During a 2012 presidential debate, then candidate Mitt Romney infamously declared that while serving as governor of Massachusetts, his team had put together "binders full of women." Romney meant this anecdote to demonstrate his proactive approach to hiring female employees, but its lack of awareness conveyed something rather different. The "binders" comment met with widespread criticism; that he needed to outsource in order to find qualified women showed just how male-dominated Romney's career had been. Reports this week reveal those binders were not metaphorical, but actual bulky realities — notebooks stuffed with profiles of women for Romney. Now we're living in the aftermath of 2016's presidential election, those binders are worth revisiting.
Elections are emotion-fueled. Maybe they shouldn't be, but human nature doesn't take a backseat to rationality just because politicians get involved. In the 2012 election, like 2016 and all the others that came before, Americans sensed a tremendous lot was at stake in the outcome — from the survival of Obamacare to gay marriage to better jobs to environmental regulations to higher taxes and so on. These issues affect Americans, often on a daily basis. When a person's very livelihood or identity feels threatened, it can seem almost necessary to demonize the opposition and dismiss them out of hand.
I wonder today if that's not what happened with Romney's "binders" comment. Though it verified Romney's professional past lacked robust gender diversity, it also proved he recognized that deficit. And he has a record to show for it. Of 33 senior-level positions in Governor Romney's first term, 42 percent went to women. Comparatively, 32 percent of President Obama's cabinet appointments went to females. Currently, President Trump has awarded just 17 percent of top-level White House appointments to women.
Which brings us to the context of today, which can make Romney's statement seem almost Pollyanna-ish. Trump's "binders" equivalent was a recording of him bragging about grabbing women, in what many categorized as sexual assault. His ex-wife once claimed rape against him in a deposition, though she later disavowed that allegation. Trump openly shamed Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado for her weight. Four former Miss Teen USA pageant contestants also alleged that Trump walked into their changing rooms, telling them not to worry, that he'd "seen it all before." The teenagers in that room were between the ages of 14 - 19. During the primary campaign, Trump referenced Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's period as a reason for her tough questions, and argued Carly Fiorina could never win, because of "that face." The list of sexist actions and comments goes on.
Next to Trump, Romney looks pretty harmless. Then again, put almost any politician from the past twenty years next to Trump, and they'll compare pretty favorably. Being "better than" Trump in the treatment of women is nothing to brag about. It's called being a minimally decent human being.
But it's worth noting that if feminism's aim is to "crush the patriarchy" and bring about gender equality, that goal demands the participation and support of men. In seeking out qualified women to work for his administration — whether from binders or any other means — Romney at least acknowledged he had not always been cognizant of the lack of women working around him.
That looks like a first step in the right direction. It deserves no special accolades — qualified women aren't hard to find. But from the vantage point of 2017, it also seems, to this writer, that the 2012 eruption of outrage towards Romney was perhaps unwarranted. No one in the 21st century should be so hard-pressed to locate women to fill government positions. But if someone does find themselves in such a position, attempting to remedy the problem is not the worst reaction.
We know that now — just look at today's White House.