An experiment has been conducted by some folks at NYU to see how the sex of the 2016 presidential candidates (and the biases inherent in the voters–deplorable or not) affected the result. The following is lifted from nyu.edu, where you can read the write-up in its entirety. I’m tempted to make snarky comments throughout, but I will simply italicize a few things for emphasis. Happy #InternationalWomensDay!
What if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Had Swapped Genders?
A restaging of the presidential debates with an actress playing Trump and an actor playing Clinton yielded surprising results.
. . . 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?
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. . . .
. . . But the lessons about gender that emerged in rehearsal turned out to be much less tidy. . . .
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.