Feminist academics decided to “gender-swap” the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton presidential debates and recreate them with actors, in order to prove that Clinton was unfairly treated solely because she was a woman.
But, after surveying the audience, they wound up proving exactly why Donald Trump won.
Two professors, Maria Guadalupe from INSEAD and Joe Salvatore from New York University, launched the project, called “Her Opponent,” using a male actor as Hillary Clinton and a female actress as Donald Trump.
They set out to show, according to Salvatore, 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.” Basically, that if Hillary were a man and Trump were a woman, Hillary would’ve swept the floor in the presidential debates.
But even the creators began to doubt their hypothesis as rehearsals began. Salvatore recalls admitting to Guadalupe that, as he watched “female Donald Trump” speak, “I kind of want to have a beer with her!”
The audience, made up mostly of academics, was apparently stunned to find out they agreed.
According to NYU News, “Many were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in [male Hillary actor] Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton—or that [female Trump actor] 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.”
Salvatore also talked to members of the audience to find out what they thought of the “restaged” debate.
“We heard a lot of ‘now I understand how this happened’—meaning how Trump won the election,” he explained.
He continued: “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.’… Someone said that [male Hillary] was ‘really punchable’ because of all the smiling… There was someone who described [female Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt.”
Salvatore added: “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.”
For Salvatore’s part, he was quick to admit how wrong he’d been about Trump supporters: “I expected it to make me more angry at them,” he said. Instead, “I developed empathy for people who voted for him.”