On October 16th Mitt Romney, the running Republican candidate produced a speech which has confirmed many people’s worst nightmares.
In the speech made in Hempstead, New York, Romney talked of having whole ‘binders full of women’ who could fill his cabinet. This phrase was supposed to show the feminist stance of the politician. However all he seemed to do was highlight the gender inequality which still exists in the business world today. Indeed the word ‘binders’ has sprung up huge debate online already with various Twitter, Tumblr and even Facebook groups rising up to join the debate.
At the time of writing, the ‘Binders Full of Women’ Facebook page had over 350,000 likes and is still growing. The choice of language alone perhaps highlights Romney’s view of women; that they are merely items which can be commodified within ‘binders’, lumped together and stuck in their patriarchal role as subordinates.
This has opened up the long argued question, does gender inequality still exist even in today’s modern society? Research on the UK carried out by the Guardian in 2011, worryingly, seems to confirm just that. For instance, women stock market brokers earn on average over 42% less an hour than men in the same job. And as a whole, women earn 16% less than men across all sectors of society, and two-thirds of the lowest paid workers in the UK are women, according to ‘UK Feminista’, a charity made to address gender inequality. ‘Feminista’ ultimately aims to raise awareness through social media and physical protest and its Director Kat Banyard is seen by some as an inspiration to young women everywhere.
The debate that Banyard brings forward is that discrimination is not something of the past but a real and present threat that sadly we still have to deal with. Earlier in October another Guardian article researched the prominence of women on the front page of newspapers. Even this brought surprising evidence. They estimate that ‘78% of front page articles are written by men, and 84% of those quoted or mentioned are male’. This research, originally from ‘Women in Journalism’, concluded that men were much more in the public professional sphere than women. How can this still be possible?
For a start, 22% of MPs in the UK are women – no wonder women are not getting a proportional say. The usual argument seems to be that women are often not as high earners or not in such prominent jobs because they have other responsibilities and aspirations. However this does justify the extent to which women are underrepresented and underpaid. How can a country which claims to be a modern, forward thinking, free democracy still have this disparity?
Indeed even on the Conservative website they have outlined the need for policies to improve inequalities within sexes and yet it seems that people are still unwilling to see inequality as a problem. In fact many people listening to Mitt Romney’s speech may not have even questioned the language used. Perhaps the real debate is how can we break this barrier of acceptance and push towards a more equal society without the stigma surrounding feminism.
There are still definitions on Urban Dictionary claiming that feminism is ‘the radical notion that women are people too’. If people think like this, how can discrimination be changed? By not making a statement on the Mitt Romney case perhaps we are ultimately damaging ourselves. Statements like his cannot be overlooked or ignored, gender inequality is still a real problem and people need to wake up to it.