Rand Paul has done some, let’s say, strange things during his campaign to become the junior Senator from Kentucky. Highlights include insisting that the Americans with Disabilities Act should be abolished in favor of letting local jurisdictions decide if people with disabilities deserve equal rights. He feels similarly about the Civil Rights Act, insisting on the Rachel Maddow show that businesses should be able to decide whether or not they want to serve black clientele.
There’s no doubt Rand Paul is an odd duck. Or, I would say, a racist, ableist duck. But new reports that he kidnapped a female teammate during his college days, tried to force her to do drugs, and then made her bow down to an imaginary idol called “Aqua Buddha” go far, far beyond “strange.”
The strangest episode of Paul’s time at Baylor occurred one afternoon in 1983 (although memories about all of these events are understandably a bit hazy, so the date might be slightly off), when he and a NoZe brother paid a visit to a female student who was one of Paul’s teammates on the Baylor swim team. According to this woman, who requested anonymity because of her current job as a clinical psychologist, “He and Randy came to my house, they knocked on my door, and then they blindfolded me, tied me up, and put me in their car. They took me to their apartment and tried to force me to take bong hits. They’d been smoking pot.” After the woman refused to smoke with them, Paul and his friend put her back in their car and drove to the countryside outside of Waco, where they stopped near a creek. “They told me their god was ‘Aqua Buddha’ and that I needed to bow down and worship him,” the woman recalls. “They blindfolded me and made me bow down to ‘Aqua Buddha’ in the creek. I had to say, ‘I worship you Aqua Buddha, I worship you.’ At Baylor, there were people actively going around trying to save you and we had to go to chapel, so worshiping idols was a big no-no.
In Texas, where Paul committed this alleged crime, kidnapping is a felony offense that can carry a sentence of life in prison. But instead of reporting the story as such, the media is having a good laugh at what GQ calls “kooky” and The Atlantic calls “antics” of the misfit college kid turned politician. The Paul campaign has released a statement laughing off the accusations, saying, “We’ll leave National Enquirer type stories about his teenage years to the tabloids where they belong.”
“Teenage years” in that statement, as well as the descriptors “kooky” and “antics,” are code for “boys will be boys,” a catchall euphemism for the pass given to young men for behavior that we’re supposed to accept as inevitable, harmless, testosterone-fueled indiscretions. Broken down, the logic is that by simple virtue of their genetic makeup it’s impossible to expect young men to get to adulthood without committing some sort of crime and every boy should get one or two to get them out of his system. This deeply misguided, overwhelmingly sexist logic is used with frightening regularity to brush aside everything from hazing and property destruction to rape and, in Paul’s case, kidnapping.
When I use the term ‘sexist’ on this feminist blog, I’m usually talking about discrimination on the basis of gender directed at women but today Rand Paul has provided a perfect opportunity to discuss how gendered norms hurt men and boys. In this case, the norm exacted on boys is that violence, intimidation, and coercion are acceptable and even expected behaviors as long as they’re perpetrated before reaching some magical, unspecified age that signifies adulthood. This serves to discourage young men from taking responsibility for their actions and from policing unacceptable and often harmful and illegal behavior in their peers.
More so, “boys will be boys” casts a swath of shame over an entire gender when the truth is that most young men make it to adulthood without ever raping or kidnapping someone. What must it be like to walk around feeling that, due to your gender, you’re biologically prone to doing horrible, unspeakable things that you know in your heart are wrong? What might the result be if instead of laughing off things like kidnapping we taught boys that true manhood is about being strong enough to get your kicks without harming anyone else, about standing up to violence, respecting women, and proudly modeling these behaviors?
In his book Guyland, sociologist Michael Kimmel more accurately describes the “boys will be boys” meme as the “culture of protection,” a society-wide conspiracy to shield young men from the consequences of their actions. Kimmel notes that this shielding often includes demeaning the victims while explaining away bad behavior. While the woman who bravely came forward with the story about Paul wants to remain anonymous it’s likely that her identity will be made public by an enterprising blogger or fame-hungry former classmate sooner rather than later. At that point, watch as she’s painted as the one known for not being able to take a joke, or the girl who was down to clown so she was just asking to be taken from her dorm room, forced to do drugs, and humiliated at the foot of a country creek.
Kimmel also notes that anyone who engages in the “culture of protection” is complicit to the violence it condones and tacitly promotes. Today, the complicit parties include the GQ journalist Jason Zengerle who termed the kidnapping “kooky” instead of worthy of prosecution and all the bloggers insinuating that because Paul was under the influence of marijuana or in a secret college society that the incident is simply hilarious, or that the only point worthy of discussion is how the revelation might affect his political prospects. Kidnapping is always a crime, it’s never funny under any circumstances, and we owe our nation’s boys far, far better than “boys will be boys.”