October 16th, 2012
10:55 PM ET
2 years ago

Internet goes wild over 'Binders full of women'

(CNN) - In the thousands of words spoken in Tuesday's presidential debate, it was four awkwardly phrased ones that set the Internet afire: Binders full of women.

In response to a question on gender pay inequality Romney said that as he was assembling his cabinet after being elected governor in Massachusetts, he questioned his staff for sending him only male applicants and was told those were all who were qualified.


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"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 said.

Before the debate was over, there was a Twitter hashtag, a series of memes on Tumblr, and a Facebook page with over 100,000 fans. The phrase was the third-fastest rising search on Google during the debate.

It prompted memes, such as Hugh Hefner in what appears to be a library: "Binders full of women? Oh sure, I've got hundreds of them."

READ MORE: 'Binders full of women' is debate's viral hit

The Obama campaign was in on it as well: a paid post from President Barack Obama's official campaign account appeared atop searches for "binders full of women" on Twitter.

In the second question of the night, voter Katherine Fenton queried Obama: "In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"

The incumbent cited the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first piece of legislation he signed into law.

Romney, who worked in business, then served as governor of Massachusetts, said he "learned a great deal" about the inequalities between men and women in the workplace when chief executive of his state.

"I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men," Romney said. 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.' "

Romney said he requested "a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet."

Then, the sound bite which drove the online chatter.

"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 said.

The tweets and posts quickly stacked up.

Kate Segal, whose Twitter bio says she is the Democratic floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, took a political angle.

Among the memes was at least one using an image of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in sunglasses which went viral earlier this year.

"Romney still uses binders," the meme reads, as Clinton looks at her cell phone.

Another showed Romney speaking at a podium with a stack of ring binders next to him.

In the debate, the former governor credited his outreach effort with his mix of department heads.

"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," he said. "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."

The highest-ranking woman in his administration was his number two, Lieutenant Gov. Kerry Healey.

But in the social media sphere, yes, puns are permitted: a post to a "Binders Full Of Women" Facebook page read, "Trapper Keeper jokes are appropriate."

READ MORE: Funniest tweets on the second presidential debate

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– Obama ad makes case for economic policies

– Romney message this week: 'A clear choice on debt and deficits'

– Largely hidden away, Obama reports debate prep 'going great'


Filed under: 2012 • Debate • Mitt Romney
soundoff (846 Responses)
  1. Russ

    It struck me as very countryclubbish to say that he tried to hire one or two women, when asked what he would do for all women. Obama hit the nail on the head. His answer was much better.

    October 17, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  2. Newme1

    Hey Mitt...are those 1" or 2" binders?

    October 17, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  3. Concerned About Romney

    The reference to 'binders full of women' was a slip from the Mormon church – they create binders full of women to present to men to pick their wives. It's true . Look it up. It is part of the polygamy process that was once the norm for them. When girls became women of age they went into the book which was shared with men looking for another wife. Mitt is not going to tell you this but he slipped and let it out. I am sure all Mormons are horrified that this came out and you wait and see - it will be explained.

    October 17, 2012 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  4. Anonymous

    Why didn't Crowley fact check O b a m a about the women in his administration getting less pay?

    October 17, 2012 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  5. Expat American

    Did Romney have binders full of minorities too or any other ‘untouchables’ from the 47% of Americans he considers to be ‘lesser human beings’?

    October 17, 2012 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  6. Joanna

    So let me get this straight. Romney had qualified male applicants. They were all qualified. Romney searched out female applicants who may or may not be as qualified as the original male applicants. Don't we call that affirmative action? OMG Romney supports affirmative action in the workplace!

    October 17, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  7. Bob

    Ok, so he hired a bunch of women.... but he made no mention of how their pay compared to their male counterparts – which was the topic of the question.

    October 17, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  8. Catherine

    Okay, I know the 'binders full of women' remkark was most likely referring to resumes', but I have to admit, the picture it brought to mind and all the jokes that floated through my mind had me laughing and shaking my head. I'm glad Romney took an approach that opened up opportunities for women, but I thought Republicans were against preferential treatment or is that only when it comes to race?

    October 17, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  9. Dan

    While 42 percent of Romney’s appointments during his first two and a half years as governor were women, the number of women in high-level appointed positions actually declined to 27.6 percent during his full tenure as governor, according to a 2007 MassGAP study.

    October 17, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  10. zoommom

    Mitt has no clue about the needs (or wants) or women, middle class, poor or anyone other than the well off. I don't want a business man as president. He made his money on the backs of people below him. He bought companies, loaded them with debt, made HIS money and sold them off, leaving the government (us) to handle the carnage. He "saved" the Olympics with money from the government. He sent jobs to China making him one of the first to off shore. He can't even go on his first tour of other countries without insulting them all along the way. There have been many really, really wealthy people in government but they had the ability to understand the challenges most of us face. Romney is totally in the dark and having this "business man" running our county will hurt us all.

    October 17, 2012 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  11. Sal

    My question is, why is this even an issue? It didn't even register as an unusual comment to me, hence my surprise this morning when the "internet is going wild" with it. Does anyone REALLY think there is anything wrong with saying he received binders full of women [resumes] or is this just the most trivial liberal attack yet?

