After the first presidential debate, liberals clung to Mitt Romney’s off-the-cuff comments on Big Bird. Immediately, the statement was mocked and meme-ified. Romney’s larger point about wasteful government spending was lost to those who saw nothing worth praising in President Obama’s performance, and thus wanted to bring Romney’s down by any means necessary, no matter how trivial.
Tuesday night’s debate was no different, and the meme of the night quickly became “Binders Full of Women.” A Tumblr page was instantly created and a Facebook group had over 300,000 members by 2 p.m. Wednesday. Liberals scoffed at Romney’s phraseology while, again, missing his overall message. Romney’s actual statement was this:
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 I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
These liberals ruthlessly mocking Romney have missed two crucial points: “Binders full of women” actually exist across the economic, political and journalistic worlds, and they are a good thing for feminism. Some liberals, to their credit, understood this. In New York Magazine Ann Friedman wrote,
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. When we mock Romney’s reliance on it, we’re actually mocking a concerted strategy by an accomplished group of women to diversify their state government. Oops.
The binder-full-of-names approach is a time-honored way of getting people (mostly men, sure, but also women) in positions of power to do more than pay lip service to the idea of diversity. In my own industry, I got so sick of hearing male editors say over and over that they didn’t know or couldn’t find any great women journalists, so I created an online compendium of recent work by women. A digital binder full of women journalists, if you will. I have no idea if editors have turned to it when they’re looking to assign articles, but I do know that its very existence disproves a classic excuse for lack of gender balance in magazine bylines. It answers a very stupid but persistent question: Where are the women writers? Right here, in this binder that I can show to you.
A New York Daily News opinions editor, Josh Greenman, is familiar with “binders full of women” that help diversify gender imbalances on op-ed pages. Hiring managers in businesses and law firms also use informational binders, called “recruitment binders,” full of resumes to help staff their offices with diverse hires. “Binders full of women” are nothing new in the professional world, and while there may be a better way to phrase what the binders are, it does not detract from their existence.
These binders are assembled to help recruit talented and qualified women for positions that they might not otherwise be considered for. Often women’s careers are sidetracked, halted or put on pause during their childbearing years, as attention shifts from work to family. Romney’s efforts to expand his cabinet to include more women also kept in mind the needs of working mothers in order to make it possible for his staff to have a balanced work and family life. Romney made every effort not only to recruit talented females, but also to keep them on his staff.
What could so-called feminists possibly find so funny about Romney valuing female contributions to political life? While many young, single Tumblr users may find Romney’s descriptions of the difficulties of recruiting and retaining working mothers comical, it’s likely that working mothers (and fathers) across America appreciated that Romney made every effort to be as flexible as possible in order to include female voices that would not have otherwise been present. Romney’s polling numbers were on a quick upward trajectory before the debate among women and in general. My guess is, after liberals have spent the better part of a week doing nothing but calling attention to Romney’s statements, he won’t be any worse for the wear with women.