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

Also on the CNN Political Ticker

– Bindersfullofwomen.com snapped up in 90 seconds

– Colbert says he can't tell differences between Romney and Obama

– 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. Jack

    Regardless of what side everyone is on for that comment, we can all agree it was a real groaner.

    October 17, 2012 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  2. Thomas

    "Romney did not support Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act"

    October 17, 2012 05:08 am at 5:08 am |
  3. 200 TON HAMMER

    what law did mitt romney for womens equal pay act.did he signed into law in Massachusetts as GOV.from 2002~ 2007
    just saying?????????????

    October 17, 2012 05:17 am at 5:17 am |
  4. DVA

    If he was such a "great Businessman with Bain" where were the women at that Corporation. Could he not find any qualified women who were employed by Bain? I am sure there will be a great demand for "binders full of women. Also, why did he refer to women having to get home to "prepare dinner, and care for the children"? I am wondering if there are binders full of men out there to go home from their work-day to prepare meals, care for the children-you know, bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan......

    October 17, 2012 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  5. Paul

    What Romney did as Governor is unimportant. Romney is for less (Federal) government which translates into less government jobs. Romney wants businesses outside of the government to create jobs. I believe the government has a system in place for equal pay for women. Do female secret service agents protecting the President and his family get paid a lot less than their male counterparts? I think not. I want to see the top 200 executives and their salaries, position, and gender when Romney was at Bain Capital. Was it top heavy with high salaried males, or more an equal number of highly paid and compensated females? Romney might support and encourage businesses that thought and acted like he did at Bain Capital. I have no numbers or figures, but maybe someone can come up with them for comparison. If Romney had a high or equal number of high paid female executives at Bain, then he is a good man and might encourage other businesses, especially large corporations, to do the same. .

    October 17, 2012 06:13 am at 6:13 am |
  6. James Hadel

    When will we learn. Please no more Bush mentality!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 17, 2012 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  7. jenisel

    DVA you took the words out of my mouth. Romney did not work with or even have acquaintances with any women in all his business career that he could have tapped for his cabinet? Makes me wonder if he ignored all the women surrounding him, or just too stupid to see their worth?

    October 17, 2012 06:59 am at 6:59 am |
  8. Grace011

    I have not yet seen the media pick up on the comment Romney made on kids being better off with 2 parents. He went on to explain what he meant; however, the first sentence out of his mouth was a major slam to single parents. Also, he was disrespectful to the President and his mom. He may have point, but as usual he was awkward and left himself open for misinterpretation.

    October 17, 2012 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  9. Scott

    "Binders full of women" is an issue? Please! How about the fact that women working in the White House make less money than their male counterparts?

    October 17, 2012 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  10. Sue

    It is a shame that we are talking about women's rights in 2012. Our mothers and grandmothers fought and sacrific for the young women today. Mitt's upbringing has cause him to not give women the same rights that White Males get. He is not for the women, the children, the poor or the middle class. Mitt stands for the Rich WHITE Male only..... If people don't wake up soon they will be in worst shape in less than a year of Mitt taking office. I was a single mom, worked two jobs, got no help from the father of my children nor the government and I also worked jobs next to men making twice as much for the same job. Not everyone wants the government to take care of them but to have equal playing field.. Also if anyone who cares about retiring using Medicare or has a disablitiy think twice before voting.... Romney wants to get rid of Social Securty for all people with Disablities. Please no more Bush years........

    October 17, 2012 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  11. William

    According to a report published by the Free Beacon in April, the 2011 annual report on White House staff revealed that the median annual salary for female White House employees was 18 percent less than male employees — $60,000 compared to $71,000.
    And in 2008, Scripps Howard syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock noted that as in Obama’s U.S. Senate office, women were paid less than men: While the average male staffer brought home $54,397, female staffers averaged $45,152."
    Obama says alot of smooth words very eloquently so he can get the womens vote his past speaks differently. As for the Lily Ledbetter Act it hasnt kept women in their jobs or helped them find any.

    October 17, 2012 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  12. marsh0

    As soon as I heard him say "binders full of women" I knew that it wasn't a good phrase.
    Then he talked about giving women time to go home to cook dinner.
    could he have been more condescending? I bet his wife speaks only when he tells her to. and she better have dinner ready or else.

