is still *revoltingly* hirsute.
Ten minutes with the mini-clippers about every fortnight stops it going the full Nick Offerman. Beats the crap out of shave-every-five-minutes misery, rushing out into the freezing winter morning air, bleeding like a pig onto a crisp ironed collar. Still have the badger brushes and stuff, just got tired of the timesuck.

Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
ce9999 January 29, 2014 at 08:37

“the history of the beard is fraught with racism”

Why am I not surprised? Apparently everything is about racism now. I got an email just the other day from a nutbag lefty relative pertaining to an effort to amend the Constitution to revoke corporate personhood. It linked to a video, which I watched for a while. After ten minutes, though, it started going into the history of racism in the United States, so I clicked the stop button. If racism has anything at all to do with corporate personhood, it’s only through a species of reasoning which I utterly fail to grasp.

Anyway, I tried growing a beard over Christmas. Left it grow for about 10 days, and decided 1) too much gray for a man of 46. Actually, I’m starting to think that all these 40-something guys with facial hair that you see on TV, none of whom sport any grey beard hairs at all, are cheating somehow. Makeup people dying the beard stubble, perhaps? Anyway, reason #2) It just wasn’t me. Made me look sort of like a university professor, which is the last thing I want.

Maybe I’ll try muttonchops. Or an Amish-style beard with no mustache.

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Laguna Beach Fogey January 29, 2014 at 09:26

Fuck ‘em, I’m growing mine out. It’s got blonde, red, light brown, and even a little silver in it. When it gets too wild and interferes with daily life, I tame it with an electric trimmer. It’s a fitting tribute to my Viking heritage.

“Why the focus on white men?” someone asked above. Because they fear us, they hate us, and they want to kill us. They want us gone.

Never forget it.

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keyster January 29, 2014 at 09:52

Racism was evident and open in the past, but still lingers in much more covert, subtle and sub-conscience forms today – says the psuedo intellectual Leftist with nothing else to babel about. A white man wearing a beard is a silent dog whistle, that he’s displaying his superiority over women and people of color. He should be shamed and perhaps the government should step in to regulate facial hair.

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Aaron January 29, 2014 at 10:55

Premise: Beards are a sign of racists.
Premise: Hippies have beards.
Conclusion: Therefore, hippies are racists.

Premise: women who do not shave their armpits and legs are racists.
Premise: feminists do not shave their armpits and legs.
Conclusion: Therefore, feminists are racists.
— Ok, I knew I could find a truth here somehow.

Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0
Quartermain January 29, 2014 at 11:05

Looks that trolluping little mangina still has a problem with vomiting and diarrhea, both from his mouth.

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tiredofitall January 29, 2014 at 11:19

“What will The Atlantic denounce next? Pubic hair? Armpit hair? ” – Brian

You don’t have to worry, Jezebel seems to be taking care of that topic quite well. If you don’t believe me, just Google “pubic hair jezebel”.

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chinesefootsoldier January 29, 2014 at 11:32

Such wondrous and useful things one learns in women’s studies.

What’s odd is that all the retarded SWPLs who find offense in the tiniest of things don’t seem to realize how this article could be offensive.

No wait, that’s not odd at all.

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Kevin T January 29, 2014 at 11:38

“White supremacism? I thought they were known for often having shaved heads…”

I have a full beard and I shave my head. Does that make me doubleplusungood?

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Rebar January 29, 2014 at 12:23

It’s clear Sean Trainor has race issues . . . and likely prefers well groomed male companions .

With that said, as much relevant news and topics that exist today, the Atlantic chooses to write about men’s facial hair . . . yet again confirming it’s place in my summer cabins outhouse.

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Dan the man January 29, 2014 at 13:49

@Rebar Speaking of outhouses, I wonder if white men even shit racist.

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DW3 January 29, 2014 at 14:26

I’ve worn a full beard for years. Started to shave the scalp to go with the beard more recently. I know it’s a look that better suits a black guy, but I can only control my hair, not my skin. Plus it suits my style.

Great comments in this thread. Even better posts by our host the last few days.

It’s honestly hard to believe the stupidity. I’ve been bumping heads with the lefty foolishness for going on 20 years, but this one is special. I’m having a hard time thinking up an example of a more inane argument.

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Kingsley Davis January 29, 2014 at 15:35

“@ Leonidas
There are two kinds of people without facial hair: women and boys. I am neither.”

