“Binders Full of Women” is this week’s Big Bird.
The minute Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the phrase, social media exploded. And women’s issues, which were absent in the first debate on Oct. 3, were front and center Tuesday night as the first woman in 20 years – CNN’s Candy Crowley – moderated the town hall forum.
Romney said the phrase while answering a question that first went to President Barack Obama about inequalities in the workplace and fair pay for women. Obama answered the question by focusing on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which he signed into law.
Romney took a different route in answering the question. He talked about his time as Massachusetts governor and how he wanted to hire some women – and not all men – for his cabinet.
“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.”
Romney needed help finding women for posts. There were no women in at the top of the all-male Bain Capital. “Binders Full Of Women” was certainly an awkward phrase to say and it failed to even work as an answer to the question. Instead, it reminded people of a time when women wore girdles or women in China bound their feet as status symbol that allowed them to marry into money. For some, it sounded like a great idea for a Halloween costume.
And like Big Bird, it became an instant meme.
Romney then went a bit patriarchal, reminding me of the Dabney Coleman character in the 1980s movie, “9 to 5.”
“Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because 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.”
He continued, saying that his chief of staff couldn’t work late because she had to be home “making dinner” and “being with them when they get home from school.”
Romney said, “Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”
Do fathers not have to get home and cook dinner? Do they not want to be there for their children when school is out? After all, there are such things as single dads who balance children and work. Mitt Romney has obviously been watching too many episodes of “Leave It To Beaver” on TV Land on the campaign trail. The days of Donna Reed are long over, Mr. Romney.
Romney seemed to time travel again to the 1950s when he was addressing a question about assault weapons, specifically AK-47s.
“We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids,” Romney said. “Wherever possible the – the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies,
they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea.”
Obama talked seriously about contraception in health care plans, Planned Parenthood, and fair pay, and such a discussion was desperately needed.
“Women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family,” Obama said. “This is not just a women’s issue, this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that’s why we’ve got to fight for it.”
But few will remember any of that tomorrow because “binders full of women” already has its own Twitter account.
VIDEO: Romney on searching for female cabinet members: They brought us ‘binders full of women’
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker