As far as the 2016 election, is concerned, I am waaaaaay beyond any kind of postgame analysis or trying to figure out what in the name of all that is good and holy that mess was. Sure, the candidate that I hated the most lost and the winner is actually turning out to be not as bad as I thought he would be, so the outcome was as good as I could possibly have hoped for. But still – regardless of whose camp you were (or were not) in, I can’t think of any sane human being who would want a repeat of that two-year-long unholy alliance of a trainwreck, a dumpster fire, and a meteor strike.
That being said – I was quite fascinated by this project from an NYU professor of economics and political science. At first, I thought it was just a lame excuse for some unhinged campus leftist to proclaim how SEEEEEEEXIST America is because we didn’t elect the First Woman President(tm). But then I got looking at the experiment and realized there was something more to this than a pathetic whine-fest from the Cult of Social Justice.
According to this, Professor Maria Guadelupe of NYU wanted to find out what could have happened had the genders of the candidates been switched – what would have happened if a female candidate had campaigned with Donald Trump’s words and mannerisms against a male candidate campaigning the way Hillary Clinton did? How would people have responded? Would they have responded differently? Would male-Hillary still lose? Would female-Trump still look like a jerk?
The project culminated in a replay performance of a debate between Trump and Clinton called Her Opponent. Actors played the roles of the candidates – a woman playing the Trump candidate (renamed “Brenda King”) and a man playing the Clinton candidate (renamed “Jonathan Gordon”). The script was taken from excerpts of the three presidential debates word-for-word and the actors studied the candidates’ mannerisms and tone. Here’s a segment of the performance –
The “debate” was performed before an audience – mostly of left-leaning folks who are still trying to work their way through the eleventy-kajillion stages of election-loss-grief. Professor Guadelupe and host Joe Salvatore even said that they expected people to be angry – they assumed that people would see that the male-Clinton’s actions were infinitely preferable to the female-Trump’s confrontational tone and brash attitude –
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 that’s not quite what happened. In fact, people expressed understanding of how Queen Hillary could POSSIBLY have lost the election –
But the lessons about gender that emerged in rehearsal turned out to be much less tidy. What was Jonathan Gordon smiling about all the time? And didn’t he seem a little stiff, tethered to rehearsed statements at the podium, while Brenda King, plainspoken and confident, freely roamed the stage? Which one would audiences find more likeable?
Many were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton—or that Brenda King’s clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they’d remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out. For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.
After each performance, Salvatore held a Q&A discussion with the audience and further found out just how their expectations had been rattled by watching the debates replayed like this. Hard-core Democrat voters actually said that they understood how Donald Trump’s words hit home for people, and how insufferable Hillary Clinton really is (one audience member said that the male-Clinton smiled so much that he wanted to punch the guy) –
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.
Dear Her Opponent audiences – I have one thing to say that I mean with all the sincerity and respect that I possess –
Here’s my take on this (admittedly, as someone who’s only seen the two-minute clip of the performance, but still) – I think this past election was about a cult of personality. Not necessarily gender (though that did play a part in it). Establishment Democrats loooooooooved Hillary Clinton so much that they couldn’t see past her flaws or even consider that other people didn’t love her as much as they did. But seeing her standoffishness, her dishonesty, her completely manufactured persona reflected in someone completely different – even to the point where it’s a man playing the role – they realized how others could see her as less than this glorious royal presidential person that they built her up to be.
Same thing with Trump. Professor Guadelupe – who put this whole thing together – actually thought that Trump’s aggressiveness would be off-putting if displayed by a woman. But instead, people responded positively to it. It seems shrewd and smart and even (dare I say) compassionate on a certain level. They found the female-Trump to be genuinely caring for the American people in her own way.
Maybe it took completely different people (even with completely different names) presenting the debates for Democrats to get over their unashamed love for the Clinton name and realize how crappy of a candidate Hillary was. Or maybe – if you want to be more cynical – the left is so conditioned to think that a woman is preferable to a man because of some nonsense about male privilege, and that’s what’s going on with these audiences. Either way, it’s fascinating to see the shift – and even the willingness of these folks to realize that there’s actually another way of looking at this (shocker!)
What are your thoughts?