Don Brash would never call himself a feminist, but former National Party president Michelle Boag says he's no chauvinist pig.
Ms Boag, largely credited with recruiting the former Reserve Bank Governor into politics, said Dr Brash was being given a hard time because he was polite.
"I think people are trying to make something out of this just because the man is a gentleman," she said.
"Let me assure you, I have good feminist roots in my background and I know a chauvinist when I see one and he ain't one."
Dr Brash said he had gone easy on Prime Minister Helen Clark during Monday's TVNZ leaders' debate because she was a woman.
National Party member Margaret Voyce, who was beaten for the nomination as party candidate in the safe National seat of Tamaki, was at the debate. She said Dr Brash had "old-fashioned" values.
She was "taken aback" by Dr Brash's comments that he didn't feel comfortable heckling a woman.
"I would say 'get in there and go get 'em, tiger', that would be my advice to him."
Dr Brash said yesterday that "what really got my goat" was that he had hired women in professional roles long before other executives.
"I didn't regard that as particularly meritorious, but it brasses me off when I am accused of being very old-fashioned in my treatment of women."
Dr Brash has said that he didn't see the need for women's rights when married to his first wife because he thought women already had equal rights. But his daughter Ruth opened his eyes.
"It wasn't until I saw the world through my daughter's eyes that I realised the world was not equal and there were lots of things which were not fair to women," he said.
This week, someone described Helen Clark as "a feminist Prime Minister" and Dr Brash responded: "Let me assure you, one thing that I am not is a feminist."
Asked later to elaborate, he replied that a feminist was by definition a woman.