Within days of announcing his candidacy, presidential hopeful Rand Paul was under fire for multiple condescending encounters with female journalists. Last week, the Republican senator from Kentucky went on NBC’s Today show only, it seemed, to lecture host Savannah Guthrie; that reminded everyone of that awkward time in February when he literally shushed CNBC’s Kelly Evans. A day later, Paul picked a fight with the chairwoman of the Democratic Party over his stance on abortion.
Now his wife, Kelley Paul, has come to his defense. Paul told The New York Times she’s offended by the suggestion that her husband of 25 years views women any differently than men. “He’s the last person in the world who would ever be dismissive of someone because they’re a woman,” she said. And yesterday, in an appearance to promote the launch of her new book, Paul told the hosts of Fox & Friends: “Professionally, personally, he’s the kind of person who wants to work with someone and value their talents and their abilities for who they are, so to have that label put on him,”–sexist– “that really upset me.”
In True and Constant Friends: Love and Inspiration from Our Grandmothers, Mothers, and Friends–published on Tuesday–Kelley, a writer and onetime manager for a telecommunications company, tells the stories of her female relatives and college friends.
I haven’t read the book. But I have read the foreword Rand Paul contributed, and I’m not sure it does his image any favors. Paul lays out the stories of his own mother and grandmothers, and says some nice things about his wife and her writerly talents. But even his attempts to flatter women betray his retro attitude. He praises the women in his life as “strong-willed and opinionated”–a gendered, old-fashioned compliment that draws on the stereotype that most women don’t have or express opinions.
His most cringeworthy is in his opening. “As you know real men don’t cry, or at least they don’t usually admit to it but, as I read Kelley’s essays, I laughed, I cried, and I was moved,” he writes. Most male politicians–even macho ones–don’t feel the need to hide the fact that they cry. Obama cries in public. So do Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. John Boehner cries all the time. Rand Paul certainly doesn’t deserve any special credit for being in touch with his feminine side–but he does deserve our mockery for acting like “real man” is still a thing.