Binders full of women, and the Ledbetter Fair Pay act

Admit it – you knew it was coming, right? Let’s talk about this meme that’s stormed the internet ever since Mitt Romney announced obliquely, in response to how he felt about equal pay laws, that in filling his Massachusetts cabinet he sought out women candidates and compiled “binders full of women.” Since then, that phrase has haunted him just like the 47% remarks and his insults to London right before they threw a big party in his honor. (Undecided voters, please consider that this man is not polished enough to go more than two months without insulting an entire smallish nation and/or half of a large nation. Do we really want global thermonuclear war because Romney has the diplomacy of a first grader?) You may enjoy this Tumblr about the meme. It’s not uniformly hilarious, but the level of participation warms my heart.

The first and most important problem with what ol’ Mittens said (as soon as he acts like someone capable of respecting others, I’ll speak of him respectfully) is that it was a significant misdirect:

Mermell, a Democrat and town official in Brookline, Mass., said Romney did not request any names after his 2002 election. Instead, she said MassGAP approached Romney’s team as part of its effort, begun before the election, to make sure that more women were appointed to senior positions in the new administration.

…Romney’s campaign declined to respond to Mermell and referred questions to Kerry Healey, who was Romney’s lieutenant governor. Healey said Romney went beyond the initial contact with MassGAP by reaching out to acquaintances in the business world and others to help meet his pledge to fill more administration posts with women.

Governor Romney was a tremendous proponent of bringing women into the state. There’s no doubt about it,” Bramson said. “But the impetus for this was not Governor Romney, but this other organization, MassGAP.”

Kudos for Romney hiring a lot of women into these positions, even if he he had to be told. It’s too bad he felt the need to make it sound like his own idea when he wasn’t. He could’ve spoken of it as a teachable moment he’d experienced.

But that leads to the second problem, which is that his response doesn’t address the question. He was asked what he would do to promote income equality between the genders. In the best light, his response could be interpreted as saying that he personally would make sure some of the people he’s in a position to hire were women. Given the power a president has to improve stuff like this (Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act), “Well, I went out of my way to hire some women one time in my long career!” is a non-answer.

And then there’s just the Freudian aspect of it, isn’t there? “Binders.” Some of the Tumblr images invoke serial killers and historical gender oppression: the Criminal Minds team reassures itself they’ll get that “sick fuck” who’s “putting women in binders.” The serial killer fromSilence of the Lambs looks down into his victim pit and is unimpressed by Mitt’s claims. There are a lot of “Trap her, keep her” images based on the Trapper Keeper line of notebooks and folders. And then there’s the one of Mitt saying he has binders full of women, followed by a smug-looking Hugh Heffner in his smoking jacket saying, “Bitch, please.”

When you’re repping a political party that wants to set women’s rights back 50 years or more, maybe binders isn’t a word you should use ever in reference to women. But I’m sure Mitt didn’t think of that. Why would he? It’s not his problem.

And that says a lot about what sort of president he would be.


  1. SunlessNick says

    Kudos for Romney hiring a lot of women into these positions, even if he he had to be told. It’s too bad he felt the need to make it sound like his own idea when he wasn’t.

    As I read elsewhere, Romney respects women, just not enough to acknowledge when something was their idea and came about through their work.

  2. sbg says

    But that leads to the second problem, which is that his response doesn’t address the question.

    Right?! What’s frustrating to me is that for as ludicrous as the binders comment was on its own, no one seems to be asking why he didn’t answer the damned question. It’s all reduced to humorous soundbites – Big Bird, anyone? – and no one is calling bullshit on the bullshit in any real depth. For his supporters, it’s very easy to brush off the “funny” times a candidate misspeaks as him being bullied. Poor misunderstood Romney, you’ve still got my vote!

    And FCOL, we’ve got folks – poor, rural – like my parents, who will mute an ad featuring a viewpoint different to their own because they’re convinced the only issues they need to consider are gun rights (which, IIRC correctly, Mitt addressed by mentioning how women should be married before they start having babies and ending up single parents (?!)), unborn fetuses (which IIRC the Republican party demands have a chance at life but refuses to lend support once that precious life is out there in the real world, with parents who cannot afford to raise it) and anti-gay rights (because giving other people the same rights hets have enjoyed for a long, long ass time will infringe on said rights HORRIBLY and PAINFULLY and GAY AGENDA!! and BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS ARE SO HARD, YO).

