You may already have seen this experiment in which parts of the Trump/Clinton debates were restaged—complete with gestures and expressions matching the originals—with an actress playing Trump and an actor playing Clinton. The idea behind it was this:
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?…
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.
In fact, viewers (the majority of whom appear to have been Hillary voters; the professors were from NYU so I’m assuming it was staged in New York City) were stunned and distressed by what they saw:
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.
Here’s a clip of what I believe is a rehearsal:
Absolutely fascinating—particularly for me, because I study the process of political mind-changing. Certainly some of these people must have experienced the glimmerings of a change of mind, although there are many ways to fend off and/or rationalize such an experience if it occurs in isolation and isn’t followed up by more. I’m struck, however, by the honesty of the people’s expression of their unanticipated reactions, even though they were surprised and dismayed by them. People often refuse to even admit evidence that contradicts their assumptions.
But I have a caveat in terms of the gender conclusions. The fact that Trump is a man and Hillary a women was certainly no small part of how and why people reacted to each them (and to the battle between them) as they did. But it was still just a part. Both Trump and Clinton are also specific individuals who each have very distinctive characteristics that make them absolutely unique. Although the actors mimicked the candidates’ every gesture and expression, with genders reversed, the mimicry was only of the outward form of the presentation. The essence of each person was missing (at least, in my opinion), and not just because the sexes were switched, although of course that’s a big factor.
Watching that clip, I didn’t feel as though I was seeing a female approximation of Trump or a male version of Hillary, even though the actors were speaking their lines and imitating their movements. Did you ever see a play and then see it with a different cast of lead actors? I have, many times. The genders aren’t switched, but the performances can be like night and day. We all bring our idiosyncratic selves to every single thing we do, and that’s even true of actors who are pretending to be someone else.