Why we need feminist theology: Romney and ‘binders full of women’

AP Moderator Candy Crowley, center, applauds as President Obama, right, shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the … Continued


Moderator Candy Crowley, center, applauds as President Obama, right, shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, on Oct. 16, 2012.

Why did Mitt Romney’s reference to “whole binders full of women” in response to a question from a town hall attendee in Tuesday night’s second presidential debate at Hofstra University simply drive many women up the wall?

Romney’s seemingly off-hand remark sparked outrage. The visceral response was crystallized by Amy Sullivan. She spoke for many when she wrote pointedly about “Mitt the Jerk: A Woman’s View of the Debate.” Sullivan pointed out how many women know “Mitt the Man” who talks over you like he talked over moderator Candy Crowley of CNN. This is the kind of guy who is charming when he gets his way and then turns testy when he doesn’t. Women know this guy, frankly.

The Twitter meme, #bindersfullofwomen, that immediately popped up, illustrates the policy implications of this kind of faux chivalry that hides an anti-woman agenda.


Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN speaks to the audience prior to the start of a town hall style presidential debate at Hofstra University on Oct. 16, 2012 in Hempstead, N.Y.

But we need to go a little deeper. Women’s health, life, work and rights have been at the center of this presidential election season for a long time now. Dubbed the “War on Women,” the issues of most concern to women in terms of their reproductive freedoms and equal pay rights seemed to be very important through the summer and early fall. Women’s rights groups and progressive organizations pressed home these policy-related questions, and debate over who was more “anti-woman,” the Democrats or the Republicans, ensued.

But that wasn’t enough to keep a “gender gap” going, that is, women voters stating they preferred President Obama and his agenda on women’s rights, after the first presidential debate. Why?

In my view, this was due to the fact that the fundamental question of women’s full humanity was not brought sufficiently and clearly enough into the whole presidential contest. Women’s health, life, work and rights cannot be reduced simply to a matter of good policy, though those issues are, of course, important in terms of crafting good policy. It just isn’t only about policy.

The most compelling question to me, from a theological perspective is why women should be treated equally.

From a Christian feminist theological perspective, as theologian Letty Russell wrote so well, we, as male and female, “are known by God.” Women are created in God’s image and when Mitt Romney, or anyone else, treats women as “less than,” it is not only an offense to them, but to their Creator.

All the rest follows. Religious patriarchy is grounded in the idea that only males image God, and women are secondary, derivative and not completely in the image of God. So you don’t have to treat them equally. As feminist Mary Daly so tellingly said, “When God is male, the male is God.” This exact equation has had devastating consequences for the lives and health of women and girls throughout the world.

My colleague and co-author, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, with whom I wrote the book “Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States,” did research in many areas popular with the so-called “sex tourists.” As Brock recently reminded me, as we walked in these areas, men would rush up to us with binders full of the pictures of women, some very young women.

That’s the bottom line. Women and young girls aren’t fully human. They are a commodity.

It is not up to President Obama, of course, to make the Christian theological claim as part of a political debate. It is up to me and millions of Christian women, and male allies, who believe that women too are created in God’s image. Women of other faiths are equally capable of making their own religious case, and women of humanist values similarly.

What we most need is the values case to be made forcefully. Why is it wrong to treat women this way?

Unless and until we go deeper on why women are paid less, are told they don’t have the religious freedom to act on their own consciences in regard to their reproductive health choices, and why they are abused in their bodies, minds and spirits with little or no legal protections, then we will not get to the real problem and real and more permanent solutions will elude us.

And would somebody, in some debate, please bring up the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act?

Pass that legislation. For God’s sake. Pass it. Enforce it.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

Related content on On Faith:

Chat transcript: Brad Hirschfield on the debate

Romney proves his trustworthiness on social conservatives’ issues

Why we need feminist theology: Romney and ‘binders full of women’

Obama flays the religion card

On debates, Los Angeles rabbi: ‘Each statistic makes my spirit sink’

  • AgentFoxMulder

    How does his record of hiring women into high ranking government positions compare with that of Obama’s? I’m pretty sure Romney has a better record. Which is why such knee-jerk reaction to a comment taken out of context resembles the outrage some feel over a video or a cartoon.

