What The Women Outside of The Binders Make Of Romney’s Debate Performance

By now, you’ve heard dozens of variations on jokes about Romney and binders full of women. Regardless of the content (binder halloween costumes! Bill Clinton popping out of nowhere excitedly!) the context is that Romney tried to use a single anecdotal reference that didn’t make a lot of sense on the sentence level (it’s hard to imagine that repeating “binders full of the dossiers of women campaign professionals” would have been as funny). Because of course, the point Romney was trying to make – that he’s invested in women and feminist concerns because he made a concerted effort to hire women to his staff as governor of Massachusetts – is undercut by the fact that he didn’t support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, along with a multitude of other facts, several of which Barack Obama has helpfully tweeted about.

And there’s one more fact, as explained by Ann Friedman at the NYT:

“Boston journalist David Bernstein reports that while Romney did indeed find himself with a binder full of women’s names, it wasn’t something he requested. The binder was put together by MassGAP, a bipartisan group of women who joined forces in 2002 to push Romney’s incoming administration to hire more women. Did you catch that? The binder of women was assembled by women and pushed onto Romney’s desk, unsolicited.”

So we learn that while the “binders full of women” were in fact real, and not an imaginary item to be mocked, they weren’t exactly something Mitt can take credit for (much like every claim he makes about how successful Massachusetts is as a state). And even after the binders were introduced, Friedman points out that Romney still didn’t exactly promote the women in them to prominent positions within his administration:

 MassGAP claims that between January 2002 and July 2004, 42 percent of Romney’s new appointees were women. Bernstein follows up with some sobering details, however: “Those were almost all to head departments and agencies that he didn’t care about — and in some cases, that he quite specifically wanted to not really do anything. None of the senior positions Romney cared about — budget, business development, etc. — went to women.”

For most of us, these revelations are not really revelations. The fact that Romney wants to defund Planned Parenthood and may well nominate Supreme Court justices who would repeal Roe v. Wade is enough to signal to us that Romney’s vision of America doesn’t really include equality or opportunity for women. But “us” in this sentence refers to a select demographic that is immersed in the feminist blogosphere, who furiously reblog Mansplaining Paul Ryan, and who had already decided we weren’t voting for Romney before he had even won the GOP nomination. What about the person who actually asked the question that Romney was responding to with his binders? According to Salon, Katherine Fenton truly is the unicorn of our times, an undecided voter – and while she considers “women’s equality in the workforce” and reproductive rights to be very important, she doesn’t identify as a feminist. She’s far from being alone. What does Romney’s misleading answer mean to her?

When Salon asked her what her feelings are now on the respective candidates’ approach to the wage gap, she said “I think people around the president making choices would be more more susceptible to action on that. I don’t think Mitt Romney’s people might be as concerned as they ought to be.” As much as we sometimes want to gnash our teeth and shake our TV sets and shout about how transparent everything is, because we already know the answers. But it’s important to remember that there are people who don’t feel like the answers are already obvious, and that’s really who the debates are for. One can learn more about parties’ actual platforms and track records by reading fact checks of the debates than watching them. People who watch the debates for insight onto the candidates may not be looking for the facts or statistics outlined here; they may be looking more for what Fenton describes as her “gut” feeling about candidates. And so depending on how earnest Romney’s binder explanation felt, it may not have been the huge gaffe that so many of us experienced it as. In which case we would have to hope that as far as addressing “the war on women,” Obama’s explanation of his stance towards contraception, fair pay and Planned Parenthood came off as at least as important and sincere as Romney’s binders. Because while the facts may be on Obama’s side (and ours) in this case, those unfortunately aren’t always the deciding factor.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 767 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    I don’t really get how people can still be undecided in this age of technology aka the internet – if you don’t know a candidate’s position, it takes five minutes to Google it and see if support was or was not given on that topic. Boom.

