AGAWU: Opening the binder

In three weeks, I will not be voting for Mitt Romney.

The “binders full of women” comment is not one of my reasons. As someone who avoids Facebook until well after any political event, I was tickled to find that the “binders full of women” comment had landed and exploded into a series of hilarious online posts. So, I surfed the web and felt the slow burn of indignation on behalf of my gender combine with my amusement at these memes — Hillary Clinton thinking “Romney still uses binders? LOL” was a personal favorite. But it was that meme that triggered a question that had been niggling at the back of my mind.

That slow burn has become a familiar feeling whenever a politician tries to make a decision about my body, my career or my health. I can turn on the news and hear about “legitimate rape” or watch a room full of strangers debate about my access to contraception. Within seconds, I welcome back that burn, and I let it take me to the boiling point.

But when Romney responds to a question about women in the workplace and claims that, upon realizing all the top candidates for his cabinet were male, he compiled “binders full of women” to diversify the group, where do we direct our burn? At a candidate who seems to take pride in his ability to assemble a list of qualified women where none existed before? Or at a system — a reality — that discourages women from particular high-level positions so that “binders” become necessary to produce gender equality?

There is no doubt in my mind that Democrats, Republicans, CEOs, Yankees fans, Christians and Jews alike all face some version of this issue. They go to fill a board or cabinet, realize they have few or no female candidates and scramble to consult physical or figurative binders. The theories explaining the absence of females in top positions include everything from hostile work environments to the incompatible nature of those jobs with family life. One thing is certain: It is not easy to make it up there. The women we look to who have made it onto these boards, into these administrations and onto these benches are superwomen, and many are without families.

But as much as I idolize these women, I do not accept that my journey has to look like theirs or that I have to make their sacrifices.

This summer, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a fantastic article in The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in which she exposes some harsh realities about the challenges facing women who seek high profile jobs in government or business while simultaneously trying to build a family. Whenever I feel the slow burn, I think of her and many of my close female friends that aspire to hold full careers and raise a family the way we’ve always dreamed.

I object when people seek to define my feminism for me, and I clearly recognize that my life aspirations are my own. But I often think we stumble over a fallacy of political correctness when, in an attempt not to prescribe value judgments to certain lifestyles, we hesitate to acknowledge the difficulties that many women face but men do not.

Of course not all women want to have families or the same role within a family. But there is no reason we cannot mold the workplace to work for me, and for many women of my generation who are going to refuse to choose between being the kind of parents we want to be and kicking butt in the office.

When we stop at the slow burn after being offended by something a politician said and don’t go on to question what exactly it was that made us simmer, we accept an antiquated frame of reference.

I don’t care much for Mitt Romney, but I’m glad he said what he said. Not just because it is Tumblr gold, but also because it exposed a problematic reality that is much trickier to debate than contraception or the economy because we, the debaters, are the generation who will shape the future.

We must start to update our understandings of gender. It’ll be messy, and we might not know when we’re there, but let’s not let that stop us from trying.

Emefa Agawu is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact her at


  • MapleLeaf14

    How original–women face unique challenges. We live in a sexist, paternalistic society. Shocker. How about suggesting a more a concrete approach than “We must start to update our understandings”?

  • jmaust

    MapleLeaf, the point wasn’t that “women face unique challenges”. The point was that the extent to which Mitt Romney was criticized for his “binders full of women” remark overlooks the fact that many people wielding political power on both sides of the aisle likely have similar systems ensuring that they have “enough” women when filling their board. This isn’t a partisan issue; Mitt Romney was simply stupid enough to admit it on national television.

    I would suggest that before you make silly comments like this one, you take the time to understand what you’re reading.

  • River_Tam

    > In three weeks, I will not be voting for Mitt Romney.


  • River_Tam

    > watch a room full of strangers debate about my access to contraception

    Let’s parse this:

    1) “Room full of strangers”. You’re right, this is problematic. People who are strangers to Ms. Agawu should never be able to discuss issues pertaining to women’s health.

    2) “debate”. In fact, it would be better if the government did not get involved in the question of contraception at all. Right? No, that’s not what you want. You want people to “debate” it, but only as to how much free stuff they should give you.

    3) “my access to contraception”. You’re right, if by “my access”, you mean “my access to free contraception”. Because that’s what this is really about – some people want to force one private party to pay for another private party’s contraception. Note that every gay man, asexual man, infertile woman, and Good Catholic in America is suddenly paying for sexually-active 18-40yo women to not get pregnant.

    My own philosophy: if you can’t swing $40/year, maybe you shouldn’t be having sex. But then again, I am a ‘stranger’ to Ms. Agawu, so maybe I should just shut up and give her pills for free.

  • Al416


  • SY

    On the related pay gap issue, does anyone know whether women in their 20’s make $1.02 per hour for every dollar men in their 20’s make (because women get 57% of college degrees now)? I think women of all ages, jobs and hours get $.77 to $1 for men of all ages, etc.

  • GoldenJumbo

    *”That slow burn has become a familiar feeling whenever a politician tries to make a decision about my body, my career or my health.”*

    News flash Ms. Agawu, have you seen Obama’s “The Life of Julia” page on his website? You’re saying you don’t want a president who makes decisions about your body, career or health? How does it feel to support a president who feels you need to hold his hand through every facet of your life from birth until death. Seems like this politician has a lack of confidence in your ability to do things on your own as a woman. Why don’t you try standing up for the tenacity of female educated women instead of resorting to the easy way out and writing a weak op-ed claim that “binders full of women” somehow pertain to your contraception rights.