An experimental play, Her Opponent, is helping leftists understand the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by swapping the candidates’ genders.
When economics and political science professor Maria Guadalupe hatched the idea of staging a theatrical reproduction of the presidential debates with the genders of Trump and Clinton swapped, she and her collaborator, educational theatre specialist Joe Salvatore, thought it would help demonstrate sexism.
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.
In fact, what happened was the opposite. The play, titled Her Opponent, gave Donald Trump’s debate lines to a fictional female candidate, “Brenda King,” and Clinton’s to a fictional male candidate, “Jonathan Gordon.”
The play may well have demonstrated sexism, but not in the way its creators imagined. Audience members – mostly liberals who supported Clinton in the election – found themselves more persuaded by Brenda King, and turned off by Jonathan Gordon — even though the gender-swapped “candidates” were delivering the same lines as Trump and Clinton.
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.
NYU News interviewed Salvatore, who explained some of the audience’s reactions.
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.
You can read NYU News’ full article at this link, and watch an excerpt from Her Opponent below.