Binders Full of Women

Rabbi Jill Perlman

So I don’t know about you, but I was tearing my hair out last night as I sat and watched the second presidential debate. I spent a good deal of the evening simply trying to contain myself so I wouldn’t throw something at our television. I managed to keep my hands busy by being one of the reported millions of Americans who took to social media for the millisecond-by-millisecond commentary. I now know the opinions of a wide array of folks, from old childhood friends to political pundits to the moms in my children’s preschool.

There were multiple times that the twitterverse seemed to explode, but there was one comment (or gaffe) in particular that really caught fire in my social media corner of the universe (and presumably yours as well): BINDERS FULL OF WOMEN. My goodness. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the world went nuts. And the memes, oh the memes. Check out two of my favorites here.

I’m glad I can have a chuckle at this because if I didn’t, I might be the one exploding instead of my twitter feed. Let us remember what started the meme craze. When addressing the issue of pay equity, Romney launched into the story of his own search for women to fill positions on his staff. Upon finding that there were not enough qualified female applicants, he outsourced the search, if you will, leading to the infamous binders full of ladies.

Romney concluded his response to the issue of the wage gap by adding that employers who seek to add women to their staffs need to flexible because, after all, that is what women are looking for: flexibility so that they can come home and cook dinner.

Sigh.

I fundamentally agree that employers need to think outside of the box. Flexibility IS key, but the issue is not solely about flexibility and women. No men need to get home? No men cook dinner? Shh… nobody tell my husband.

I’m not naïve. I know that more women than men may require these flexible hours, but that’s right now – that’s BECAUSE that is the assumption we work under. Employers need to be flexible to people, men AND women. Romney’s response places women in the primary role of homemaker whether or not that is her actual role even when she is working. Women benefit from flexibility and -newsflash!- SO DO MEN! I say this because as a rabbi, I am often not home in the evenings. I say this because I-can’t-cook.

As a woman, as a Jew, as a human being, I want to make sure that the issues important to me are being discussed in a respectful manner, in a way that doesn’t demean who I am or what I am working towards. Moreso, I want to make sure to correct the sentiment behind this inarticulate poorly-worded comment. The issue is the wage gap. Flexibility is one small part of a broader systemic problem that requires real action, not a homey story with an awkward phrase that doesn’t even address the question at hand. If we’re going to get any real work done in the arena of equal pay, then let’s at least throw out the binders.

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