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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– 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. Gus

    I'm glad that there are news stations which can be trusted to share non-biased information with the american public. Too bad it's not CNN.

    October 17, 2012 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  2. Roger

    I was watching the debate with my wife and I noticed that she got offended by two of Romney's remarks regarding women – 1. they have to come home and cook dinner and 2. single mother reference to violence. The first one was a little condescending and the second one was not appropriate.

    October 17, 2012 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  3. Hopenhimer

    Binders full of women? Is that all you got. Obama said gang-bangers, real presidential...not. All Democrats/Liberals do is attack and insult. Don't you people realize that's what turns people off to your party?

    October 17, 2012 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  4. Magster

    I like the soundbite! More importantly though, I believe Obama did well but, this does not change my mind over whom I will be voting for.

    October 17, 2012 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  5. joe

    romney has no clue about women because he comes from a religion that thinks women are second to their husbands . What he was spouting was affermative action some thing he is supposidly against. This man is just a flat out lier and needs to called on it every chance we get.

    October 17, 2012 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  6. NanH

    Stop calling Mass "his" state, I have no idea where all the people who voted for him came from (maybe outer space) but as a res of Mass every time I hear "his state" I....well can't say in polite company. I thought this was 2012 not 1012.

    October 17, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  7. Boris

    While this is all silly, cutesy fun, CNN, do you not think it's worth addressing the fact that NEITHER CANDIDATE substantively answered the actual question? Is that not worth some attention here? This sort of coverage had destroyed what respect I had for this news organization.

    October 17, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  8. vanessaandterry

    If anyone believes old Mitt bent over backwards and had "binders of women's" resumes brought in his office, then I have a big bridge in San Fransico that I will sell you.......LOL. I think the women in this country know better than that!!!

    Woooooooeeeee what a whopper there Mitt old boy!

    October 17, 2012 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  9. GRRRRR8

    Department of Labor states woman make up 47% of the U.S. Labor Force. Oh that's the 47% Romney was talking about. Duh! Many women are in that 47% because we earn less. This answer was condescending and it shows a serious lack of understanding of the real world.

    Mitt, How many women did you mentor and promote in the private sector?

    October 17, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  10. courther

    Mitt tried to politicize the Libya attack on the US embassy and it backfired. He said that Obama didn't say it was a terrorist attack until 14 days after the attack. He was called out by the moderator and Obama. Romney had to go there that he represented the 100% which gave Obama a slam dump on Romney's 47% comment. It was a slam dunk because Obama had the last word. Romney lost on the immigration discussion. Romney was slaughtered on his tax plan and deductions. And lastly Romney insulted women on his discussion of women equality in the workplace. He asked for binders of women like they are some kind of property or chattel.

    October 17, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  11. Susan

    Binders full of women means resumes for the job, or a job. My dad was an executive in charge of hiring and firing. They used to have binders full of resume's they called guess what? Some jobs they were looking for a female in the trust department, or the credit department. Or a male in personnel as they already had three women in personnel and wanted a man. They would ask for the binders. And Obama kept referring to the "video" in the UN speech. He didn't use the word terror for after three weeks after September 12th. And people died. A Washington post headline states O did not use "terror" word at UN Aseembly dated September 26th. And people died here. You crucify Romney for one mistake at being nervous, and give Obama a total free three week pass. And Hillary said she was responsible. Yet I heard him say tonight he was responsible. What?

    The point is, people make mistakes when they are nervous. Binders full of women to him MEANT women for the job. And yes I am female. An Independent voter, but this is just getting ridiculous

    October 17, 2012 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  12. Steven

    Are you people serious? Did you watch the debate or are you just reading this article title? He was talking about prospective people to be hired. He said binders of women, talking about applicants.

    October 17, 2012 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  13. HUSSEIN OBAMA = LIAR

    Obama, why do women make considerably less than their counterparts in the White House?

    October 17, 2012 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  14. RickFromTexas

    A female friend of mine who happens to be republican said she thought Obama won the debate.

    Between the Prez bringing his game up for this debate and Paul Ryan screwing up their chances in Ohio with his stunt at the soup kitchen, these guys don't appear to have much of a chance.

    I think it's going to be close but that Obama will win. Romney and Ryan keep saying or doing things that backfire on them, it's kind of bizarre, I almost feel sorry for them but they've got no one but themselves to blame.

    October 17, 2012 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  15. Alicia

    What I got from the debate. #binders full of women and #be home in time to make dinner.

    4 more years please. Obama 2012

    October 17, 2012 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  16. katie

    No Kidding? Binders full of women??? Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. Open mouth, insert foot!!

    October 17, 2012 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  17. Name

    Romney showed his true colors tonight....he maybe a good businessman for the those who haven't had to struggle....but I'm not in favor of how he want to run this country .....we need a president for ALL not just for the rich and successful.

    October 17, 2012 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  18. Golden Girl

    The story he told about increasing the number of women in his cabinet impressed me. The binders full of women detail WAS a funny way to say it. I was also impressed that Massachusetts had the highest percentage of women serving in the cabinet in the nation while he was there.

    October 17, 2012 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  19. cahoosier

    "'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."

    1. He makes it sound as if they had to beat the brush and THEN make some allowances to find women who "could be qualified".
    2. I'm sure there were plenty of women already qualified to be Cabinet members, but his insider group could only see men.

    I wonder how this "slip of the tongue" will be spun?

    October 17, 2012 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  20. OCVoterinCA

    That's he take on women in binders. Women of the binders. Let's see Self Deportation binder, 5 point tax plan binder, so 47% of the nation Romney wrote off and a tiny binder of women were ask to serve the people of Mass.

    October 17, 2012 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  21. jp

    It wasn't the binder's comment that I thought strange, it was the comment " If you are going to have women in the cabinet, you need to be flexible." If you are going to have women in the cabinet, that I think says a lot about Mit. The big IF!!!!!

    October 17, 2012 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  22. michellenm

    Romney clearly values women and the contributions we make day in and day out. Obama didn't answer the question. I saw it and heard it, and so did the rest of the American people. We don't need the media to tell US what we just witnessed.

    October 17, 2012 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  23. AliceF

    Binders full of women??? Really, Governor? How completely offensive! I guess corporations are more human than women in your world.

    October 17, 2012 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  24. gilstrap

    Wow I can't believe some of the responses here. You think he has the time to meet every person and review their resume? No. Of course he gets binders of resumes. I gaurantee it would be the same way with Obama. Your getting way to literal with his words and over looking the fact that his cabinet was made of mostly women. One minute y'all cry that women are under paid and are not equals but when a man changes that you cry foul because he said binders of women.

    October 17, 2012 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  25. Courtney

    When I first saw the "Binders Full of Women" tumblr, I thought it was hilarious (still do, but...). I even posted it on some friends' Facebooks, but then I started thinking about it more. Within context, the comment was benign. Perhaps Romney could have phrased it better, but the intentions behind it and the larger anecdote were innocent. So I deleted my reposting of the memes, with this message: "Hey guys! So, I just took down the link I had tagged you all in because my conscience was starting to eat me. Even though I think the binders-full-of-women meme is *hiLARious*, realizing that Mitt Romney didn't mean any harm by the comment and is now being ridiculed for it made me feel sad and guilty for perpetuating it..." I'm not going to vote for him, but I don't think it's right to actively ridicule him for candor and innocence.

    October 17, 2012 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
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