Binders Full of Women: Romney Debate Answer Proves His Ignorance on Gender Discrimination


In Fisher v. University of Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on an affirmative action policy that could dramatically effect the number of minority students able to secure admission at universities across the country. While Mitt Romney has publicly declined to comment on the case, both his record as governor of Massachusetts and his answer to a question about equal pay during the second presidential debate indicate an important inconsistency — or perhaps another example of blatant hypocrisy — for Governor Romney.

On a holiday six months after he became Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney issued an executive order that eliminated the state Office of Affirmative Action. Without a press release or news conference, Romney quietly — and controversially for civil rights groups — signed the order that "virtually dismantle[d] affirmative action in Massachusetts state government." Fast-forward almost 10 years to the second U.S. presidential debate, in which Americans witnessed Romney attest to using affirmative action as governor when selecting his cabinet. In response to a question about the gender gap in pay Romney said:

[As governor] 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.

While many are running wild with memes about the “binders full of women” comment, few are reflecting on the actual implications of what Governor Romney’s story is actually saying. Sure his official policy is to be against “quotas,” but this impromptu, seemingly unrehearsed debate answer is important because it highlights that in Romney’s decisions as governor, he believed that having gender diversity on his cabinet was so essential that it was worth the extra effort to widen the candidate pool. Governor Romney chose not to go with the men that had “qualifications” but to deliberately choose female candidates because of their gender — embracing the fundamental principles of affirmative action that critics are apt to call “reverse discrimination.” 

This kind of gender-based selection from a pool of applicants is precisely what the University of Texas and other universities across the country are attempting to do. One can only wonder if Mitt Romney even understands what affirmative action is, as he cannot make the connection between his choices as Governor Romney and his policy positions as presidential candidate Romney.