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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– All tied up ahead of second Obama-Romney showdown

– 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. Natacha

    The telling point of this statement is that he did not have any qualified women in his political circle to begin with, so he allegedly had to go out and recruit some. Also, his comment about making the economy so robust that it wouldn't be an issue clearly implied that companies will even be hiring women because things are so good. He blew it.

    October 17, 2012 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  2. Big Jilm

    So we're to gather that Romney's answer to how he would address pay inequalities is to tell a story on how he worked with women before? That bizarro-speak will do nothing to ensure men and women are paid equally for the same work.

    Romney, why didn't you just answer the question in the first place? What do you plan to do about pay inequality? Based on your obfuscation, we can only conclude the answer is "nothing."

    October 17, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  3. dblogger

    Hope one of the media outlets in MA filing freedom of information act request for these binders. I thought all Mail Order Brides are on internet. Didn't know they still using binders in MA.

    October 17, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  4. Mcds

    I want proof he paid these bounded women the same someone could verify that. That would answer the question not rhetoric

    October 17, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  5. James

    Has anyone did this, or how do you check, to see if the women in his cabinet were paid as much or more than the men in the Governor's before Romeny's cabinet?

    October 17, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  6. badllama

    Romney reminds me of a used care salesman, like Bernie Mac's character in the first Transformer movie: "We can bang that out, baby"...don't worry, just buy this car...trust me... He's closing a deal and says ANYTHING. I'm afraid many people are being fooled. Obama has sucked and I'm disappointed but OMG! I will never vote for Romney!!!

    October 17, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  7. Peace

    Talking: "Binders full of women", is already a discriminatory rhetoric. Was it hard/difficult for him to say: "binders which also contain women's name. This man has no respectat all to women. A wise man would have thought it twice how to say it so that it doesn't offend the women. He is totally out of touch to women.

    October 17, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  8. Eileen Shaeffer

    Hilarious! Are you a binder babe? Wake up women everywhere. Romney, not good for women; not good for America. OBAMA/BIDEN, good for women; good for America.

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

    Let's be honest about Romney's commentary about women. Romney's cabinet had more women (may with flexible hours that accommodated family life) than any other governor in any other state. Romney prioritized finding qualified women because he knows they are out that and he values their contribution. Women who think its enough to have a president who moans and empathizes with them should vote for Obama. Women who actually want the place they deserve at the table, less time commiserating and more time fixing, should vote for Romney. I'd rather a president who affects real change that puts women in the jobs they are qualified to have, than one that boo-hoos with me, but doesn't make anything real happen.

    October 17, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  10. Anonymous

    I found that disturbing too. He also said he will hire a woman CEO and work around her schedule so she can get home early enough to fry up the bacon so her man is never unhappy. I hope women caught his comment there too. He is fake. He wanted women in positions for his future goals and not for the right reasons.

    One of the pundits on CNN said Ann Romney is like a dagger wrapped up in a velvet blanket. Ouch. I see that with both of them. Ruthless, rich and spoiled! They come off as shallow, cruel, and cold. I don't want them near world leaders. Romney already angered the Brits and Spain. They aren't likeable. They are fake.

    October 17, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  11. undecided1976

    For the first time I would say im leaning towards 1 side. I expected romney to step it up a level. He was shakey at best after the first debate had me considering him. I find it hard to believe that not 1 qualified female applied for a job with his administration. To believe that this day in age or within the last 16 yrs is insane.

    What happened is you left the job of screening qualified candidates to your people and this is what they brought you. Knowing the outcome you looked to clean it up, my question is what will the next group do

    October 17, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  12. tuppy

    FYI: In Massachusetts, the Lt. Gov. is elected separately from the governor. So Romney did not chose her as his running mate.

    October 17, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  13. KD

    So by Mitten's statement, ONE of his cabinet has kids, and obviously has to juggle work and family, being a woman, a job is just one of those pesky things you have to do when you can't be fulfilling the ultimate feminine dream of having and raising children. The men of course, do not, because the little woman is at home where she belongs. You know, amazingly enough, some women don't ever have children, and getting home to the kids isn't the first thing they worry about when considering jobs. Some of them spend their whole lives dreaming of, and building, careers. And I'm sure there's lots of men out there who would like to not have to constantly sacrifice family time for their jobs because people have this image of men where their family comes second over their jobs, every time, as a matter of course.

    How is it, every time Mitten's opens his mouth, he sounds arrogant and condescending?