    October 17, 2012 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  12. Critical Thinker

    Federal civil service and the military are two areas where women DO get eqaul pay compared to men for the same job.

    October 17, 2012 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  13. Driven1

    I just don't see where Mitt Romney won this debate. He seems like a consultant who's selling a dream to a business. Oh, I can do this and I can do that with no specifics. I can create 12 millions jobs. How?

    October 17, 2012 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  14. Joe

    "Romney still uses binders back in 2003," the meme reads, as Clinton looks at her cell phone

    October 17, 2012 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  15. Tim

    This is what I don't understand...
    Where is the outrage on this "mans" war on women. He harbors back to the glories of the 1950's or the mormon worldview on women!!
    -Men make decisions on rather women get contraceptives, no need for planned parenthood
    -Gun violence is the fault of single mothers
    -you want equal pay for equal work women, I tell you what you can have, you can leave early to make dinner for pappa bear
    HE IS DISGUSTING and this man is sick of his attacks on my Mother, sisters, daughters, and friends!
    OBAMA 2012

    October 17, 2012 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  16. Rob- Texas

    Joanna- He never said they are less quilified, but the point was he supports a balance of femail leaders.

    October 17, 2012 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  17. BIGDOG

    Hey...lets fact check "concerned about Romney"

    October 17, 2012 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  18. KCRick

    Really, Obama lies about Libya, and this is what the media is nitpicking – you gotta be kidding? When you get paper resumes on your desk they are in a binder or file, a descriptive word. Are women so sensitive that they found this word pejorative? Get a life if this bothers you.

    October 17, 2012 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  19. Skyman123

    For those of you that don't get what this is actually about, let me tell you: first of all, we don't use binders any more and haven't for a long time. There's software for this unless, of course, you're an out of touch CEO who doesn't know how to use computers very well (as most, btw are because they're older men). So if he's using binders, what does that say about his understanding of the world in which we live?

    Second of all, if his understanding is that low, how does he speak to actually what's going on with technology, jobs, foreign relations and everything else? The man doesn't know the state of the world? How is he supposed to speak with diplomacy and on current issues with other world leaders? This isn't a stupid phrase pick-up. It's emblematic of Romney himself. It reinforces the fact that he's an older, bubble-living out of touch, sheltered white guy. Before you defend him, ask yourself this question: has Romney, or will Romney ever decide which bill NOT to pay at the end of the month? Will his kids have to choose their college on the basis of what they can afford? Will any of them ever have a lapse in health care because they can't pay? Unless you can answer NO to each of these questions, why are you voting for him because he has no understanding of your life. Full stop.

    October 17, 2012 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  20. bph

    people actually like this guy???????????

    October 17, 2012 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  21. anonymous

    after reading just a few comments i can't imagine why people are wasting so much time on what obviously came out wrong for Gov Romney. everyone who has posted full well knows he was referring to resumes that were handed to him in a binder. i think we have much more serious problem in our country than focusing on such juvenile responses to a candidates misspeak. Even CNN can't help themselves to try and make fodder of it! if anyone thinks it's easy to get up there and debate whether it be president Obama or Gov Romney then i welcome you to do it. i just wonder if president Obama had said something similiar if CNN and the commentators would be making as much of it and the people posting at this site

    October 17, 2012 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  22. MikeInCarolina

    Romney didn't bother to answer the question which was about insuring equal pay for women; not means of hiring more women. The truth is that he didn't have an answer, so he changed the subject as he always does. As a matter of fact, that's a routine GOP ploy which is to avoid giving a straight answer at all cost. Romney did a lot of that last night.

    October 17, 2012 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  23. Tim

    BINDERS FULL of Women. Folders with resumes back then- that was the technology of the day- I know, I was in HR then in a manufacturing company with virtually no female supervisors because they needed "a lot of time off". Two things that helped to change this was technology which allowed for flexible schedules and low unemployment. Benefits packages changed to attract people as a competitive edge and this helped women and caused some forward thinking companies to seek to attract women. Last evening my wife, who fought here way over the last 25 years into the executive level 2% wage earner she is now, remraked Romney blew it by not explaining what his 'BINDER'omment meant for women. As she stated, "Getting women into the higher levels of the corporate world place them in a position where they decide compensation and corporate rules. Over time this is the game changer that will bring fairness and he didn't communicate what an impact he had in moving us closer to that place by what he did. She was on the fence until she heard that comment and then she simply said, "I busted my tail and our family put up with a lot for me to get where I am but it would not have happened without men and their 'BINDERS full of WOMEN" giving us a chance to prove what we can do. That's our experience...you will have your own.

    October 17, 2012 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  24. Muchadoaboutnothing

    While the comment is funny and great material for SNL, it is hardly newsworthy from a more serious perspective.

    October 17, 2012 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  25. wolfpackbob

    Yeah, Romney had more women on his exeuctive staff than governors in all 50 states, and this is the chatter? "And the spin goes,...... and the spin goes on".

    October 17, 2012 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
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