Big Bird may have been the unsuspecting star of the first 2012 presidential debate, but “binders full of women” took the spotlight in the second debate, as women’s issues were front and center.

The phrase “binders full of women” was said by Mitt Romney in an attempt to answer a question about inequalities of women in the workplace:

Thank you. An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. 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. 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.

Suzi Parker discusses how the phrase may have been an “awkward” thing to say:

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.”

The Internet quickly took the phrase and ran with it, as Natalie Jennings outlined:

The “binders full of women comment” set off a storm of tweets, a trending hashtag (#bindersfullofwomen) and a parody account, @romneys_binder, that has already racked up more than 11,000 Twitter followers. 

Obama responded by saying Romney had not come out in support of the Lily Ledbetter fair pay act and reminding the audience that Romney has said he would defund Planned Parenthood.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 05: Lily Ledbetter speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Captiol June 5, 2012 in Washington, DC. Despite strong support from President Barack Obama, a bill that calls for equal pay in the workplace was blocked by Senate Republicans. Ledbetter, a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber?s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998, sued the company for paying her significantly less than her male counterparts. She lost her case, which went to the Supreme Court, but inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

Chris Cillizza went so far as to name “Binders” one of the winners of the debate:

Not since Trapper Keeper’s heyday have binders been such a part of the public dialogue.


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