a binder, goofier discourse

With apologies to my international friends and readers who either aren’t following, or are getting more than they’d like about, the US presidential race. For my friends and readers in the US who are still hearing more than they’d like about the US presidential race, I feel your pain. But I’m going to go ahead and post anyhow.

On Tuesday night, I faced the debates with a knot in my stomach.

That last few months have been increasingly stressful for all in this country who have convictions about what is best (or worst) for the country. The discourse has become increasingly ugly. Civility has left the building.

It won’t surprise anyone who reads this blog regularly that I am left-leaning.¹ I voted for Obama in 2008, and will enthusiastically vote for him again this year for a variety of reasons. But that’s beside the point.²

The point is that I watched the debate with many months of tension building, expecting to feel outraged. Dismayed. Disturbed.

What I did not expect was to go to bed giggling that night, and to wake up feeling like a 50-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I thank the binders full of women.³

I have a number of friends and relations who really didn’t see what’s so funny about “binders full of women.” They saw the reaction to it as blown out of proportion for a simple poor choice of phrase. They saw it as distracting from the real issues.

But I saw it as funny.

Really, really funny.

I loved the way people ran with it, and the many, many clever and quick responses.⁴ Sure, Romney’s phrase was only slightly off. If he’d phrased things a little less awkwardly, there might have been nought to run with. But the phrase brought up absurd imagery. And run with it, people did. To my great enjoyment.⁵

For the record, there were plenty of things that Romney said during the debate that I objected to. Things having to do with real issues that I care about deeply. But for all the critically important well-constructed arguments on the issues, for all the articles and the numbers and the counterpoints, none of them has given me so much relief and release and actual hope about the outcome of this election as the binders full of women comment and the ensuing flood of mockery.

So thank you, internetz. You came through for me this time. And thank you, Mitt.⁶

There are some good analyses out there about why the phrase got such a broad⁷ response. I though this one from the Guardian, brought to my attention by laloca, was particulary good. Here’s an excerpt:

Why did the phrase resonate? Because it was tone deaf, condescending and out of touch with the actual economic issues that women are so bothered about. The phrase objectified and dehumanized women. It played right into the perception that so many women have feared about a Romney administration – that a president Romney would be sexist and set women back. And it turns out the way Romney presented it – that he asked for a study of women in leadership positions – wasn’t true anyway.

¹ I regularly lean really, really far to the left, but I have good balance, so I don’t usually fall over.

² Sort of.

³ In case you missed it, “binders full of women” was an unfortunate phrase used by Romney when telling an anecdote about his efforts to recruit women for positions on his cabinet as Governor of Massachusetts.

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 — of women.

To see the full transcript, with a really cool interactive feature that lets you play the section of video from the transcript, check out this page on the 2nd debate at the New York Times.

⁴ Like these, most (if not all) of which can be found on the binders full of women tumblr: 3 rings to rule them all, nobody put’s baby in a binder, Binder?, Gobias, txt from Hillary, Hefner, Bill Clinton. Or the Facebook page, which someone started within seconds of the phrase being uttered. Or the reviews on this binder on Amazon. Or this one.

⁵ I’m sorry, but if the RNC can go gung-ho and build a whole convention theme around a poorly phrased bit of reference ambiguity offered by Obama, folks can have a little fun with Romney’s poorly phrased bit of metonymy.

⁶ Not something that my friends have expected to hear from me.

⁷ Heh. I said “broad.”

15 thoughts on “a binder, goofier discourse

  1. I didn’t watch the debates, but heard about binder-gate the next morning. Like you, it confirmed my worst fears about Mitt. He’s so clueless that he almost seems naive to me. Yet his “tone deaf” approach to politics is playing well here in my conservative part of the USA. I want to believe that Americans can see through him, but I fear that they can’t– or won’t.

    1. ” I want to believe that Americans can see through him, but I fear that they can’t– or won’t.” I share your fear! I have seen conservatives switching from strong dislike of Romney during the primaries to apparently enthusiastic support. I blame Fox News.

      1. I’ve seen the same thing & have no better explanation than yours. [Plus I dislike Fox News so I’ll take any and all opportunities to call it into question.]

    1. I’m happy I could be the one to share them with you, Jennifer! It’s always a good feeling to make someone’s day. Especially if it involves laughing.

  2. I haven’t made it a point to watch the debates because I find them really stressful, usually have something else going on, am really more interested in substance than style, and, well, it just seems more efficient to simply read the fact-checkers’ reports the following day. But I did happen to be listening when Mitt made the binder comment, and I immediately thought to myself: they’re going to have a field day with that! I agree with you that there are much more serious issues surrounding Romney that we should be seriously concerned about… but I too found the binder aftermath hysterically funny.

    1. Hi, Linnea! I’m glad to know you shared in the entertainment. I can’t believe how much better I felt from the laughing.

      By the way, you should get a blog! It would be a great way to share your music. (I could be biased, though.)

      1. And by “made,” I should clarify that I was the one who manipulated it to fit the meme. Not that I made the original movie poster. I just grabbed that from Amazon.

  3. Putting on my linguist hat (which I finally found crumpled up at the bottom of my box of stuff to be donated to Goodwill), I think some of the humor could come from a count/mass issue. As in, women are, theoretically, distinct countable, um, objects. And not one massive blob of stuff collectively called “woman”, which can be poured into a measuring cup. True, a binder is more likely to contain countable things (sheets of paper, files, etc), but something about the phrase makes it sound like he’s close to thinking of women as measurable by volume, so that he’d be more likely to ask “How much woman do I have in my cabinet?” than “How many women..” I dunno.. that actually made more sense before I wrote it down..

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