By Leonard Pitts Jr.
About those “binders full of women.”
That, of course, is the infelicitous phrase Mitt Romney used in last week’s second presidential debate when he was asked how he would address paycheck inequity between the sexes. Romney responded with a homily about how, as the newly elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he became concerned that the only job applications that crossed his desk seemed to be from men.
“I went to a number of women’s groups,” said Romney, “and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.”
And there, the ridicule began. The phrase “binders full of women” leapt across the Internet like some digital prairie fire, wits and twits from Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr all laughing at Romney’s expense. Indeed, there’s a good chance someone in a “binders full of women” costume will knock at your door on Halloween.
But, though there seems to be general agreement that there is something off-putting about what Romney said, there seems relatively little discussion of what that something is. As CNN’s Piers Morgan put it, “I don’t get what’s wrong with it. I don’t get why it made him a laughing stock.” His confusion reflects the fact that people seem to have sensed something here they have not always been able to articulate. So let’s start articulating.
And let’s begin by acknowledging the obvious: Romney didn’t answer the question. But then, he hardly invented the unresponsive response. Most politicians bob and weave like Ali when confronted with questions they’d rather not answer. That’s not what people are reacting to.
No, what was irksome about the governor’s answer is that it seemed 30 years out of date, relic of a time when the person who wanted to seem concerned about diversity performed some act of ostentatious outreach, collected binders full of women (or Cubans, gays or whatever) from their various advocacy groups in order to make sure they were part of the candidate pool.
That would have sounded enlightened in 1985. But as the answer to a question about gender inequity in 2012, it just makes you wonder: Were the governor and his men really so isolated from capable women as recently as 2002 that they had to ask women’s groups for help? Were strong women really a species so exotic the governor needed a native guide to their world?
A pattern takes shape here. Between Romney’s binders full of women, and Rush Limbaugh branding a woman a “slut” because she thinks contraception should be part of her health insurance package, between Rep. Todd Akin’s belief that the uterus somehow filters out unwanted sperm and Rep. Allen West’s chastisement of an opponent’s failure to act like a “lady,” it becomes increasingly obvious some socially conservative men are stuck in a time warp. Akin, West and Limbaugh hunker down like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, behind modes of sexist condescension that were getting old when the Beatles broke up. Romney tries to show he “gets it” by disinterring a trope from the era of Jheri curls and Max Headroom.
When’s the last time any of these boys had a date?
In the world outside their time bubble, women run states and nations, fight fires and litigate cases, perform surgeries and grab rebounds. And yes, they still tend boo-boos and fix meals, too.
Some men are apparently still holdouts from that world, like Japanese soldiers on remote Pacific islands who fought World War II into the 1970s. But as those soldiers had to learn _ the world moves on, whether you accept it or not.
To his credit, Romney at least made the effort. But the next time he’s looking for capable women, one hopes someone gives him some apparently needed advice.
Close the binder and open your eyes.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at email@example.com.