Romney’s ‘Binder full of women’ comment spills onto campaign trail

October 18, 2012

Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment during the second presidential debate did more than go viral; it put women’s issues back in the campaign spotlight.

Romney made the comment as part of a discussion on gender equality in the workforce, in an attempt to highlight how he sought to hire more women for top positions while he was governor of Massachusetts:

“And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, ‘How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.’ They said, ‘Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.’ And I said, ‘Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?’ 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.”

Before the debate came to a close, the Internet had already picked up the phrase, leading to popular memes, tweets and original works of art.

The phrase also led to some debate among those who were involved with the hiring of women for Romney during his time as governor. Josh Hicks writes:

Romney’s anecdote came in for intense scrutiny Wednesday after the Phoenix, a Boston-based publication, reported that the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, the group that led the hiring initiative, had reached out first to Romney, not the other way around. The Phoenix also pointed out that the percentage of women who held senior-level positions actually declined at the end of Romney’s time in office.

According to a 2007 report from the caucus, the percentage of women in top positions stood at about 30 percent in Massachusetts just before Romney’s 2002 election. But it dropped to about 28 percent near the end of his administration. It rose to 34 percent eight months after Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, took office in 2007.

Melinda Henneberger came to Mitt Romney’s defense in “She the People,” saying the Republican candidate did hire a number of women during his first two years as governor - with 42 percent of those appointments being to top positions. She also criticized Obama for the gender pay gap that existed between his 2011 staff members.

But Henneberger also wrote:

Another reason [Romney’s] mind must’ve leapt to those darn binders, though, is that he has nothing to say about pay equity since he isn’t for it. Sure, he says he is, but then won’t say whether he would’ve signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and that can’t be out of modesty, can it? If he’d sign the thing, he’d say so. And if you don’t support the law that would make it feasible for women to sue employers who don’t compensate them equitably, then all you’ve got is Ann Romney standing on a stage yelling, “I love you, women!” — and good luck taking that to the bank and cashing it.

The impact from the Romney’s comments has broadened the discussion of women’s issues and which candidate would better serve women if elected:

Campaigning in Iowa, Obama ridiculed his opponent.

“I’ve got to tell you, we don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women, ready to learn and teach in these fields right now,” he said.

Romney, at a stop in Chesapeake, Va., revisited a question from the debate about the gender pay gap, saying that answers women want to hear about the economy are coming from him, not Obama.

“This is a presidency that has not helped America’s women, and as I go across the country and ask women, ‘What can I do to help?’ what they speak about day in and day out is, ‘Help me find a good job, or a good job for my spouse,’ ” Romney said. “That’s what the women of America are concerned about. And the answers are coming from us and not from Barack Obama.”

Related:

- Obama, Romney look for advantage from second debate

- Debate anecdote prompts closer look inside Romney’s binder

- On Leadership: Mitt Romney’s revelatory ‘binders full of women’

- Candidates need binders full of unmarried parents

- PHOTOS: Obama and Romney aggressive in second presidential debate

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