I'm a little late to the "binders full of women" game as Debate #3 is raging now across my newsfeed (but not my tv... go Bears). Anyway, I'm finally taking the time to sit down and talk about the main thing that irked me about Romney and the second debate. And while it's related to the whole "binders" debacle, it's not exactly that.
First, so we're all on the same page, here is the full quotation (and for the record, it's from Fox News so it has no liberal lean):
ROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?
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 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 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. 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 you need to be more flexible.
The emphasis is mine, and I included it because I wanted to be completely clear about what bothered me so much about his remarks. It's not the "binders full of women" comment, because frankly, I'm too busy being amused by it. (And while he completely botched his delivery, I do understand the spirit of what he was trying to say - at least what I hope he was trying to say - which is that there were many qualified women available for the position). But what bugged me was for him to explicitly say that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that you sometimes need to be more flexible. That made it appear as if to have women in the workplace you should give them special rules and special treatment.
That is a huge leap backwards for gender equality and considering the question was about pay equity - it's the exact wrong message to send. (And in fact, considering the question, perhaps making this overarching flexibility exception for women would actually fly in the face of the "equal pay for equal work" idea, because if we're allowing women this broad "flexibility" then the work and job is certainly not equal?)
And beyond the actual words that he said, it bothers me that he seemed to think this was a selling point, that he was being progressive and treating women well by saying that women deserve more workplace flexibility. But what women actually need is to be viewed in the same way as our male counterparts - as strong candidates and capable employees, not as these people who need flexibility.