Almost as soon as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney uttered the words “binders full of women” the internet lit up. The phrase and near-instantaneous meme was in response to a question from a young woman in the audience who wanted to know what each candidate would do to address the gender pay gap. Romney told her he considered hiring a woman once but had trouble finding qualified candidates so he had colleagues go bring him “binders full of women” to consider for the job. For real.
I’m sure Romney didn’t intend to make the case for affirmative action in his answer to pay discrimination but he did. And I’m also pretty sure he meant the story to humanize him on middle-class economic issues and in a way that would resonate with women. It’s safe to say it did not.
Instead, Romney’s answer succinctly categorized the seething misogyny that has come to define the modern-day Republican party. Not only did Romney’s “binders full of women” objectify women, it framed the issue of equal pay not as a matter of right or economic necessity but one of male generosity. Romney was so concerned about equal pay that he considered hiring a woman once, ladies so never-mind the fact his running mate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act and opposes paycheck fairness.
And just like Romney framed pay discrimination as something to be remedied by benevolent male bosses he framed flex time as “help” for women juggling work and families. Romney bragged his female employees were allowed to work flexible schedules and used this as proof that his administration would “understand” and “take care” of the women in the workforce. After all, when Mitt Romney was the boss he let his female workers “go home and fix dinner” for their kids.
Yes, women benefit from flex time, but so do men. And this fact is totally missing in Romney’s world. By tying flextime to his female workforce Romney simply reinforced the idea that women are the only ones who must juggle these demands, that dads don’t cook dinner, and that female employees are first-and-foremost either mothers or potential mothers. Consider one giant nod to the patriarchy.
More importantly, absent from Romney’s answer was the role the government serves in eradicating employment discrimination. Most American women are not so lucky as to have a boss that would just grant them flex time, nor absent a legal mandate go out and seek qualified female candidates for leadership positions. In Romney’s world, the private sector remedies pay discrimination and we should trust it will do the right thing. Of course, we have decades of proof that the private sector has done just the opposite.
Of course, only some working women are deserving of Romney’s generosity, and those are working women who also happen to be married. Single mothers, well they’re to blame for gun violence according to Romney. Not unregulated online ammunition sales or a wash of assault weapons on the street thanks to Republicans and the National Rifle Association. Single moms. So there’s that.
Finally, Romney’s interactions with moderator Candy Crowley made it clear that the man has no experience leading with women, let alone answering to one. Crowley’s refusal to be railroaded by Romney and the temerity she showed fact-checking him made Romney visibly angry. When it got to be just too much for Crowley he ignored her outright and spoke over her, which is exactly what we can expect a President Romney to do to any woman with the audacity to approach him as an equal, or more shockingly, as his superior.
Photo from DonkeyHotey via flickr.
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