Women Finally Get Some Attention in the Presidential Debates (Plus, BINDERS!)

Looks like our complaining a few weeks ago finally got us somewhere! Not only did we get some love from Joe Biden at last week’s vice presidential debate, we got a whole new meme from this week’s standoff between former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. But like any nitpicking, want-it-all feminist, it’s still not enough.

I know what you want to hear about is “binders full of women.” Where did that come from? Well, Mitt Romney’s office of course! That’s where he keeps them, you know, just hanging out on the shelf. In all seriousness, the remark comes from one of Wednesday’s debate questions, in which Katerine Fenton asks the candidates about the pay gap between men and women. Obama uses the opportunity to talk about his passage of the Lilly Ledbetter act, then to talk about how this is a family issue, blahblahblah because apparently single ladies just aren’t important. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, jumps into a story about how he was looking for qualified women candidates when he was filling up his cabinet. As you know, binders fit perfectly into most normal-sized cabinets. Anyway, he says that he asked his staff for some ladies, and women’s groups “brought us whole binders full of women.” Sounds messy, doesn’t it?

What’s interesting here is that he didn’t actually ask for these binders – a bipartisan group known as MassGAP that deals with the employment gap for women in Massachusetts politics approached him. And while he started out with a comparatively impressive 42% of women in his cabinet, the percentage declined steadily over the years, resting at 25% in 2006. Oh, and he put those women in positions he really didn’t give a damn about. Maybe they’d be happier in the kitchen? The binder quote, while not necessarily the most offensive thing he’s said or the most deserving of this level of reaction, has certainly gotten some attention. Hell, it’s spawned one of my favorite Tumblrs of all time and at least one awesome video.

photoshopped Trapper Keeper binder with a unicorn and a dolphin, captioned trap her keep her
And to the left, the most terrifying Trapper Keeper ever.

Truth be told, I’m just happy that we’re finally talking about women a little bit. Personally, I think the quote is a little over-hyped, though I’m enjoying seeing people get in an uproar about it. It shows they’re thinking, and that they might be thinking that Mitt Romney isn’t good for women. Hint: he isn’t. In a response to the same question, President Obama pointed out that Romney wants to let women’s employers decide whether they get contraception coverage under their insurance and that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood. Kudos to the President, by the way, for pointing out that this is very much an economic issue! Romney bites back to say that he thinks that women should have access to contraceptives. What he doesn’t specify is the kind of contraceptives they can have. Yeahh…

And that’s it. That’s pretty much the discussion on women by the men who want to run our country. Our country, which is home to over 155 million women. Binders full of them, really. We got one question. To be fair, they played off of that one question for quite some time, and even touched on reproductive health. This angry feminist is shaking her head, wondering why we didn’t warrant more than that one narrow question.

Something interesting about the debate that didn’t play out on live television was the political mindset of the citizen who asked the pay gap question, Katherine Fenton. Ms. Fenton, a 24-year-old pre-k teacher, seemed to espouse some fairly feminist ideals. If upset at being paid only 82% of what a man is paid isn’t a feminist issue, then I don’t know what is. But in a interview, Fenton says that she is “absolutely not a feminist.” She’s also “very protective of her reproductive rights.” Whoa, what? Sounds pretty feminist to me. Far be it from me to tell people how to identify, but those are some standard feminist tenets right there.

What does this say about us as a culture that feminism is, in 2012, still a dirty word? Some might say that it’s that persistent stereotypical image of a loud, angry, hairy ballbuster clad in men’s shirts and combat boots. To others it says that this person, this feminist, is a threat to good ol’ family values, someone who seeks to end their privilege and pull the oppressed out from under patriarchy’s boot. To me, it’s all of those things and none of those things and more. Radicals like myself might favor a more, well, radical definition. End the patriarchy and the oppression and rise up, and don’t take “no” for an answer. But there are many definitions of feminism, and parting the waves to decide on one has cost us a lot already, resulting in fragmentation and throwing potential into the water. Maybe this is why we only got a few minutes of the debate when we make up half of the country. Everyone is too afraid of being seen as a feminist to bother to ask these questions. Nobody wants to get up and say it. Nobody even wants to get up and  ask a feminist question because it’s too scary or threatening and if they do then we feminists are going to turn into man-eating spiders, crawl through their chimneys at night like some second-wave Santa and destroy all of their daughter’s princess toys or something. This just isn’t good enough for me. It’s not where I want to be, and I know it isn’t where my feminist allies want to be either. Pushed to the side, sitting on the periphery, stuck in a binder in Mitt Romney’s basement. We are half of this country, half of this world, and it’s time we start being treated like it.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

5 replies on “Women Finally Get Some Attention in the Presidential Debates (Plus, BINDERS!)”

Maybe that’s why we need to stop linking such thinking to the word ‘feminist’ and just let people act like feminists without calling them it.

I know, pretty stupid, but I think that might be a quicker solution than ‘un-scaring’ the word feminist. I myself still prefer to say that I want human rights for every human, involving every sex and gender, instead of just replying with “Yup: feminist. Straight and not-man hating as well”. Hmm, that’s not much shorter.

And some part of me says ‘Maybe you should be glad with what we got’. Which probably shows how used we are with getting thrown very little bones. Which is sad.

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