My Take on “Bindergate”
Unless you live off the grid, or unless you really hate politics, you’ve no doubt heard the “binder” soundbite from last week’s presidential debate. You know, the one where candidate Mitt Romney talks about “a binder full of women.” The moment has been relentlessly (and creatively) mocked. I think my favorites are this one, this one and this one.
Anyhow, here’s the full transcript:
“I said: ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified? And so 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.”
Despite a bit of a intrigue about whether Romney sought out the binder or whether it was brought to him, I know what Mitt Romney meant. He was talking about resumes and he just misspoke. He meant to say, “they brought me binders full of (resumes of qualified) women.” Choppy English, but I get his intention.
On top of that, it seems that Governor Romney actually used those binders, once he got them. In fact, his administration hired and appointed women into significant positions of leadership. The other day, former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey was quoted as saying that 10 of the top 20 positions in Romney’s administration were filled by women, including his chief of staff.
In some corners of the media Romney is being vilified as being misogynistic or anti-women, and for every quote like the one above, you’ll find 10 more disputing it. Still, for the most part, I think these characterizations are unfair.
Instead, for me Bindergate offers a window into the grip that male privilege has on Mr. Romney, corporate America and our culture more broadly. Here’s what I mean:
Mitt Romney comes from a corporate context. He’s also spent time in the political arena. To call these sectors of society male-dominated is to understate it. Corporate America is really a bastion of male privilege. For example, as of July only 10% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies were being led by women, and having 20 female Fortune 500 CEOs is an all time record. On top of that, at a corporate governance level, only 16.1% of Fortune 500 Board seats are held by women in this country.
With this as context, it’s not surprising that Mitt Romney needed a binder full of resumes in order to find a suitable female candidate. It’s not surprising, but it is unfortunate. Here’s my thing:
I wish Mitt Romney didn’t need the binder.
Not needing the binder would mean a couple of things. First, that Romney had made it a practice of surrounding himself with capable and gifted women, so that when it was time to fill his administration, it was simply a question of who fit where. Or, it would mean that Romney had been following the careers of up-and-coming women leaders and, now that he had an opportunity, he could champion them into positions of influence. Most of all, not needing the binder would mean that Mitt Romney recognized that in this country the corporate playing field is not level and that as governor-elect he would be in a key position to do something about that.
As long as we have male privilege, we’ll need binders full of women. And I for one am eager to get to a place where we can be binder-free.
What do you think? What would it take for us to be binder free?