  • gary4205

    You idiot liberals had the perfect feminist role model in Sarah Palin. Dynamic, powerful, incredibly successful, hard working, happy wife and mother.

    Instead you idiot liberal women chose Sandra Fluke who can’t even buy her own contraceptives, let alone contribute a single thing to the world.

    You liberal idiots made you bed, now wallow in it.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    ‘Dynamic, powerful, incredibly successful, hard working, happy wife and mother.’

    Very tactful of you not to include the word ‘intelligent.’ The nomination of the Maverick for vice president was probably the most suicidal political decision by either party in the modern history of American elections. Sarah Palin was an insult to the American electorate, a brash, vacuous woman who believes that the earth is 6,000 years old, and that the proximity of Alaska to the uninhabited shores of Siberia validates her foreign policy credentials. The fact that any sentient person could genuflect to this now disgraced politician the way you just did might be more depressing than anything else I’ve heard this election season.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Not to mention more insulting to women.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    What a perfect distillation of the anti-intellectual ethos of the modern GOP.

  • cricket44

    The comment is beside the point. His whole claim was a lie.

    That’s all Mitt does.

  • cricket44

    The fact that you are claiming Ms. Fluke was discussing her own contraception makes any accusation of idiocy on the part of others beyond ironic.

    Another Angry and Ignorant voter for Mitt.

  • Debi Fitts

    oh for crying out loud…..there is no war on women, there is no longer a glass ceiling, they have total freedom to do whatever they want, and the question last night in the debate was as I see it , unnecessary……it is just used by libs to trip up conservatives on issues that don’t matter anymore (there was a time)….what is “women’s rights”??? Governor Romney has no war on women, neither do Republicans and they don’t talk down to us….crazy talk… and worse the libs even use the idea for abortion – with apparently no rights for the unborn child….illogical, selfish and deadly….

  • cricket44

    Yes, there is, yes, there is and no, we don’t.

    Women are not “free to do whatever they want” without total and complete physical autonomy. If you don’t want yours, that’s great, whatever floats your boat, but it ought to be there for you anyway.

    As long as gestation occurs inside the woman, she has the right to terminate it. Most abortions occur in the first trimester so the only “child” is in your imagination. Illogical, indeed!

  • cricket44

    Yep. The binders were brought TO him. There was no “oh, I saw a problem and went out of my way to fix it.’

    Romney lied…as always.

  • JHD

    It’s not okay for Romney to refer to a “binders full of women” but you have no problem with saying “But we need to go a little deeper” particularly in regarding to women’s “reproductive freedoms.” If it’s good enough to take Romney out of context, then it’s good enough for you.

  • JHD

    Taking someone’s words out of context go both ways. You clearly didn’t mean anything other than “let’s examine the issue more closely.” Nor did Romney mean anything other than asking for resumes of qualified women for consideration to positions. First, it’s “Big Bird”. Now it’s “Binders full of women.” What’s next on your list of meaningless minutia while the rest of us suffer under Obama’s economy?

  • cricket44

    “Nor did Romney mean anything other than asking for resumes of qualified women for consideration to positions.”

    Which he did not do. Mitt’s lying…as always.

  • JohnBChilton1

    Meh. Missing the forest for the tree. Romney listened to the coalition and appointed women. More than previous administrations.

  • cricket44

    And when he was done not-bothering-with-governing, the number was lower than it had been before.

    Mitt lies.

  • question1

    This is a wonderful piece, and I thank you. I can’t help remembering Archie Bunker’s biblical interpretation: God made Eve from a rib – “a cheaper cut”. LOL.

    Certainly theology needs to revisit the idea that human souls are created in God’s image & have no need of “gender”. Nor can we continuously be bound by ludicrous, outdated human concepts of slavery, science etc.

    I was a caseworker at a battered women’s shelter & a hotline volunteer for long enough to know that with all the progress we women have made, there’s a lot more to be done. I’m glad you mentioned your male “allies” because I’ve known MANY who are stellar & don’t deserve to be lumped in with the neanderthals.

    For myself, I actually worry (& pray) more often about women in Asia, Africa & the Middle East. But I thank you again for your words & your work.

