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. Sniffit

    "I guess his Lieutenant Gov. was his token woman"

    Healy was not 'his" Lieutenant Gov. She was elected in an entirely separate race, not as a running mate, and won the right to do so in an enirely separate primary. Yes, they had to work together when they both won, but it is entirely incorrect to claim that they had anything to do with each other before that other than sharing a party. They were NOT "running mates." In fact, Mittens' biggest "tie" to Healy is Healy's husband, who is a fellow rich businessman who has known Romeny for years.

    October 17, 2012 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. Tom

    Not sure why this statement would be offensive to anyone. Whenever I have an opening, the HR dept sends me a binder of resumes. R's record of hiring women into senior levels of Govt in MA is exemplary – better than all other 49 states. People are offended? Really?

    October 17, 2012 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  3. Martoon

    Is that all you've got, CNN? Examining every phrase for an inuendo or a slip... Your news articles should be so good and you have proofreaders and editors to check them! No mention of Obama and his stuttering "tell" for when he's lying or just making up "a bunch of stuff"? Thought not.

    October 17, 2012 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  4. SpenderH

    I am assuming women who are "offended" by the phrase "binders full of women" are not in the binders themselves. You can surely see that Romney was showing the effort he went through to meet his own goal of including women in his cabinet. Romney wasn't the one who put the women in the binders, and we don't know that he asked for the information to be compiled in binders. He asked groups of women to help him find qualified applicants and the groups of women put together the binders. Anyone offended should get a life. Now if you want to make a mockery of it, go ahead. I appreciate good humor.

    October 17, 2012 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  5. dave

    equal pay for women? Women are not suppossed to be the family leaders, if they would marry well and stay married they wouldnt need equal pay. Women will always be paid less due to their monthly issues , family issues etc.... They just are not as dedicated as their male counterparts. And yes, this was a better country by any account, when most women were married and stayed home .

    October 17, 2012 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  6. run2nite

    Vote Mitt – no equal pay for women but heck, he'll get you home in time to make dinner!!

    October 17, 2012 11:42 am at 11:42 am |


    The coverup continues.............................

    October 17, 2012 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  8. GOP = Madness

    He never answered the question either, except he did say he could be flexible and let the ladies go home early enough to cook dinner and do the dishes. What a joke of a man.

    October 17, 2012 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  9. Sane in Maine

    Oh Year Ladies – you should all be flattered !! Mitt will make the economy so good and there will be so many jobs that after they use up all the binders full of men, they'll use the binders full of women that Mitt keeps around the house just for that special day when they get to you.

    Did you ever notice how nervous this guy really is under that smiling, cool and confident exterior he wears. You can see it when he gets flustered. It falls off like his pants falling around his ankles and exposes the fact that this guy is a nervous wreck. The three F's – He's Flustered, he's a fake and he fibs.

    October 17, 2012 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  10. Jojola

    I don't know which statement I found more condescending. The one about "binder full of women" or “making sure the little lady has flexible hours so she can go home a cook for her man!” Again, in Romney's world a woman's place is at home cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids. The workforce is for men, only but if the little lady does work, she must have enough time to get home and cook. However, the husband's place at home is to put his feet up, scratch and watch television while waiting on his meal. Romney has been running for office a long time and this is the best answer he could come up with concerning equal pay for women? News flash Romney: Real women can hold high positions and “share” household responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of children with their husbands. Women are not some inanimate object that can easily be manipulated and shoved into a binder when Romney sees fit. What a load of crock coming from a man who wants to run this country but yet has no clue about the people living in it.

    October 17, 2012 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  11. Anonymous

    Having two parents raising kids will reduce the violence...really Romeny? You are disrespecting single parents...you only evolve around your own orbit;  you are out of touch !  

    October 17, 2012 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  12. Chuck

    Hey Thomas,
    What does the President have to do with this. He did not make the statement.

    October 17, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. Malory Archer


    I cannot believe, as a woman, that there are so many postings per "binderof women"! Wake-up people – please blog about our national economy or forign policies. I am undecided and this is an example of the silly bickering that turns me off to this election!


    If you've been paying any attention at all for the last year you wouldn't be undecided. I agree with the commentator who said you call yourself "undecided" because you like the attention and just want to be on television. Do you also show up at your City Council meetings and talk nonsense to the camera?

    October 17, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  14. resawven

    Is Gloria Allred reprenting all the Women who have ever worked for Romney that demand access to this binder their former Employer kept on them?

    October 17, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  15. glades2

    I agree Tom Winnipeg – my beloved country has become disfunctional...

    October 17, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  16. Carl

    Seriously, this is the phrase people pulled from the debate? Kinda sad. Really immature. If you want to dislike Romney, do it for substantive reasons, not for a phrase uttered in a debate.

    October 17, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. jinx88

    According to the Huffington Post, Mittesn "Binders of Women" was a complete lie. I recommend everyone read the article, especially women. Mittens is now officially a chronic liar. How pathetic, I hope Obama calls him out on this in the next debate.

    October 17, 2012 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  18. annieL

    Romney needs to get his staff now to assemble some other binders of real people from the real America he probably has had little contact with. Number one should be "Americans Who Can't Afford or Get Health Insurance Due to Chronic Illness." That would take a whole library of binders. Then, "Americans Age 50-65 Who Lost Good Jobs in the Republican Recession and Face Age Discrimination in Re-Employment." Many of those dropped out of the job search, started their Social Security early, and are mowing lawns, babysitting and building dog houses for a living.

    October 17, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  19. Emiko

    As a woman, I felt this was one of Romney's strongest points of the night because he spoke from experience. I know what he really meant by "binders full of women"– he not only went the extra mile by recruiting women but he hired women into key positions in his cabinet. And he was flexible and understanding when it came to supporting their roles as mothers. As a working woman and mom, this spoke to me.

    October 17, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  20. kl

    You need to look in the binder.

    Gov. Romney Cabinet in Mass.
    27 members
    11 Dem. 16 Rep.
    1- Dem. women -Elder Affairs
    8- Rep. women – Consumer Affairs & Bus. Affairs
    Housing & Communtiy Devepl.
    Bus. Technology

    I could only find information on 1 on those women!

    October 17, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  21. Khaleeshi

    Romney thinks women need BIG government in their lives to make decisions on healthcare for them. President Obama believes women can be trusted to make their own healthcare decisions based on what is best for themselves and their family. Romney does not agree with equal pay for women – he said he would have to get back to us on that. The first bill President Obama passed was equality for women in the workplace. There's a clear choice here – to take our country back to the old days when women had to do what their told with Romney or equality for women with President Obama.

    Obama/Biden 2012

    October 17, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  22. coolbreeze

    I was ready to hear Romney Say to the Hispanic lady Loreanne- You remind me so much of my maid

    October 17, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  23. Dee

    So I'm supposed to believe that no qualified WOMEN applied, and none of the staff putting together these applications had any suggestions of WOMEN for the jobs, that Romney had to finally suggest going to an outside group to FIND qualified women?

    October 17, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  24. JACK

    Romney on the Keystone pipeline and energy sufficiency suggested the Pres. said no just because of a few dead birds....

    October 17, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  25. amac

    Get with the times, Mr. Romney! Who needs binders full of women in the age of computers and especially the Internet?

    October 17, 2012 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
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