If your dad shaves, you have two moms.

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woggy January 29, 2014 at 15:36

I just wanted to keep my face warm.
Geez…

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Anonymous Reader January 29, 2014 at 15:37

Artist
Will these people stop at nothing in this continuous war to insult everyone and everything?

Oh, they (writers and most readers of Atlantic) are not at all attempting to insult everyone and everything. No, no, no, there are whole swaths of “everyone” that are off limits. The SWPL have a little list of targets, that’s all.

They’ve got a little list, they’ve got a little list,
Of people and things that never will be missed,
no never will be missed…

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tiredofitall January 29, 2014 at 16:30

“I wonder if white men even shit racist.” – Dan the man

I don’t know, but I once got in an argument with a “granola girl” type who insisted vehemently that men standing up to pee was an attack on women, and was overtly aggressive.

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Jensen January 29, 2014 at 21:17

On Mark Stossel:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article3974017.ece

He suffers from crippling panic attacks and phobias of flying, closed spaces, open spaces and cheese.

http://www.easybranches.eu/european-news/1558886.html

“I also suffer from a number of specific fears or phobias. To name a few: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); heights (acrophobia); fainting (asthenophobia); being trapped far from home (a species of agoraphobia); germs (bacillophobia); cheese (turophobia); speaking in public (a subcategory of social phobia); flying (aerophobia); vomiting (emetophobia); and, naturally, vomiting on airplanes (aeronausiphobia).”

At the age of ten “he was first taken to a mental hospital for evaluation, then referred to a psychiatrist.”

What a Pussy! Exactly what Nietzsche warned us about: the “last man”!

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Uncle Elmer January 30, 2014 at 06:27

None dare observe that a man’s facial hair is identical to his pubic hair.

They don’t call it “pubeface” for nothing.

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Towgunner January 30, 2014 at 09:57

If this is what “they” are complaining about, then, the shark has long since been jumped. Perhaps, this is consistent with Bill’s recent piece “cultural secession”, in that, who fu*king cares what the toadies over at the atlantic think (the same mag that asked if men are inferior), ignore them and continue to develop alternative forums that can, among many other things, offer grooming tips for beards. More than ever Egon was right “print is dead”. However, for now they still influence policy and culture…so, we have to pay attention to them in that we have to debunk their silliness. But, as more men wake up to the absurdities of the current PC state more will opt for cultural secession and that can nullify the cultural effect. So, as this unfolds any future decree’s from the atlantic and their ilk will be increasingly irrelevant.

Idea – I see the men’s thing is gaining traction…any aspiring newscasters out there? If so, you’re a youtube channel away from giving us nightly news from a manosphere perspective. Anyone?

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Tam the Bam January 30, 2014 at 12:32

@KevinT “I have a full beard and I shave my head. Does that make me doubleplusungood?”

No I think that makes you .. Meëttttaaaällllll!!1!!!

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Tam the Bam January 30, 2014 at 12:42

@Tired
““What will The Atlantic denounce next? Pubic hair? Armpit hair? ” – Brian

You don’t have to worry, Jezebel seems to be taking care of that topic quite well. If you don’t believe me, just Google “pubic hair jezebel”.”

So nobody else has encountered the freaky (‘female’) profuse nipple hair (growing nowhere else) that I was pondering on a few posts back?
Stands to reason. English Upper Middle Class. Genetic offal. Been inbreeding frenziedly for centuries, especially the lahayhaydeez.

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Dan the man January 30, 2014 at 18:05

I have a book, I bought at a used book store about William Johnson the ”Barber of Natchez”. He was a free mulatto business man, that owned 3 barbershops, bathhouse, large farm, and a number of slaves. He was killed by another free black over a business transaction in 1851. He was well respected by the white community, and made many loans, including a former governor of Mississippi. I could not find any reference in my book or online of any homosexual conduct in his diary.

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Kevin T January 31, 2014 at 11:19

@Tam the Bam:

“No I think that makes you .. Meëttttaaaällllll!!1!!!”

Believe it or not, I play guitar in a metal band.

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Thos. January 31, 2014 at 14:11

The Greeks used to say something to the effect of “since I am neither a woman, nor a boy I have a beard.”

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bob January 31, 2014 at 20:15

a man who majored in women’s studies,

I stopped reading there. No offense intended, Bill, but fisking anything writen by someone with that CV is inevitably going to be shooting fish in a barrel.

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