Romney inadvertently endorses affirmative action, sidesteps question of equal pay for women

Thanks to Wiesman, who kindly contributed today’s talking points, I’m going to talk about the whole “binders full of women” comment and what exactly is so infuriating about Governor Romney’s entire response. Now plenty of people have been critical of the whole “binders full of women” meme, saying that it’s taking one little comment and blowing it out of proportion, but if you go back and listen to the entire preceding and following comments, there is still plenty to be outraged over.

First off, let’s actually review the infamous “binders full of women” comment that’s been taking on a whole internet life of its own:

MS. CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women.

MR. ROMNEY: Thank you. And — important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. 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. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?

And — and so we — 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.

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, but number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women. In the — in the last four years, women have lost 580,000 jobs. That’s the net of what’s happened in the last four years. We’re still down 580,000 jobs. I mentioned 3 1/2 million women more now in poverty than four years ago.

What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a — a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that — that they would otherwise not be able to — to afford.


All issues of binders aside, Romney’s not really answering the question (big surprise) about what he’s going to do to address pay equity for women. Like most questions of real importance, say like the details of his tax plan, he does a slippery dance, throws in some heartwarming personal story, and never actually answers the question.

But from his personal story about filling his cabinet with women, clearly his answer is affirmative action. Oh yes, you heard me, affirmative action.

“Affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including “race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin”[1] into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group “in areas of employment, education, and business”,[2] usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.”


On Tuesday night, Romney stated that women were underrepresented in the pool of qualified applicants for his cabinet (or according to him, were missing altogether). So what does he do? He goes out and makes gender one of the determining factors for assembling qualified candidates, the infamous “binders full of women.” How is this any different from universities weighing race as a factor when determining what qualified college applicants to consider?

The answer is, it’s not.

To quote Wiesman on this, “Romney basically endorsed the concept of affirmative action [Tuesday] night, and conservatives are too dumb to even know.”

Also, to get a little fact checking in, Romney’s story about the binders full of women isn’t exactly how the whole thing went down.

“To be perfectly clear, Mitt Romney did not request those resumes,” Jesse Mermell, a former executive director of Massachusetts Government Appointments Project, told reporters during a conference call arranged by the Democratic Party…

… 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.

MassGAP describes itself as a nonpartisan coalition of women’s groups interested in boosting the number of women in top state government jobs. The coalition said it approached the nominees of both major parties after the primaries, Romney and Democrat Shannon O’Brien, and secured commitments from both that, if elected, they would work with the organization to identify potential female candidates for senior-level positions.


So to finish this post off, all joking aside on binders and all, I want to explain why I think Romney’s statement was a little bit insulting and not a little patronizing.

I think it is at best naïve, and at worst insulting, that Romney would need help finding competent, qualified women. Maybe the real question he should be asking is, why are there no women applying for a cabinet position? (Though frankly, I wouldn’t want to work for Romney either. Blech.)

Then his following comment digs him an even deeper hole.

“I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. ”

What. The. Fuck.

This is exactly the kind of patronizing, patriarchal thinking that holds women back from a position of equality in American society.

Have you guys seen the 1943 “Guide to Hiring Women”? I feel like Romney’s statement is a modernized summary of this: women need a little extra care, women need to be treated differently, we have to “understand” what women need if you are to hire female employees.

Look, I am all for a flexible workplace. In fact, I feel like truly modern workplaces should emphasize things like setting your own hours, working from home, digital conferencing, and the like. We live in the goddamn digital age! Surely the corporate workplace we inherited from our parents could use a little upgrading. But at what point is flexibility something only women  need? Isn’t it something everyone needs more of, to have a healthy work-life balance?

What, can a father not pick up kids and make dinner? Shouldn’t a dad be at PTA meetings and drive the kid to soccer games? C’mon guys, wouldn’t you benefit from having the flexibility to be there for your kids and handle household issues alongside your domestic partner?

The path to gender equality is not to treat women differently. The path to gender equality is to create a system in which women don’t have to be treated differently. Policies like affirmative action are meant to bridge that immediate gap, but as the Mismatch study shows, forcibly equalizing the numbers is not the most effective solution. Certainly, singling women out as needing more “flexibility” than men, is not going to cut it either. It just perpetuates misogynistic stereotypes of the limitations of women.

And from Romney’s statement, it’s clear that he doesn’t even begin to understand this very problem. Getting binders full of women is not going to solve the problem of why these women needed to be in a binder in the first place.


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