(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.
The tweets and posts quickly stacked up.
I'd love to see the meeting minutes from that roundtable. #bindersfullofwomen— David Weller (@dcweller) October 17, 2012
I'd love to see the meeting minutes from that roundtable. #bindersfullofwomen
Kate Segal, whose Twitter bio says she is the Democratic floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, took a political angle.
To solve the problem of pay inequality we don't need more 'binders full of women,' we need more ballots full of women. #BallotsNotBinders— Kate Segal (@KateSegal) October 17, 2012
To solve the problem of pay inequality we don't need more 'binders full of women,' we need more ballots full of women. #BallotsNotBinders
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."
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Romney hired women that one time. Good for him. I bet he paid them less than the men though.
Binders full of women... It's a Mormon thing...
Patronizing comments about women in the workforce by Romney – FAIL.
There are bigger issues to look into... Everyone knew what Romney meant now let's move on.
When Mitt is not elected he will have plenty of time to get home and cook dinner. This man is clueless, especially when it comes to women.
One of Romney's strategists said "Obama can communicate better with the average people" when asked about the town hall style debate. I want Romney and his campaign to define the term "average people". Guess he can't because he can only communicate with his cronies. What a snobbish comment! His riches came from blood sweat and tears of the working class! With the mess that President Obama inherited, he did more than he expected even with the Republicans working against him from day one.
Moderator was not fair.... Bailed obama out.... He's used to and expects press to do this....
See if this post stays in?
I am a working mom, I have a hubby who is also quite capable of cooking and even helps me raise our two daughters! I don't see how any woman in her right mind would vote for him. Any woman claiming to vote for him, is not a woman.
Romney never answered the question. His life experience doesn't give him a reference point. Obama clearly won tonight. He was concise, resolute, sincere and confident. He will fight for he average person.
Binders??? lol could Mitt be anymore condescending to women? No, Mitt is a jerk
Romney came off as a bully during this debate. He made some good points on Obama's record but its easy to attack someone when they have a record in office vs no record. I thought Obama was calm yet passionate and was able to point out a lot he did do during the 4 yrs in office. I'm glad he took responsibility for Libya while Romney made odd comments about single women and guns and women getting married before having kids. Those comments were out of touch and indicative of someone who is more closed minded than Obama.
Why couldn't Romney think of any women to name to his cabinet on his own. Sounds like he had never worked with a woman in his life. I wonder if he needed binders full of African Americans, Asians, Latino's as well to help him out.
Obama is a disgrace.
Inexcuseable dissembling on Libya.
and he wants me to go back home and cook dinner for my man....so much for equality.
The way Romney answer this shows how he his, a rude man that does not treat women at the same level as man!!! Tell us how many women did you hired? Did you payed them the same as to man doing the same job? Did you support the law for equal pay? Ryan did not!! Romney is arrogant and it shows.
I guess Obama has reduced taxes on the middle class...if you're unemployed, you don't pay taxes....his math does work!!!
a) He could well have done it just for political appearances
b) He didn't say anything about how much they were paid, leading to
c) They would have been paid by tax-payer money, not money he controlled or that he could have saved as profit
In other words, he's a capitalist. The goal of a capitalist is to pay as little as possible for as much output as possible. Being able to pay *anyone* less than they deserve is a victory in capitalism. I'll never believe he cares about equal pay.
I completely agree Just observing and feel a mittens win will set America back 50yrs
OBAMA /BIDEN 4 more. ...
1. So in 2002 Romney figured out women were paid less and not deemed qualified to serve in his cabinet? The equal rights amendment was in the 1970's I think so Romney is a little late on the issue of women and equality. 2. Once in Romney's cabinet were these women paid the same as previous cabinet members for the same positions?
Okay so I laughed so hard about the binder full of women, did Mittens mention how many of the binder women he hired? And we're they paid equal to their male counterparts? Glad he thinks only women have child are an cooking duties.
Please can a woman voting for Mitt explain to me what it is about Mitt Romney that makes him Presidential?
Yeah, he arranged to let the womenfolk go home at 5 so they could cook and clean. Great!
The number one issue on voters minds is the economy. Once again, Obama can't defend his economic policies. Game. Set. Match.
Romney talking about a woman having to leave early to cook dinner was a major disaster.
This isn't the 1970's.
I'm going on 50 and my wife and I share the duties.
She jumped out of the chair when Romney. Said this.
So sad that after all of these years, my success depends not on my performance but in my ability to find a boss that will be flexible enough to cut out early so that I can rush home to cook dinner for my kids. I have always felt that it is important for both parents to be home for dinner. And it is mid evil to think that men can't prepare dinner. Mine does just fine!
What about Romney's reference to a "illegals" during the immigration portion of the debate. Another example of putting tags on entire groups of people he doesn't care about, women and "illegals". Apparently he has contempt for more than just 47%