Mitt Romney’s debate performance will be remembered for two lowlights. The first is when he forced the moderator to fact-check him on the tragedy at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The second was his answer to a question about equal pay for women.
Instead of focusing on pay, he revealed that he couldn’t find enough capable women candidates to balance his administration:
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.
I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.
This immediately set off a viral sensation on the Internet. The “Binders Full of Women” Facebook page already has over 200,000 likes. The American Bridge Super PAC already has BindersFullofWomen.com up and running.
Nothing says classy employer like, “Bring me my binders full of women!”
Imagining if Romney’d said ‘we had binders full of blacks’ – or Latinos or Asians or whatever #noOKdude
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) October 17, 2012
A huge irony of this comment is that Romney was basically advocating for and explaining the need for affirmative action. Yet as governor, he rolled back “two decades of affirmative action advances.”
Some men didn’t understand why the phrase “binders full of women” instantly resonated. The Guardian‘s Emma G. Keller explains:
Why did the phrase resonate? Because it was tone deaf, condescending and out of touch with the actual economic issues that women are so bothered about. The phrase objectified and dehumanized women. It played right into the perception that so many women have feared about a Romney administration – that a president Romney would be sexist and set women back.
And here’s the worst part. It’s not even a true story. Mitt didn’t seek out these odd “binders full of women” out. The Boston Phoenix‘s David S. Bernstein explains:
What actually happened was that in 2002 — prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration — a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.
They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
What was also odd about Mitt’s equal pay answer is how the issue of pay never came up. Instead he acted as if only women might have any concerns about spending time with their families:
…I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.
She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.
Mitt then went into a rant listing the economic carnage of the Great Recession on women, without pointing out that Republicans cutting government jobs across the country has had a disproportionate effect on women.
Mitt Romney had started to close the gender gap. If that trend reverses, you can trace its back to this moment. Mitt’s “binders full of women” may have been the most offensive answer in the history of American presidential debates.