It’s the question that New York University asks in a Feb. 28 post titled “What if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Had Swapped Genders?”
The question is meant to address whether Donald Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail — whatever anyone thinks of it — would have been tolerated were he a woman.
To that end, INSEAD associate professor of economics and political science Maria Guadalupe decided to put that question to the test in a production called Her Opponent which reverses the genders of the 2016 candidates.
Her Opponent casts Rachel Whorton as “Brenda King”, a female version of Trump — Daryl Embry plays “Jonathan Gordon”, a male version of Hillary Clinton.
Together with clinical associate professor of educational theatre Joe Salvatore, they map out the speaking styles and mannerisms of both Clinton and Trump to reenact the 2016 presidential debates to see how audience members would react to a female version of Donald Trump:
After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in October 2016—a battle between the first female candidate nominated by a major party and an opponent who’d just been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women—Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?
They assumed that Trump’s aggressive style and willingness to go on the attack wouldn’t be tolerated coming from a woman, but Her Opponent shattered that presumption for audience members at two sold out Jan. 28 shows:
Based on the conversations after the performances, it sounded like audience members had their beliefs rattled in a similar way. What were some themes that emerged from their responses?
We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.
What did you find most surprising?
I was particularly struck by the post-performance discussions about effeminacy. People felt that the male version of Clinton was feminine, and that that was bad. As a gay man who worked really hard, especially when I was younger, to erase femininity from my body—for better or worse—I found myself feeling really upset hearing those things. Daryl [the actor playing Jonathan Gordon, the male Clinton] and I have talked about this multiple times since the performances. Never once in rehearsal did we say, “play this more feminine.” So I think it was mostly the smiling piece—so many women have told me that they’re taught to smile through things that are uncomfortable. It’s been really powerful to hear women talk about that, and a learning experience for me. I was surprised by how critical I was seeing [Clinton] on a man’s body, and also by the fact that I didn’t find Trump’s behavior on a woman to be off-putting. I remember turning to Maria at one point in the rehearsals and saying, “I kind of want to have a beer with her!” The majority of my extended family voted for Trump. In some ways, I developed empathy for people who voted for him by doing this project, which is not what I was expecting. I expected it to make me more angry at them, but it gave me an understanding of what they might have heard or experienced when he spoke. (Emphasis added)
Whatever the implications (namely to me that Hillary Clinton lost because of the inescapable downside of being Hillary Clinton, not because she’s a woman) when I watched the clip I couldn’t help but think I’d like a female Trump more than Trump himself.
— Jacy Reese (@jacyreese) March 7, 2017
As “Brenda King” channeled the politics of Trumpism, I found myself affirmatively liking King, as opposed to having voted Trump with an enthusiasm that manifested in me as “well shit…I guess I’m doing this…” on Nov. 8.
Cathy Young — who is as far from a Trump fan as I’ve been able to gather — sums it up pretty well:
So a woman who acts like Trump would never get away with it? That's what these experimenters thought too. Until after the experiment. https://t.co/ywKqmRHjnE
— Cathy Young (@CathyYoung63) March 7, 2017
You can read the rest here.