    I also honestly don’t understand how any woman could support Romney’s candidacy on the whole :/

    • Thumb up 4

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      I think that people are torn between their desire for long term social changes or “new” economic policies. This is especially exacerbated in my district where even the importance of social policy is being shredded by one of the candidates—and it is sadly working to that candidate’s advantage. This being the lovely Duckworth v Walsh race.

      • Thumb up 2

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        I agree — I think any women who are considering voting for Romney (and there ARE some, although not a whole lot, according to the last poll numbers I saw) are torn between “women’s issues” and “fiscal issues,” aka they think he’s stronger on the economy and weaker on women. Or they just don’t know! The google thing only really works if you know what it MEANS (to you, in general) that Romney supported such and such bill and that his economic plan contains such and such components. I personally don’t understand many of the details about the economy — like what the hell is quantitative easing, for example — so I just sort of look at broad strokes (Romney doesn’t care about poor people = my general sense), and understand that I would never ever ever ever vote for Romney from that. But I get why people are confused, especially because no one really knows what will ACTUALLY fix the economy; it’s all super theoretical still. And the debates don’t help! Both candidates just say opposite things. I wish there were live fact-checking stats rolling at the bottom of the screen…ideally with Joe Biden popping up with his catchphrase, “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey!”

  2. Thumb up 7

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    his 5 point plan will save the day! during the last debate he sounded like an infomercial. i was half expecting him to whip out a knife that cuts pennies or a john basedow exercise video.

    this election is depressing. logic and reason are being clouded by desperation. i want to puke.

  3. Thumb up 22

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    While I like making fun of the binders of women comment as much as the next binder resident, I’m upset people aren’t paying more attention to the rest of his answer. Letting the lady employees go home to cook dinner at 5:00? Because women are obvs the cookers-of-dinner and men would never want a more flexible schedule to be with family, etc.

    • Thumb up 6

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      Yes! That whole answer was so misogynistic (not to mention that he didn’t even answer the question). He obviously didn’t think there was anything wrong with what he was saying, but the sad thing is that there are women out there who didn’t see the misogyny in it either.

      I had a little discussion with a friend-of-a-friend via Facebook comments who didn’t see what was wrong with his answer. Her reaction was that it was nice that he would give women a flexible work schedule, and didn’t even pick up on the sexism in his statement that women need a flexible schedule so they can pick up the kids and cook dinner. If women are ever going to stop being treated differently than men in the workplace, we need to stop expecting to be treated differently.

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        I had that discussion, too. She thought the original question was idiotic anyway, so I probably shouldn’t have wasted my time. I don’t understand why people can’t grasp that intimating that cooking dinner is a women’s issue might be *just slightly* sexist or offensive.

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      I agree. Plus he explains how he basically went on the hunt to include women on his team only so he could stand there on that day and brag about how good he is for having so many women on his team. I thought it was super patronizing and degrading.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    “One can learn more about parties’ actual platforms and track records by reading fact checks of the debates than watching them.” Exactly. This is why I can never bring myself to watch debates.

    Thanks for favoring intelligence over memes in the binder convo, Rachel!

  5. Thumb up 6

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    I don’t understand a woman who can say she feels women’s equality in the workplace and reproductive rights are “very important,” and then turns around and says she’s not a feminist. Why do women see “feminist” as something negative and not want to claim the label?

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      To be honest, I don’t consider myself a “feminist” but prefer to say I’m a “humanist” and that I believe in equality across the board. I want equal rights, equal pay and equal treatment regardless of gender, race, religion etc. I will fight for this regardless of whether the outcome positively effects me. It isn’t that I don’t want to claim the label, I don’t want to separate the issue from other equality issues. I think this fight is bigger than myself.

      • Thumb up 4

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        I’m in the same camp as Digger, it seems. Feminism also runs the risk of carrying a very white-washed perspective and I feel that the term “humanist” embraces the intersectionality of issues a bit better than does the term “feminist.”

        I would never be offended if somebody called me a feminist, but I find using that label sometimes puts people off because of the history of feminism and the perceptions society carries.

    • Thumb up 6

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      I find that baffling as well.