    October 17, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  14. Notthe99%

    Taken literally, Romney's comment says more about the narrowmindedness of his staff than about his own outreach efforts. for But then- the buck stops here, no?

    October 17, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  15. Anonymous

    There goes the media .....very dependable for accurate informtion...........binders full of women...very sugestive and taken out of context.This is why people need to watch these debates for themselves.......dont depend on thwe media....luckily i watched and heard the whole story.but for tose who didn"t it implies somthing totally different ..

    October 17, 2012 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  16. ponzi

    I'm a professional single woman and I was quite offended by what Mitt Romney said in the debate. I want to be selected because I am qualified not just a woman in a binder. He (Mitt) did not answer the question concerning equal pay and has no clue about women and how to govern. And of course don't forget that it is our children that are responsible for the gun violence.

    October 17, 2012 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  17. Double M

    Whether or not you realize it, you're just a file, man or woman.

    October 17, 2012 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  18. I'm Not Blind

    The man is a bloody liar.. Maybe once he starts telling the truth his head will start to shrink..

    October 17, 2012 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  19. Sniffit

    Yay!!!! Distractions from the fact that Mittens DIDN'T ANSWER THE QUESTION!!!

    Seriously, I can't believe the following is not getting more play:

    Q: "What would you do to assure pay equality for women" (asked by a young, high school/college aged woman concerned about the fairness of her future no less)

    A: "Give women special consideration for their womenly duties, such as letting them leave work early so they can make dinner for the family like they're supposed to."

    I simply can't fathom how women everywhere...other than true-believer Teatroll submissives...didn't look at that answer as a total insult and out of touch with the reality that families now, more than ever, share those responsibilities equally and that, with women being the breadwinners more often, it is frequently men who step in to those roles, etc. In fact, it was almost insulting to men everywhere as well, and Obama should be getting FAR more credit than he's getting for carefully making sure he didn't characterize these issues as just "women's issues," but made a special point of following his recognition of women's concerns with a characterization of the issues as really being "family issues." It comports more closely with the facts of life and reality in contemporary society....whle Mittens seemed to be living in the 1950's and stereotyping women accordingly. It was an extremely important distinction Obama made and needs more discussion. Mittens, on the other hand, steretoyped women into "traditional" roles with his answer and it is absurd that the "take away" from the whole thing is "binder full of women" instead of his condescending answer.

    October 17, 2012 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  20. LivingHistory

    When Mr. Romney said "binders full of women" my mind instantly went to the "Joy Books" said to be maintained by the FLDS that contain information about young women (usually teens) available as brides. Very poor choice of words.

    October 17, 2012 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  21. Observing from A Distance

    My word...how embarrassing for the GOP...Obama mopping the floor with Romney in the debate...not allowing his lies to go unchallenged and then you've got Ryan mopping the floor and washing the pots and pans that have already been cleaned while his wife and children watch in baffled amazement standing in an empty soup kitchen.....Come on you good American folks you can't be serious about these two having a chance of taking office in the most powerful country in the world....please say it isn't so...

    October 17, 2012 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  22. Notabinder

    While Romney was talking about realizing that women needed flexible schedules, did anyone else catch that he mentioned that she had two kids and needed to get home to... "make dinner"????? What – he forgot to mention doing laundry, washing dishes and cleaning the house too??!!! WTF?

    October 17, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  23. onroad1

    Romeny's "binders" comment seems to be getting the buzz... but I was more disturbed by his comment about letting a woman in his office go home early to feed her children – I'm old enough to remember when women's responsibilities at home were the unabashed rationale for keeping women down in the workforce and justification for paying them less... Hard to believe that 40 years later a national leader is still relying on this argument to avoid the equal pay issue..

    October 17, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  24. Malory Archer

    dblogger

    Hope one of the media outlets in MA filing freedom of information act request for these binders. I thought all Mail Order Brides are on internet. Didn't know they still using binders in MA.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    That information, if it ever really existed, has long been destroyed as President Obama's challenger BOUGHT the computer hard drives and all documents relating to his time in office. Honestly, how can that even be legal? Those documents and hard drives belonged to the people of MA. What about those hard drives could have been so horrible and determental to President Obama's challenger that he had to violate FOIA laws in order to protect himself?

    October 17, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  25. Sniffit

    'Whether or not you realize it, you're just a file, man or woman."

    YOU may find that acceptable, but I do NOT...and I certainly don't want acquiescence, acceptance or even promotion of that perception, which I consider to be symptomatic of a larger and pervasive cultural failure in American society, being the mentality of the man or woman leading MY country.

    October 17, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
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