(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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Women are people, my friend.
Dianne, why is it that the moderator gets blamed if the republican candidates lose a debate? Because that IS what has happened. Two of the three debates so far...
Well lets see.....no answer about the fair pay for equal work but a nice tale is spun about he himself had to ask for a woman. Does that mean that no one in his circle felt that a woman was qualified for the cabinet position? No woman even applied??
Or are we lead to believe that a woman has to have standards lowered because they are not smart enough.
Just proves what Robmey really thinks of women. We saw him send his wife Ann to do all the meetings with women because he could not be bothered.
BINDERS full of women & people going to the emergency room after having heart attacks in their APARTMENTS!
The best you guys can come up with to attack Romney is "binders full of women". Really? This insults you? Really? You're really grasping at straws here.
Romney clearly showed what he thinks of women, to get off early from work and prepare dinner.
Diane@11;35 Mitt lied and got caught, trying to make political points again. Glad the moderator called him out.
Clyde – the only person that was not presidential on the Libya issue was Romney from the beginning trying to take political advantage in the dead of 4 people. And then tries to intimidate Obama, and when Obama puts him in his place, Romney as a losing kid continuous to go on and on until the moderator called him out saying Obama did say it was a terrorist attack in the rosen garden. Romney sounded lost, desperate and pathetic. Who wants a man like that for president??!
So grateful no one ever picked my name out of a #BindersFullOfWomen but instead gets to know me, unlike #Romney #Obama2012
All people (men and women) should be offended by Romney's response to the question on equal pay – from the binders of women to getting home to make dinner. If he thought about his response to the question asked, perhaps he'd realize it implied women make less because they want or need more flexibility. I'm sure (I hope) he didn't mean that but his response was still offensive and showed he is clueless about this issue.
Gad! Romney sounds like Bush. THAT IS NOT a compliment!
Romney is a disgrace to this country in terms of women. I feel like women will need to prepare themselves to deal with Romney in the same way that the young woman that the Taliban is trying to silence.
It isn't even true in the first place... there's already a fact checker on it... The "binder" was put together by a group before the governor was even elected and presented to him when he got to office.
Binders? Really, Mitt? What is wrong with you?
He asked for binders of women so he could save money in his budget.
I can hear Romney now. "You know they make 38% less than men for the same job. I have an idead lets hire all women for my staff and I will save the state 38% in payroll by hiring all women, and I'll look like a good guy."
I love how the only thing the lib's can make fun of Romney about is how he was trying to help women workers...yet repubs are against women...riiight
Binders full of women? LIke they are objects. This was in 2002 for goodness sakes. Where was Romney on women for the last 35+ years???? 2002!
Romney's comment on Binders for woman make me cringe. So did he imply that there weren't any qualified women in the first place that he had to lower his standards just to hire women?
Mitt said that he "would make the economy so strong, companies would want to hire women" Look at the transcript
Romney should take a Women Studies class. This is the one of the kinds of oppression that takes down equal rights. "Women's issue" is in all offensive as well because it is a family issue.
For Romney to refer to women as a Token person for placement, and then on top of that refer to the women having to get off work early – TO GO HOME AND MAKE DINNER...wow..nice Romney..
Any Women voting for Romney is voting against herself..
Are you serious? Maybe that's because those women were taking advantage of an opportunity. You really didn't need to read or write this whole piece to discuss nonsense.
Romney wants all woman back in the kitchen again. He is so bad for woman's issues. Binders full woman what an empty statement from an empty suit of a man.