There was a lot of talk during the election that Hillary Clinton would have done better if she were a man, but no talk that Donald Trump would have done better if he were a woman. But, a recent sociological experiment--and interesting play--gives some evidence that Clinton would have done worse as a man and Trump would have done better as a woman. This might be one of the strangest sentences I've written, so hold on and see what happened:


This video is a clip from a rehearsal for Her Opponent, a word-for-word, gesture-for-gesture recreation of a debate between Clinton and Trump, with the genders swapped. The woman (actress Rachel Tuggle Whorton) plays Trump and the man (actor Daryl Embry) plays Clinton. It's a fascinating thing to watch.

Created by Maria Guadalupe, a professor at France's INSEAD Business school and Joe Salvatore, clinical associate professor of educational theatre at New  York University's Steinhardt School, it really makes us think about what role gender has to do in politics and business. Many members of the audience found the female Trump more sympathetic than the male Clinton.

In the play, the Trump character is named Brenda King and the Clinton character is named Jonathan Gordon. NYU news reports this response:

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.

Amber Jamieson, at The Guardian, recorded her experiences watching a rehearsal as follows:

As a man, Clinton seemed like a cliched and sleazy politician, overly polished, making grand promises. Her constant smiling felt more forced when a man did it, since it's rare for men to fake smiles.

When Embry read out Clinton's website address and book information, mid-debate, he seemed overwhelmingly smug.

Hearing someone else read Trump's lines made it easier to focus on the content of what he was saying. Perhaps for the first time, I heard the clear messages: "more jobs" and "lower taxes", criticisms of Clinton's lack of action.

Female Trump felt like a feisty woman speaking from the heart. Perhaps that was because society expects women to be more dramatic and emotional.

What does this mean for society? Well, perhaps that our stereotypes about gender aren't exactly what we thought they were. I would have expected the female version of Trump to be less appealing because of the brashness for which Trump is famous. It comes off as completely different. And the male Clinton being seen as someone who lacks action? Fascinating.

I'd like to see more of these experiments done, in a more controlled environment, without the famous people. Perhaps videos of a meeting done two ways, with genders flip-flopped and then have focus groups evaluate the participants.

Whatever we think we know about gender roles in leadership and speech, we don't know everything as evidenced by this video. Take a couple of minutes to watch the clip and see how you feel about Trump and Clinton with the genders swapped.

Published on: Mar 9, 2017
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of