Before there was the candidate who slid through to the White House despite having bragged about grabbing women without consent, there was Mitt Romney, a man who had "binders full of women." The former Massachusetts governor use the term at a town hall forum during the 2012 election when asked about equality for women in the workplace. His opponent, Barack Obama, answered the question by focusing on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while Romney clumsily attempted to explain that he was very interested in hiring women for his gubernatorial cabinet. Romney's answer went viral as the Internet collectively chortled, but it turns out the joke was on us, since the actual binders have now been discovered.
A former aide to Romney found two three-ring binders stuffed with women's resumes, collectively weighing 15 pounds, 6 ounces, according to The Boston Globe.
Romney uttered the now-storied "binders" phrase while explaining his process for searching for women to hire for his cabinet.
"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," he said. "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 the "binders" comment in and of itself was rather innocuous compared to the daily transgressions of the Trump administration, Romney followed it up with a tangent about accommodating the schedules of the women who worked for him so that they could make dinner for the kids that eventually led to a rambling "traditional" family type of argument.
"We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids," Romney said during that town hall forum. "Wherever possible, the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that's not always possible -- a lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that's a great idea."
Still, Romney's "binders" remark seems quaint in light of Trump's "I grab them by the pussy" remarks and Mike Pence's refusal to dine alone, even for business, with a woman who's not his wife.
Just two weeks ago Trump and Pence delivered equally tone-deaf speeches to a roomful of women at a State Department event to close out Women's History Month.
While they both attempted to regard women as people who actually work in the world, their speeches circled around to women's worth as tied to the traditional marker of their role as caregiver in the family.
Pence congratulated women in the workforce and in the military before getting to the part of his speech that reflected his deeply narrow views. "In the midst of busy lives, American women are also doing those most precious things. They're making time for families and communities and for involvement in religious organizations," Pence said.
Meanwhile, Trump shared his aspirations for the future of women, but only in terms of what they can do for family.
"We want every daughter in America to grow up in a country where she can believe in herself, believe in her future, and follow her heart, and realize her dreams. And we want a country that celebrates family, that celebrates community, and that creates a safe and loving home for every child, every child. That's what we want," Trump said.
The remarks by the nation's highest-ranking officials seem harmless enough on their own, but they're bolstered by that fact that Trump's cabinet is overwhelmingly made up of white men and that since he took office, he signed a harmful executive order that bans U.S. aid to overseas nongovernmental organizations that provide or advise on abortions and rescinded an order from the Obama era that offered transparency for women regarding the pay gap and sexual harassment suits.
"Binders full of women" was the big joke back in 2012, but, as The Boston Globe's Jim O'Sullivan wrote regarding the discovery of the binders, "In the Donald Trump era, the notion that Romney paid a political cost for explaining how he had tried to hire more women seems almost far-fetched."