  • persiflage

    As one commentator pointed out, Romney is a Wall Street deal closer. He’ll say anything to anyone in order to get the job done. What you get later on generally has nothing to do with what he says in the heat of the moment. Ask the downsized employees at Bain Capital.

    You vote for Romney at your own peril. I can understand Romney’s appeal to white men of a certain political persuasion and financial class, but why senior citizens seem to favor Romney is quite a mystery, unless they belong to the monied class too. Working women won’t be taken in by all the double talk. Ryan/Romney are interchangeable when it comes to a woman’s reproductive rights. They both want to control the parameters because that’s the kind of guys they are – manipulators and controllers.

    And they still intend on giving the wealthy and the entire corporate world a huge tax break. How do you balance the budget and increase defense spending without increased revenue? These guys are Reagan era supply siders in spades. The middle class will never see the cuts to their own benefits coming….until they notice all the blood pooling around their lower extremeties. And the unemloyment rate will bounce right right back to about 10% as another deep recession sets in.

  • question1

    I’m a Christian & one of the most telling points to me is that I believe when God decided to send His Son to us in human form, He ASKED a woman for her permission & cooperation. He certainly could have just sent her a postcard saying, “guess what?”. I believe God respects our free will.

    Life comes through the biology of women & IMO, none of us has the right to ask any woman to risk her life to get or remain pregnant. Once the birth happens we ALL have the obligation to nurture & protect it.

    I think that’s the big difference between Conservatives & Liberals. Which set of “rights” precludes the other?

  • clb2012now1

    Women at the Whitehouse make 77% of what men make and Obama is the “woman’s” choice?

    I’d rather have Romney’s work flexibility than Obama’s Russia flexibility any day.

  • Deborah Sampson

    This issue is further reinforced by a lack of understanding of the original language and of the rich history of translation. Governor Romney, like many, comes from a tradition of the King James translation being akin to “straight from the angel’s mouth.” I submit the original word, often translated as “helpmate” or, in other translations, “helper,” is more correctly translated as “partner” or “co-worker.” Starting from this point, one then sees women as equals, not subservient beings. This stance is further reinforces when Adam says “Eve made me do it.” If she were a lesser being, accusing her of “forcing” Adam to do anything becomes laughable.
    But I digress. This is but one example of the many ways inaccurate Biblical translation znd the traditionally patriarchal

  • Deborah Sampson

    Apologies, typing on an Android device can be problematic.
    The traditional patriarchy of the church and Biblical translation combined with eisegesis, are ways that feminist theology has been suppressed. Governor Romney is a product of a that tradition.

  • fallaful

    the man did not invent the idea of hiring a woman.

  • fallaful

    this dude should get a nobel peace prize!

  • indi2

    Continue calling Romney a liar and Obama loses. Why the liberals can’t realize the tactic has bombed themselves?

  • fallaful

    Romney made obama’s campaign all about style and nothing about substance. the debates were exactly the same if not worse considering substance and even style. the dude is annoying to hear yelp.

  • Hoa Minh Truong

    Obama care!!!! certainly it is not…President Barack Obama cares no one about the health, instead the tax payers care for people, even though Navy Seal killed Osama Bin Laden, but Obama did not.
    President Barack Obama just cares his presidency for next term…People also doubt secretary Hillary Clinton, why didn’t she accept the full responsibility when the US ambassador killed in Libya?. Her action is political football, that couldn’t protect the bad record of Barack Obama in domestic and foreign policy. US need a potential president than the eloquent president as Obama who talked much but did little, so the debate could not rescue the fallen policies of president Barack Obama.

  • Hoa Minh Truong

    Obama care !!! certainly it is not, president Barack Obama cares no one, instead the tax payer care for people health, even though president Obama did not kill Osama Bin Laden, but Navy Seal did. However president Back Obama really cares for his next term.
    People also doubt the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Why didn’t she accept the full responsibility when the US ambassador has killed in Libya?. Her act likes political football, that couldn’t protect the bad record of domestic and foreign policy since president Barack Obama enters White House. US people need a potential leader than the eloquent president as Obama, who talked much but did little. US voter have to change after 4 years tested by Obama. In election 2008, Obama motto was: we change, then US has changed to massive deficit, 23,000,000 jobless…now he uses” forward”…so if next 4 years being Obama power, US will be forwarded the bankruptcy and people will become the proletariat as Van Jones concerns. Mr. Van Jones, a socialism, Karl Marx’s pupil, he is the key influence to Obama. Some body have not seen yet the coffin, then they haven’t cried yet…but someone in US have seen the Obama has done to the Karl Marx way, but they haven’t waken up yet…
    Hoa Minh Truong.
    author of 3 books: the dark journey, Good Evening Vietnam & From laborer to author ( underway to release)

