As the mother of three daughters aged ranging from toddler to teenager, my interest in how the two men currently vying for the U.S. presidency express their views on women’s issues is fundamental to how I will cast my vote. Issues such as equal pay, personal reproductive freedom, and sexual harassment and violence against my gender matter to me not just because I am an American woman, but more importantly, because I am raising three American women.
While there are certainly many other distinct differences between the various economic, social and political positions espoused by Governor Romney and President Obama, the candidates’ divide on issues of specific concern to me as a feminist mother is particularly stark. Examples: President Obama is pro-choice, while I believe that Governor Romney’s election would pose a threat to my reproductive freedom, and to that of my girls in the future. Governor Romney has also promised to withdraw public funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization which I believe serves a profoundly important role in meeting American women’s healthcare needs. Additionally, President Obama in 2009 signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, while Governor Romney’s campaign has made clear that had he been president when the Ledbetter Act was ready to be signed, he wouldn’t have put (ceremonial) pen to paper.
These political issues and others like them are the ones that I care about in a very personal way. But you know what I don’t care about? Not even one tiny little bit? I don’t care that candidate Romney inadvertently dropped a word or two out of a single sentence during last week’s debate with President Obama, although much of the country seems a bit obsessed with Romney’s minor, tongue twisted screw-up.
Here’s what Gov. Romney said
“…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 they brought us whole binders full 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.”
Yep, sure enough, Governor Romney stumbled, misspoke, tripped up — call it what you will — when he referred to “binders full of women” while giving a conversational-style, narrative answer to a question, when what he clearly meant to say was, “binders full of women’s resumes,” or “binders full of resumes from women.” However, in the heat of the nationally televised moment, he messed up and instead bumbled out an admittedly amusing turn of phrase.
While I don’t consider his verbal stumble substantive in any way, I totally do get that Gov. Romney’s accidental “binders full of women” remark offered an irresistibly meme-worthy moment during the debate, not to mention one that seemed tailor made for social media fun. But while it was entertaining, Romney’s blunder wasn’t remarkable. In our modern American political landscape, just about every televised presidential debate series has managed to produce its own iconic meme moment – be it humorous or quirky or incisive.
For example, back in 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan cut his opponent, Walter Mondale down to size with, “There you go again,” But then in 1988, Walter Mondale caught the meme wave himself when he asked Gary Hart, “Where’s the beef?” (In that same debate, Mondale stumbled and announced that he planned to “stand up FOR special interest groups,” when he obviously meant to say “against.” The audience erupted into laughter.) In the 1988 vice presidential debate, Lloyd Bentsen created an instant classic of a put-down when he haughtily dismissed Dan Quayle with, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.” Then there’s my personal favorite — Admiral James Stockdale’s opening statement in the 1992 VP debate in which he asked of no one in particular, “Who am I? And why am I here?,” while in the 2000 presidential debates, we heard about Al Gore’s now SNL-famous “lockbox.”
And now, this time around we have Romney’s “binders full of women.” It’s an inarguably funny visual, so I understand the initial chortling all over the Web, but if pundits and voters can get past the funny to the context in which Gov. Romney made his verbal fumble, they will realize that what he was actually saying isn’t really very funny at all. In fact, in my view, it’s rather concerning. And while I love a good pop culture snarkfest as much as the next Gen X mom, gender equity issues in the workplace as expressed by the guy who wants to be Your Next President are really too important to be reduced to nothing more than a clever Tumblr or a trending Twitter hashtag. The words that candidate Romney did manage to get out as intended during the second presidential debate deserve a closer look.
Looking beyond the single word he dropped (“resumes”), Gov. Romney was making the claim that at the beginning of his tenure as Massachussetts’ governmental CEO, the issue of equal representation by women in his new administration was so very important to him that he specifically directed others to identify a sufficient number of potential female candidates for his cabinet consideration. During the debate, Gov. Romney made this specific claim enthusiastically and assertively, as if it mattered a great deal to him that we voters recognize his commitment to women’s representation as a fundamental part of his management style.
Now I don’t know about you, but this whole scenario that Gov. Romney so energetically described in answer to a question about fair pay for women sounded odd… downright weird even — far weirder than his awkward , single ” binders full of women” slip of the tongue. Remember, Mitt Romney didn’t take office in 1972, he became governor of Massachusetts in 2002. Is candidate Romney saying that in the year 2002, after having spent an adult lifetime operating within multiple spheres of business and politics, he wasn’t well acquainted with enough professional peers of the opposite gender to staff his higher level cabinet positions without asking for those now-infamous binders full of potential female candidates? Most governors take office with a pretty clear idea of whom they’ll be putting in place in these key positions, offering the coveted slots to both men and women pulled from the newly elected governor’s own network of political, personal and professional contacts. If Gov. Romney’s network truly included so few women that he needed other people to go out and find enough qualified female candidates for him to consider, well, that says something to me – something far more notable than his accidentally hilarious verbal fumble .
As it turns out, Governor Romney actually didn’t ask anyone to bring him the binders full of women, as he assertively claimed in the debate. In fact, he passively allowed them to be presented to him by a non-partisan, Massachusetts women’s political group seeking to raise the number of women working in higher levels of state government. Once pressured to consider hiring women, and with those damn binders on his desk, Governor Romney did indeed tap multiple women to fill cabinet roles, but I’m left wondering what his administration would have looked like without the pressure from the external women’s caucus to hire both genders.
Perhaps it would have looked something like the senior leadership team at Bain Capital, the private equity firm which Romney founded and headed up until the late 90s. Bain did not have a single female partner until after Romney left in 1999. Yep, you read that right; not one single woman made partner at Romney’s own company for the entire time he served as CEO. And again, this wasn’t in some distant era, this was in the ’80s and ’90s.
As we head into the final weeks of this important presidential contest, I’m ready to stop hearing the jokes about candidate Romney’s meaningless verbal snafu. That meme’s 15 minutes are more than up by now. Instead, as a mother, a feminist and an American, I’d like to see our national conversation become less fixated on the word or two that Gov. Romney failed to utter, and more animated around the concerning words that he DID say that night.
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)