    Long story short: the playing up of these stupid things Romney’s said (and believes) doesn’t really help so much at all, but it’s horrifying to me that more people don’t splutter in complete indignation at some of the shit being slung.

    ETA: Sorry, I seem to have feelings.

  3. says


    You recall correctly: Romney’s response to gun control was the real issue here is all those single parents who aren’t raising their babies properly. Added hilarity/squick for saying this while debating a man raised by a single mother who grew up to be President of the USA.

  4. says

    Here’s a link about it:

    He rambled about violence in society rather than gun control – I guess implying we wouldn’t need gun control if we didn’t have sociopaths. True enough, but then the question becomes, “What are you doing about Antisocial, Narcissistic and other personality disorders and mental health issues and social problems that lead to violence?” and the answer is, “Why, we get the white male sociopaths really good jobs in banking, and electrocute the rest!” But of course, he needs to blame the mothers, even when what he really seems to be impugning is a lack of fathers.

    For many of us, the lack of our fathers would have been a blessing, and that’s because our fathers were violent (not necessarily physically – the toll on psychology is similar no matter the form abuse takes). These fathers often don’t come from single parent households either. Many come from nice traditional church going hardworking families, but have fathers who teach them that success means disregarding the rights of others, or frustrated mothers who wanted careers but couldn’t have them and still maintain society’s approval and so they twist their boys into weapons against other women – particularly empowered, feminist or independent women. This is so common it’s textbook.

    This is why I say we should blame Republicans for everything from bad weather and colds to historical tragedies that happened long before they existed. They’re big on picking out random people to blame who have little to so with the problem. Since they love Jesus, I assume they’re doing unto others as they would have done unto them, so we’re really being nice to blame Republicans for anything we feel like.

  5. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    It’s just so galling to me that this epidemic of single parenthood (has it been labeled epidemic yet, like the obesity epidemic? It seems like it ought to be by now…) always seems to be considered the fault of the mother. She shouldn’t have gotten pregnant! She should have waited until she got married! Uhm, unless I’m completely mistaken, it takes two to tango. Just because a woman is the unfortunate incubator, stuck with the lasting and very physical ramifications…

    Sometimes I wish human anatomy allowed for male pregnancy. I’ll bet things would be framed far, far differently then, except women would probably still be to blame.

  6. says

    Someone did a study recently (I think we linked to it) but I can’t find it just now. They found that most single mothers were either married or in relationships where a child was wanted and plans to jointly parent it had been made. The common refrain they found over and over? The man got a whiff of this whole responsibility thing, realized it wasn’t all just cuteness and fun, and off he went. And there was no class or race divide, either – all sorts of men do this because they can. If society framed it as okay for women to flounce and abandon their kids to the fathers, women would do it too, because it’s human nature to freak out at responsibility. That’s why we form social groups that push responsibility onto people. The problem is, we only push it onto certain people.

  7. DNi says

    Jen: you’re really speaking to what I believe is the one of the greatest contradictions in the Republican Party’s philosophy: Personal Responsibility and Traditional Family Values.

    Maybe it’s just my opinion, but I believe that once you introduce the precept of forcing one person to be physically responsible for another person (I.E., parenthood), the idea of Personal Responsibility goes right out the door. And Republican doctrine goes a step further by insisting on disenfranchising women and resting responsibility on the shoulders of men to financially support their entire families. This ultimately ensures a portion of men will, as you mentioned, abandon their obligations and shirk their responsibilities onto an institutionally-mandated unprepared woman.

  8. says


    I agree with that. And if Republicans would just read real psychology instead of Ayn Rand’s theories on How Stuff Works, they might realize a few things:

    –Responsibility is scary. It just is.
    –Scaring people into doing something they’re already afraid to do doesn’t work long term. It usually works until the threatener’s back is turned, if that long.
    –Pairing responsibility with certain freedoms or rewards has always been a way to get people past that fear.
    –The freedoms and rewards have to be very well-matched to the responsibility and socially conscientious. And there also needs to be a consistent system of punishment when people shirk those responsibilities. I.E., we could ensure that all functional parents, including poor ones, have access to good daycare for their kids for a tiny fraction of what we spend on bailing out huge companies that twisted the system to make money for themselves – and that makes parental responsibility less scary. But a rich deadbeat dad and a poor deadbeat dad should meet with exactly the same problems in court (and a poor mother should be equally able to drag her deadbeat child’s father into court as a rich one). And so on.

    I admit the details are where it gets tricky, but understanding the basics of why stuff happens and what would fix is? Is pretty simple, if you understand psychology.

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