    October 17, 2012 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  13. miksam

    So, in the idea to make this fair, how does telling the staff to bring only one set of applications in, work to solve the issue? Shouldn't they request all applications, but then make sure that the applications don't show anyting that would indicate gender? Otherwise this method he stated made it put men into the unwanted catagory which is also wrong....

    October 17, 2012 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  14. Indy

    Rude Romney got his butt handed to him,he had that perma smerk of anger all night and was agitated and acted like an out of control kid that was rude and interupted at every chance, but maybe Ann got home in time to cook him dinner and cater to his needs and clam him down.Romney never even came close to explaining the real math in his 5 trillion dollar trickle down job creation plan that failed in the Bush years

    October 17, 2012 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  15. Indy

    For anyone that thinks Presidents can control the price of gas I feel very sorry for them because it has been proven 100% that other then releasing reserves for a short term there is nothing a President can do about gas prices. Energy independence is a bigger scam than Bernie Madoff and there is no credible economist in the world that will tell you America can be energy independent,nor can Russia or Canada.Energy inependence is pants and shirt on fire LIE

    October 17, 2012 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  16. drimirabilis

    Who knows what Romney will do if he wins? He tells one story now about how MUCH he cares for the middle class and how MUCH he supports women and minorities. He told another during the primary debates (Go back and watch them on the web). And he told yet another story behind closed doors to his millionaire and billionaire contributors. So who knows? But one thing is for certain: he cares more about his millionaire pals and big business than he does about the average working person.

    October 17, 2012 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  17. john2655

    you people keep to wake up. Romney is only out for himself. He does not care for you

    October 17, 2012 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  18. Jill

    Romney won the debate, the president could only offer the same old thing he usually does. He could only knock what Romney had to say, None of the Moderators would actually ask the president for specifics on his plan. There is no plan for the president, he will just do the same thing as the past and hope that things get better. Yes he does want government to control your lives. He has been brought up on this theory. Is this what America wants?

    October 17, 2012 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  19. strungegh

    Binders full of women? sure. realy who believes this pap? especially from a guy who's so 16 century when it coms to women? no abortion, or contraceptive? or only an 'I'll get back to you' comment after being asked directly whether he'd sign a Lilly Ledbetter if he were prez....? Av seen cons and desperadoes who'd do or say anything to get what they want but MR sure does takes the cake! Boy o boy does he

    October 17, 2012 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  20. Common Sense

    Mr. Romeny's highest appointed woman was Lieutenant Gov. Kerry Healey married to the manager of Affiliated Managers Group Inc. a global investment management company headquartered in Massachusetts that owns stakes in a number of boutique asset management, hedge fund and specialized private equity firms (from Wikipedia). Sean M. Healey was appointed chairman in October 2010, served as president and CEO since May 2001 and in other senior management positions since 1995. Healey received compensation of $14.9 million in 2011 and has an estimated net worth in excess of $100 million.

    I guess the binder he was looking for was either full of Mormons or for people whose net worth exceeded $100 million.

    October 17, 2012 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  21. Fortinbras

    Haha, he got himself into a bind while trying to pivot.

    October 17, 2012 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  22. becky

    This question indicates just how Mr. Romney works. He came riding into MA on his White Horse. However, once h got there he really did not know people. On reporter said that there were not many women in politics but she neglected to mention that she was referring to women. Mr. Romney ran against Shannon O'Brien, a very capable woman.

    The story he told is not quite true. The women groups in MA, particularly the League of Women Voters knew women who were qualified. The answer he gave was for show and nothing more. We knew many women who were qualified without having to do this big search. The question becomes "Did women do better?" I was a woman working full time, putting in more than 40 hours a week, and undertaking more and more responsibilities but my pay did not match that level of responsibilities Any changes came because the women who had similar responsibilities fought for changes. However, I would not have been able to support my family on the salary I made. Mr. Romney's policies did not have any effect on us except that his domestic spending decreased and so women who needed an extra boost did not get it.

    October 17, 2012 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  23. ALLuh

    Just another example of how he marginalizes women, minorities and rest of YOU PEOPLE.

    October 17, 2012 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  24. Fortinbras

    Hey Mitts, we want to know how you will change the entire system which is unfair to working women. We dont want to hear about your binders full of women.

    October 17, 2012 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  25. Wren

    Of course you "need to be more fliexible" when you hire women because the women are responsible for childcare (so they are shirking their duty by working outside the home). Unless they get paid as welll as men so they can hire nannies as substitute women (not butlers – those are for the men).

    October 17, 2012 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
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