What fun the Internet is having with this four-word phrase: Binders Full of Women.
If anything gets remembered from last night's presidential debate it will be Mitt Romney's answer to a question about helping women achieve pay equity with men that he botched on so many levels.
Dodging the actual question, the Republican candidate offered the example of his own administration while Massachusetts governor – how he was supposedly aghast that there were so few women and went out and asked for a list of female candidates from local women's group. "Can you help us find folks," he asked them, quoting himself in last night's debate, in an appeal to women's groups. In response, he received that now infamous "binder full of women."
Not exactly, David Berstein, a writer with the Boston Phoenix, pointed out, stressing that he had been careful to confirm a different version of events.
Berstein reported that a bipartisan women's group called MassGAP put together a list of strong female candidates for government positions, and presented it to Romney after he became governor. He didn't go looking for one; there was no "recruiting effort" on his part, as he claimed in the debate. And while Romney did flip through the "binder" and hire a number of women for his administration, The Phoenix story says that they were given departments and agencies that weren't priorities for him – and the percentage of women holding senior positions in his government declined overall while he was in office.
But as an Atlantic story also pointed out this morning, that's really not what makes his comment so off-putting. It's the notion that Romney needed "a binder" in the first place to find qualified women in his state to hire - that he didn't know any coming into office and apparently, hadn't consulted with any during his campaign, and needed to be reminded of their existence after his election. The suggestion then is that hiring women was a checklist requirement to be covered off for political purposes – rather than because these qualified candidates had merit on their own.
As New Yorker blogger Amy Davidson put it: "One got the sense of Mitt Romney coming from a place where women were generally in the other room, waiting to be invited in only when the moment – or the visibility of the job – called for it." The Boston Globe quickly noted that there were no female partners at Bain Capital when Romney was chief executive officer.
But the "binder" reference wasn't the only jarring comment in Mitt Romney's answer: He went on to mention, for good measure, that he allowed a female staffer to work flexible hours - she needed to get home to see her kids and "make dinner."
Aside from failing to address the substantive issue of pay equity, he also offered this assurance: In a strong economy, he said, employers "are going to be so anxious to get good workers they're going to be anxious to hire women."
What's the inference there? In other words, don't worry little ladies, with Romney in the White House, companies will be so desperate for workers, they'll have to resort to hiring women. Of course, they just might not pay you the same as the man they hired first.
The 23 per cent of American families – that is, those led by single mothers – also received their due from Mr. Romney. In response to a specific question about getting "AK-47s out of the hands of criminals," he drifted into the topic of parents – or more specifically the importance of having two parents in the home. "But gosh," he said, "to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that's a great idea." Golly gee, it's good to know criminals would give up their assault weapons, if only those single parents would try a little harder to get (or keep) that ring on their finger.
Maybe "binder full of women" will makes waves across the web and then fade away. CBS is already dubbing it the "Big Bird" of the second debate, referring to Mitt Romney's vow to cut funding to PBS.
The trouble for Romney is that what happens on Wall Street matters a lot more in this election than Sesame Street, and being reduced to a list of names stuffed in a binder who employers (and, perhaps, certain politicians) will hire only when their options are limited and their hand is forced, might make female voters, well, grouchy. And thanks to the web, they can express that sentiment over and over again.
What did you make of Romney's "binder full of women" answer?