  • alltheroadrunnin

    “Women’s health, life, work and rights have been at the center of this presidential election season ” No, they haven’t. A people’s values and morals have been spoken of, talked about — things that go into good character, like life-style and responsibility. Of course, these might be “women’s issues,” and children and men’s issues, too. It is rather grown-up, adult let’s say, to discuss morals, values, ethics — things of good character.

    But not even these things are “…at the center of this presidential election season.” No. Money is, and it is the only issue. It’s money for this and money for that, and who’s money, mine or yours or theirs. So, let’s keep it honest, quit feeling picked-on, and stop whining. And grow-up.

  • cricket44

    Things that go into good character, like respecting others, not discriminating by denial of benefits, and understanding that half the country does not have less rights than the other half.

    If you’re going to lecture about honesty, try using some. And grow-up.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    “Denial of benefits?” Name one. Plus, are you suggesting that half the country with very little money should have some of the money the other half of the country has? I would prefer we split the country into two countries. You get what you want (maybe); I get to keep what I have (for sure). See, I’m fair, and respectful of your wishes.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    i always find these articles a day or two late. is there somewhere where a list of the latest “on faith” articles are posted?

  • amelia45

    Well, not this senior citizen. Willard is wishy/washy and opportunistic. I have no idea what he will do – whatever is the flavor of the month, I guess, or at least the flavor of the month as his handlers see it.

  • question1

    Gee, Scott: Always using the cross as a bludgeon but not up to carrying it on your back…there is no “version” of Christianity.

    There are only sinners with faith trying to learn & grow.

  • question1

    Scott: Please re-read what I posted. Mary had the right to refuse God’s request, IMO. Else why bother asking Her at all?

    And way to go with that “Love thy neighbor” stuff – washed any feet lately? I am a practicing Christian – I probably won’t live long enough to get it perfect, which apparently you’ve already achieved.

  • question1

    Scott: Do you understand how babies are created? Women don’t bear the responsibility for the conception alone you know.

  • question1

    Jesus never assigned those ranks. St. Paul did.

  • amelia45

    Scott – faith is a journey. The universe evolved and is still evolving. Life evolved and is still evolving. We learn about God and God’s creation and change as we learn because we understand more about God and about creation and ourselves.

    Faith that denies reality is not a faith in God. A faith that thinks they have defined all there is to define about God and Man has stopped the journey of faith.

  • amelia45

    This is well done. We still have very far to go in finding all those places of cultural bias against women.

    One issue that makes a point for me is the cry for “personhood” for the unborn without concomitantly recognizing the “personhood” of the woman. It is as if the woman who becomes pregnant loses her personhood and has none until the child is born. Doesn’t matter if the pregnancy is from rape or if the pregnancy could damage the health of the woman – the only personhood recognized and considered is that of the fetus.

    We might move along the debate about how to lower the occurrance of unwanted pregnancy that leads to abortion, if we would recognize the “personhood”, the citizenship, the humanity of the woman involved.

  • amelia45

    Not that I can find. And I agree. We need a list of articles, authors, by date published so we can find the new ones every day. I am going over to the Ombudsman website and make the point.

  • walter-in-fallschurch


  • amelia45

    There is a war on women, there is a glass ceiling, and there is a real problem when 50 years of progress on women’s health, women’s safety, and women’s equality are being systematically dismantled by Republicans.

    That war is real. It is a Republican led war. It is occuring in state legislatures and in the federal government, whereever Republicans have the majority. The only solution is to not vote for a single Republican for anything, from dog-catcher on up. It doesnt’ even matter how good or how bad the opponent is – Republicans are actually dangerous to the health, safety, and citizenship of women.

  • Kingofkings1

    You can count on Dr Thistlethwaite to present a thoughtful analysis instead of jumping right in at the peak of controversy.

