October 16th, 2012
10:55 PM ET
6 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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Filed under: 2012 • Debate • Mitt Romney
soundoff (846 Responses)
  1. Eb

    KBJ = Paid Romney Campaign PR hack. Waaaaaaaaaaaay to articulate and detailed to be anything but, bub.
    Does anyone expect a CEO to have a clue what to say about inequality? I was raised by a single mom, who get her 2nd Masters and PhD while raising my sis and I she was regularly passed over or paid less to male counterparts. Thanks to legacy hires like Mitt, this pattern will continue.

    October 17, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  2. Malory Archer


    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.


    Yeah, considering he purchased the computer hard drives from his time in office to prevent ANYONE ever seeing them – isn't that a violation of the Freedom of Informaton act? – one could safely assume the "binders full of women" met the same fate.

    October 17, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  3. Kathy

    He never answered the question.

    And OK, he hired women for cabinet positions, but did he pay them the same? Or did he pay them less because they couldn't work until 8:00 at night?

    And NO ONE should work that many hours, women or men. Americans are working 12 hour days while the rest of the world works maybe 6 or 7 hours a day. Where's the quality of life?

    October 17, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  4. John in Ohio

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

    October 17, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  5. Maria

    I was very offended by Mitts binder comment. At one point, I was raising a 2 yr old, pregnant, working full time and in an MBA program all at the same time. I didnt do that for someone to pull me out of a binder and offer me a position as a consolation prize!!!! I believe my skills and talents contribute a great deal to the worlld and I belive I should be compensated equally with my male counterparts. It is sad that the man who wants to lead the free world does not understand that people dont care about how much you know until they know how much you care.

    October 17, 2012 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  6. SueR

    Maybe Mitt Romney could have used a more politically correct term but his intentions were good.

    October 17, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  7. rs

    Poor Mr. Romney- caught in another lie thanks to fact-checkers; fails to answer the question at all (well, we know the GOP stands firmly against any equal pay legislation); and in the end he sounds as stupid as G.W. Bush.

    Thanks for playing Mr. Romney, this isn't 1950, and you're still not presidential material.

    October 17, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  8. bigdoglv

    "The highest-ranking woman in his administration was his number two, Lieutenant Gov. Kerry Healey." That is a fact. Binders or no binders.

    October 17, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  9. HincEtInde

    Where are those binders when you need them.....................

    October 17, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  10. Tommy

    Politics at its best. Only in American politics can you be eviscerated in the media and on social networking for admitting that you headhunted the best and brightest of both sexes. And Peggy – TX just to be clear, according to Romney, it was his Chief of Staff herself that sought a flexible schedule in order to have time for her children. With only a record of failed policies, lackluster economic and job growth, and broken promises this whole campaign has become about nothing more than demonizing the opponent. Where are the ideas, where is the vision for the future? I am an undecided independent voter and in all honesty this whole campaign, from both sides, has seriously lacked specific ideas, policies, and vision for our future but has had way to much attacking, demonizing and lies for me. We are Americans, we control the outcome of this election. We have the ability to change the conversation if we want to. Lets expect more from the people who work for us and stop settling for the status-quo.

    October 17, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  11. Reload

    Romney has a great record of hiring women. Liberal media distorts his every word while kissing Obama's back side.

    October 17, 2012 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I was astounded at how (at least according to the CNN focus group) the women were falling for Romney's bull. We're more discerning than that, and certainly more disdainful of someone who will revert Roe vs Wade, doesn't have an opinion on Lilly Leddbetter Act,and thinks that employers should give us flex-time so that we can get home in time to cook and look after the childern. Who were these "focus" women listening to? It certainly wasn't Romney.
    Look, at this point .you know who you're going to vote for. Let's be real. This man is NOT concerned with growing the economy, or moving us toan equal playing field vis-a-vis social issues. No. We would be a by-product, a random after-thought of the policies he will actively implement to grow the economy of those who are funding the pursuit of the last item on his Bucket List: the purchase of the presidency of these United States.

    Obama 2012. Seriously America.