      Although: I vividly remember being 14 and telling my English teacher, who’d just told me that she was a feminist, that I wasn’t a feminist because I believed that women & men should be treated equally, not that women were better than men. I may or may not have sputtered about being an egalitarian; it was probably apparent that I just wanted a boyfriend & didn’t want the boys in my class to pick on me any more than they already did for claiming that I was better than them.

      The look she gave me was priceless but she didn’t correct me (and probably had some kind of *headdesk* moment after I left the classroom. Sorry Jeanine!). I honestly (and unexaminedly) thought that feminists were shrill man-haters who wanted to push their man-hating evil agenda on the country.

      At the time, feminism was a concept I’d only encountered on news broadcasts and other TV/movie media and despite being raised in a relatively left-leaning family in a very left-leaning city & county, an actual definition of feminism & feminist movements weren’t something that had ever come up at home or in the classroom, and I was left to believe the crap image I’d absorbed from the media.

      It wasn’t until college that I started looking at this Whole Feminist thing more critically — nothing like college brahs & attempted sexual assault to make you wonder about other schools of thought beyond the casual misogyny & rape culture of a large university! — and I realized what an asshat I’d been & what an incredible tool feminism can be.

      Ugh that’s an embarrassing story.

      tl;dr
      Maybe she just needs some time & impetus to actually examine what feminism is & what it’s done as an activist movement? I hope?

  6. Thumb up 1

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    HEY! let’s distract the general public with matters of feminism as if it’s an important issue in comparison to what’s going on in this world. And while we’re at it let’s bring up gay marriage and abortion too!

    Seriously people wake the fuck up. The game is rigged. Romney, Obama, they’re cut from the same clothe. It’s a damn shame that you Americans didn’t see the potential in Ron Paul.

    • Thumb up 10

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      libertarian principles aren’t good responses to the social justice issues in the united states. libertarianism only works sans racist, sexist, classist, homophobic people and hegemonies. i mean, the country needs to be basically utopia for libertarianism to work. otherwise, people left on their with uneven access to resources and opportunities (which is the case in places such as the United States) will continue to have uneven access to resources and opportunities.

    • Thumb up 4

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      I’m a bit confused about what you think is going on in this world that is important. I’m just going to assume based on your comment that you only care about war, the economy, and potentially marijuana.
      I guess that feminism, gay marriage, and abortion don’t have that much to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, but if you don’t think that those issues are important because they don’t affect the economy you are just wrong.
      First of all, they matter because they have a significant impact on a lot of people’s lives. I know it’s a bit shocking, but things that hurt other people are just as important to them as things that hurt you are to you.
      Secondly, feminism, gay marriage, and abortion do impact the economy. The availability of abortion and birth control impact the ability of women to have greater control over if and when they want to have children. Most jobs require a certain amount of education and training, while it is possible to get those if you have kids it’s a hell of a lot easier to get the education first.
      Employers having a belief that women are inherently less able to do a job and therefore more likely to hire a male has very obvious economic implications. Paying employees differently also has very obvious economic impacts.
      Gay marriage has economic impacts in at least two major ways. The way that I think you are more likely to care about is that when gay people are allowed to get married they sometimes have weddings. When people have weddings they spend money on goods and services. When people spend money on goods and services it helps to boost the economy. New York reported that in its first year gay marriage provided the city’s economy with an additional $250 million. Marriage also provides a lot of economic benefits to the couple involved. These are currently denied to a lot of people.
      Ron Paul has some good ideas, but there are reasons that he would not be a good president of the United States: allowing racist, homophobic, bigoted bullshit to be published under your name and then later claiming you didn’t know what was being written in the publication that you authorized at the VERY least shows that you have poor management skills, even if it occurred a long time ago; amending the Constitution to limit citizenship is bad; government backed student loans are good; protecting the environment is important; U.S. foreign policy is more complicated than “wars are bad, we should leave the UN;” and for libertarianism to be a truly viable economic strategy people would have to be better than they are (and I do generally believe that people are good, just not good enough for libertarianism to work).

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