    Has anyone given a thought to wonder where Mr. Romney’s views stand regarding educating women – or whether he would condone shooting women who defy a ban on education in America and elsewhere?

  • persiflage

    ‘But I wouldn’t expect you to understand the basic economics which underpins Romney’s plan. It is foreign to the Leftist mind.’

    Romneynomics is easy to understand – he and his regressive righwing wannabe VP never minced words. Statistics and an honest historical accounting spell it out – supply side trickle down economics has failed miserably for everyone except for the top tier of economically fortunate folks in the USA – the middle class has steadily lost ground while the rich have gotten steadily richer. Meanwhile, MItt Rmoney is channeling the Koch brothers.

    Unraveling the Romney/Ryan plan is not rocket science – even you can do it, Scottie. It’s just more republican pre-industrial feudalism – actually more regressive than anything proposed by that famed righwing acolyte for the rich, St. Ronald Reagan. In defiance of every law of moral gravity, the money has continued to trickle up for the last 30 years.

    And yet, those inordinately fortunate rich folks on the political right cry and whine about the possibility of higher taxes. What a bunch or amoral adolescents! Evan Ronald Reagan finally realized that raising revenues meant raising taxes – and did so.

    The perversity of the regressive right is a study in self-defeating behavior. I’m wondering why rich democrats don’t have the same self-serving attitude??

  • persiflage

    ‘If you believe that Mary had the right to abort Jesus, then you are no Christian.’

    Wasn’t there some question about the father? Fortunately an angel intervened…….not all women are so lucky.

  • persiflage

    ‘The Colonel is equal to the General in all but rank.’

    The hierarchical world view is natural to the authoritarian personality……..fortunately not all people are so afflicted.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    questionx, sir or madam, or Ms., that’s what I’ve always wondered about, the equal treatment under the law (the Constitution) about what are the rights of the sperm? Are not the ovary and the sperm equal? She says she’s not having the baby, she’s getting an abortion — I say, “Fine, I’ll pay for it.”

    She says she is having the baby, I say, “Fine, but I consider my sperm aborted. Have a good life, good bye.”

    Anybody see any problem with this? I don’t, pending your answers.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    Cricket, where are you? I’ll be happy to go head to head with you, any day, or night. I have had happy nights, maybe you haven’t.

  • quiensabe

    Well, just think, Susan. Now you’ve got a real issue to get behind!

  • Catken1

    ‘Cricket means that the unborn half of the country is denied the benefit of life that the rest of us enjoy”

    I enjoy the right to use my mother’s body without her consent, which she may withdraw at any time? Good to know. Also false.

  • Catken1

    “The Colonel is equal to the General in all but rank.”

    And black is equal to white in all but color, and 2 is equal to 4 in all but magnitude…

  • Catken1

    Mary affirmatively and willingly gave her free consent to bear Jesus, “Let it be done to me according to Thy will.” That consent means nothing if it wasn’t freely given, and if she hadn’t had the right to say no.

  • thebump

    The authoress’s essays are always good for a chuckle — and a stroll down memory lane to that good ole time, bra-burnin’, fire and brimstone, shrill, shrieking, hysterical wymyn’s capital-L Lib. “Ho ho, hey hey, how many babies we gonna abort today?!” So interesting to know there are still the true unrepentant believers out there, those who will never evolve or mature.

    And BINDERS! To think he kept their resumes in BINDERS! Oh, the patriarchy!

  • JustinXXX

    The Republicans oppose Obamacare because they say it is Socialism. The Republicans call anything that is life affirming or humanistic Socialism. The reason why they oppose anything Socialist or humanistic is that they are afraid of poor people they can’t exploit or hurt for profit. The harsh Capitalism the Republicans preach today is a system that allows psycopaths to hurt people. They enjoy it. Obama is a threat to their right to exploit and hurt people who are less fortunate than themselves. Medicare-Social Security- they want to get rid of so they can exploit and hurt the elderly and the poor for profit. They get off on it.

  • persiflage

    ‘So interesting to know there are still the true unrepentant believers out there, those who will never evolve or mature.’

    What are you saying here bump? You apparently prefer women as background noise that you can tune out when your sensibilities are offended. Now that’s a stroll down memory lane! You know what they say about the arrow of time moving in one direction……….