    October 17, 2012 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  13. SueR

    You have to look beyond the nickpicking and see the substance behind the men. Romney has more on the ball than Obama – hands down.

    October 17, 2012 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  14. UDidntBuildThat

    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.
    Clearly another post fr the Kardashian vote! It must be nice in the ignorant bliss u live in. Gee u think maybe to do a little work and check the facts out? Nah!!! I'm a lazy Dumbocrat that knows nothing "like", oh, "like" did Mitt Romney have a female in his admin at all "like"? SAY THE FREAKING LIEUTENANT GOV OF MA? KERRY HEALY? She wasn't "like" a woman "like" right? 'like" OMG!

    October 17, 2012 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  15. Andy

    Only a diehard Obama supporter would complain about a Governor who balks at not being presented with enough female candidates for his Cabinet and then forces his team to go out and find them.

    Obama probably wouldn't even put this much effort into the search.

    October 17, 2012 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  16. Justin

    Mr. Romney, why don't you step down from the race and let one of the women in your binder run for office?

    October 17, 2012 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  17. Woman In California

    Willard's days of lying are coming to an end and it started last night.

    This is just one of the many weird comments he's made in the last year. Remember the one about loving 12 year old girls hugging him? This is what happens when you try to become too many people and have no core principles inside. He was exposed last night (a long time coming) and I'm grateful to the president for calling him out. Job well done.

    Look for the angry wife to come out today in his defense, by stating how he treats her as though that makes a difference.

    Great job Mr. President, John Kerry and the entire team.

    October 17, 2012 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  18. guy

    CNN is so liberal why would any1 pay attention to all this bs, DOWN wit CNN.

    October 17, 2012 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  19. CTVoter

    As a WOMAN, I did not take Romney's comments offensively nor did I get the impression that he was going to take women back to the dark ages. He was looking for women to fill the positions on his cabinet. In today's economic climate, people are working longer hours, etc. He was advocating flexibility in hours/scheduling for women who want to be there for their children after school. What's wrong with that?

    I agree with rosemgab...I worked for an executive recruiter. Incoming resumes were filed in binders!

    The President did nothing to convince me he deserved another 4 years. He had no trouble throwing a woman under the bus to protect himself ~ now that's progress for women for you. Casting my vote for Romney/Ryan!

    October 17, 2012 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  20. Anonymous

    These comments make me laugh. I am a young woman in a very heavily male dominated field and I don't need someone to enforce that I get equal pay. I work harder than some of the men so I make more than some of them. Some of them make more than me. I would MUCH rather have a president that can make jobs and fox our economy than one who is going to continue running up our debt and driving us into the ground. I wasn't aware I was missing so many "rights" of mine until Obama started campaigning. Women, if we want the rewards we need to stop whining and put the work in.

    October 17, 2012 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  21. WomenInTheWorkplace

    Romney "...if you're going to have women in the workforce..." IF

    October 17, 2012 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  22. reese

    Women don't want equal pay because we are single parents who need to pay the bills,feed and clothe the children.

    Women demand equal pay because we are just as/more qualified than many men in the workforce.

    Obama paints women as strugglng, weak and failing to make ends meet because a man ditched her. and left her to pay the bills. That view is old fashion and sexist.

    October 17, 2012 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  23. Chuck Hendrix

    Women will come out of the woodwork to support Romney now won't they. I am sure they were all significantly impressed with his response to the question of how he would ensure women received equal pay. His response of " I will re-arrange business so that women can get home in time to cook dinner", had to have scored a lot points with women. Everyone knows that Romney was only "joking" when he implied that gun violence was because of single Mothers.

    October 17, 2012 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  24. Dave

    Funny, I thought Repubs were against Affirmative Action...

    October 17, 2012 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  25. visitor

    He hired a woman with 2 kids? What a feminist hero....


    I really realize that to Romney, everyone is the hired help. Like the way he treated Jim Lehrer, and equated President Obama with his "boys". Everyone is beneath him and its not posturing, it really is him. He DOESN'T GET IT.

    October 17, 2012 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
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