During the last debate Romney was asked about rectifying inequalities in the workplace. His awkward response involved the phrase “binders full of women” and this ignited a Facebook frenzy. The Democrat operatives have been busy spinning the story in order to “prove” that Romney doesn’t get women’s issues.
As might be imagined, I do agree that his phrase was rather odd. However, since I speak in front of people for a living, I know full well how easy it is to have a poor phrase or verbal slip during the course of a long event. Talking at length under pressure is not an easy thing. As such, I tend to be more understanding than some folks when it comes to such verbal errors. I also subscribe to a general principle of charity when it comes to interpreting what a person says, especially when it is clearly a verbal error. I held to this in regards to Obama’s “you didn’t build that” and extend the same principle to Romney.
Unfortunately, the idea of being consistently charitable or at least understanding is not one that is accepted in politics. The Republicans willfully misinterpreted Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark and make it the focus of their convention. The Democrats have grabbed onto Romney’s “binders” remark and are attempting to read all sorts of wickedness into it. This tactic of taking comments and inflating them to monstrous proportions is certainly effective rhetorically. However, such tactics have no logical weight or merit. Of course, throwing out “binders full of women” is far easier than actually examining Romney’s record and policies in a critical manner.
There has, of course, been some analysis of the matter-generally along partisan lines. While such analysis is useful in terms of seeing how the two sides are crafting the narrative, they tend to be rather less useful in making a rational assessment of the facts.
One thing that has come up is that when Romney was elected 30% of the senior positions were held by women but when he left, the percentage was 27%. The next governor increased this to 33%. This has been presented as evidence that Romney did not do well when hiring women.
To be fair to Romney, he did better than the American people. After all, 16% of the members of congress are women and there have been no female presidents. Also, the decline from 30% to 27% should not be assumed to be the result of Romney not trying to hire women. After all, that shift could be due to other factors and it is worth noting that the change was rather small in terms of percentages. While 30% is more than 27%, both still fall rather short of 51% (the percentage of women in the population). So, while Romney can be said to have hired slightly fewer women he was only slightly below an already low number. His successor increased it to 33%, but that number also needs to be assessed. More importantly, 33% still falls short of 51%.
My overall point is that it is unfair to single out Romney for this disparity. After all, the percentage of women in political positions is low (as noted above, congress is only 16% women) and Romney cannot be singled out for special blame in this regard. Naturally, if Romney shows signs of misogyny, then that would be another matter. However, just pointing out that the number went from 30% to 27% and then 33% hardly seems to prove anything about Romney, other than the percentage of women remained about the same during his tenure. Such variation could also be due to factors other than Romney-after all, to assume that Romney was the cause without due consideration would be an error in causal reasoning.
There are, of course, legitimate grounds for women to be concerned about Romney-however, these concerns need to be grounded in actual evidence and not mere awkward phrases.