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Romney's "Binder Full of Women Story" May Be Funny; It's Also Not True

The then-Governor didn't seek out women candidates for his cabinet; they were presented to him, sources say.
 
 
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An image from the new viral site: bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com/
Photo Credit: http://bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com/

 

Remember Mitt Romney's quickly-viral comment about the "binders of women" he sought when appointing positions to his cabinet as governor of Massachusetts? Well, amusing as it is, isn't even entirely true, say sources who were involved in efforts to increase gender parity in state government at the time.

Yes, there was a binder, but no, he didn't seek it out. It was offered to him by an independent group, according to David S. Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix, and since the then- Governor didn't seem to know any "qualified" women himself, he was lucky to receive that binder. 

Here's what Romney said, according to ABC:

 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?"...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.

And here's how Bernstein and his sources recollect it (highlights mine):

What actually happened was that in 2002 -- prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration -- a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.

They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.

I have written about this before, in various contexts; tonight I've checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I've just presented it is correct -- and that Romney's claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.

You can read about the (impressive) history of Mass GAP at their site.

Bernstein goes on to note that not only was this the case, but when Romney did appoint a rather impressive number of women to his cabinet, they went to relatively low-priority posts, and over his tenure, the percentage of women in such positions on his staff actually declined.

Beyond the time and memory-muddled question of whose idea the now-fabled binder was and who asked for it lies the real issue, though. As everyone is now noting in between checking to see the latest entry on the bindersfullofwomen tumblr, what does it reveal to us about Mitt Romney that he even needed such a binder and didn't have his own Rolodex full of smart, accomplished professional women colleagues and acquaintances? This is the man who continued to bumble his way through the debate question by referring to his magnanimity in allowing a female employee to get home in time to cook dinner for her family--hardly the must current threshold for women seeking workplace acceptance-- prompting Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast to write this morning: "the notion that women need flexibility from their male employer (Romney) so they can be home in time to cook dinner for their family is June Cleaver–antiquated, to say the least." 

Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at sarahmseltzer.com.

 
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