Two professors wanted to see what would happen if Hillary Clinton were a man and Donald Trump were a woman, so they cast actors to reenact a gender-swapped version of the presidential debates. What happened next surprised everybody.
Maria Guadalupe, an economics and political science professor at INSEAD and Joe Salvatore, a theatre professor at NYU, cast a female actress to play Trump, a.k.a. “Brenda King,” and a male actor to play Clinton, aka “Jonathan Gordon” in “Her Opponent,” a production that brought excerpts of the three debates to the stage.
Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.
Prior to the show, the professors surveyed the audience about their impressions of the real-life Trump/Clinton debates, then polled them again about the King/Gordon matchup immediately following the performance. Here’s what happened:
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. . . 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.
Throughout the election, it was obvious Hillary Clinton wasn’t very well-liked. In fact, more people had an unfavorable opinion of her than the number of those who had a favorable view of her. But a lot of the hate was attributed to sexism. If people disliked Clinton, they were often painted as bigots. The gender-swapping exercise peels away at that cheap analysis and suggests maybe there was a legitimate reason to dislike her after all.