October 16th, 2012
10:55 PM ET
1 year 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

Also on the CNN Political Ticker

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– All tied up ahead of second Obama-Romney showdown

– Obama ad makes case for economic policies

– 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. honest mari

    Condescending Romney could not help himself. Self professed fixer whose chains of fictitious achievement in Massachusetts have been fact checked over and over again by the good people of that state can not stop falsifying issues. Like the salesman he tries to be he will stop at nothing to make a sale.

    October 17, 2012 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  2. Steven

    Women don't get equal pay because they are in general afraid of confrontation and don't ask for money. Fact. There's only so much that government officials and the president can do. Just ask

    October 17, 2012 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  3. Brandon

    Laws can't fix everything. Women have the right to negotiate for their own pay same as men. I agree a person should be payed according to ability not sex or color. But real change starts in the hearts of people, not the stroke of a politician's pen.

    October 17, 2012 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  4. Brandon

    My wife was offended by the notion that POTUS feels like women need the govt's help negotiating their own pay.

    October 17, 2012 02:10 am at 2:10 am |
  5. Jennifer

    As a woman who makes 100% of what a man "might" make in a similar role, it is simply about whether women are willing to put in 100% of what a man would do in the same job. Women in the workplace want too many concessions and want some king of special props or acknowledgement for the personal life sacrifices they are making. Sorry – it doesn't work that way if you want to make 100%. Secondly, this notion of Romney having "binders full of women" is hardly a negative. The very idea that he searched for a qualified group of women to hire is pretty inspiring.

    October 17, 2012 02:14 am at 2:14 am |
  6. Patti

    Wow!! People are finally waking up to what the mitt is all about. Bravo....

    October 17, 2012 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  7. Bill

    Mitt Romney asked all of the men he worked with at his office to bring him "binders full of women?" Serious TMI. I did not need to know that.

    October 17, 2012 02:18 am at 2:18 am |
  8. Ed D

    "Binders full of women" Is Gov Romney for real ...this is something out of the stone age . Sexist to the max ...thanks for cutting women a break ,they couldnt have done it with out you .

    October 17, 2012 02:25 am at 2:25 am |
  9. honest mari

    Romney peeled backwards raw and in real time.

    October 17, 2012 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  10. Joseph Smith

    Mitt fell apart tonight...tried recycling some primary lines...didn't work this time!

    October 17, 2012 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  11. Ed D

    Binders full of women .. is tis for real ? like something out of the stone age. Thanks for giving woemn a break they couldnt have done it with out you

    October 17, 2012 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  12. Sharon

    There is a total disconnect between the way men like Romney view women and the way President Obama views women. Today's American women want equal rights, equal pay, and equal standing. They have equal education and equal ability. Anyone who considers women "lesser" has an old fashioned bias. Time to move into the 21st Century!

    October 17, 2012 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  13. Bill

    "Binders full of women" will determine who will be the next President of the United States.

    October 17, 2012 02:31 am at 2:31 am |
  14. Ed D

    this comment is hardly inspiring and very much a negative comment .this is a sexist comment making women a second class citizen . sorry no excuse for this kind of outdated thinking wake up girls these guys are trouble

    October 17, 2012 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  15. AFR531

    Should have asked Romney if he wanted to "repeal and replace" the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act too.

    October 17, 2012 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  16. Eyes Open

    BTW For those not paying attention: Crowley apologized and said she was wrong for defending Obama for saying it was a terrorist attack. Wake up.

    October 17, 2012 02:43 am at 2:43 am |
  17. Thomas

    @Brandon
    My wife was offended by the notion that POTUS feels like women need the govt's help negotiating their own pay.

    ========

    Offended , who dose she work for , you ?

    October 17, 2012 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  18. elvis99

    The fight in the president was the first energy I have seen for me and it is all about him......he has never had energy about jobs...... Can you actually tell me that this president is in controll of moving this country forward and you feel positive of the direction of this country....has lead anything from start to finish....

    October 17, 2012 03:21 am at 3:21 am |
  19. Scotchguard

    Mitt loves to tell the stories where he helped the poor and gave women jobs while the Republican part of congress blocks every piece of legislation that would promote women's health and rights and help the poor. Romney never answered the question about what he will do on a national level - he only attempted to evade the question with his little story about his binders full of women. His record for promoting women at Bain was dismal.

    October 17, 2012 03:37 am at 3:37 am |
  20. Richard Chichi

    Strange how the writer wants to remind everyone repeatedy how this poll cannot be representative of all Americans when they did so feebly during the first debate when Romney won. Is CNN trying to "make up" for comments directed at them from repubs that its has been favouring Obama? What will Fox do then?

    October 17, 2012 03:46 am at 3:46 am |
  21. Bishop

    “Binders Full Of Women” was certainly an awkward phrase to say and it failed to even work as an answer to the question. Instead, it reminded people of a time when women wore girdles or women in China bound their feet as status symbol that allowed them to marry into money.To solve the problem of pay inequality. We don’t need more ‘binders full of women,’ we need more ballots full of women. #BallotsNotBinders.In Romney’s former company,Do they sell #BindersFullOfWomen at Staples?

    October 17, 2012 03:57 am at 3:57 am |
  22. natt

    Why does Romney expect that only women should have flex hours ? so that they can work and cook, clean and take care of children ? BTW Without equal pay !!

    October 17, 2012 04:24 am at 4:24 am |
  23. scott

    News media and The Obama campaign are desperate, if this is all they can come up with. He was referring to a binder full of women' resume's.

    October 17, 2012 04:30 am at 4:30 am |
  24. Michael54

    These "binders full of women" didn't happen to include one woman Romney and his white-male elites summarily brushed aside in his effort to become Governor of my Commonwealth: Republican Sitting Governor Jane Swift. They closed ranks and booted her from contention, with nary a second thought. His fiscal record here in Massachusetts was dismal. He was required by law to balance the state budget; it had nothing to do with bipartisanship at all; he had an 87% opposition party to contend with and he would always come out on the losing end of any battle with them. He showed unequivocally that his so-called record of success in business simply doesn't equate to knowing how to govern.

    October 17, 2012 04:31 am at 4:31 am |
  25. irock

    Brandon.....The POTUS doesn't need to negotiate on behalf of your wife for a pay raise, but because ofthe legislation passed, your wife gets to take a company to court if she finds out later that men are paid more that she was for the same job and not be prohbitted from sueing because there is a time limit on when she could file a lawsuit.

    October 17, 2012 04:50 am at 4:50 am |
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