Breaking Down the ‘Binders Full of Women’ Meme

In case you missed it, here’s a video of the question from the second presidential debate last night that elicited Mitt Romney’s now-famous “binders full of women” quote.  That colorful, slightly disturbing image came from the wellspring of Romney’s personal experience as governor of Massachusetts, when he set about filling his cabinet with not just men.

I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are all men?” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t find some women that are also qualified?” And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. 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.

Binders full of women! The quote quickly took off among those reacting live on Twitter, and inspired its own Tumblr before the debate had even ended.

It was bad enough that Romney risked creeping out female voters with his secret scouting dossier. Like, why doesn’t he just talk to us? We’re right here. But he also inadvertently admitted he used affirmative action in his hiring practices, a policy now being argued in the Supreme Court, on which he’d previously refused to take a stand. That is, after he tried to eliminate it on the sly in Massachusetts.

He also lied. Romney didn’t ask for the binders, appointing some woman headhunting task force, although that might be more embarrassing than reality. His old hometown alt-weekly, the Boston Phoenix, remembers:

What actually happened was that in 2002 — prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration — a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor. They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.

Obama put up a good fight, but the binder-making, bipartisan women of MassGAP were the real winners last night.