“now I understand how this happened”
A fascinating study by an associate professor at NYU reveals why many voters found Trump the more appealing candidate.
Surely, perceptions would change with a gender-reversal, right? Perceptions did change, but not quite in the way they’d assumed.
Her Opponent is the brainchild of Maria Guadalupe, associate professor of economics and political science and Joe Salvatore, an associate professor of theater. The resulting play included excerpts from each of the three debates performed by actors:
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. 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?
Her Opponent sold out both of its scheduled performances as audience members attempted to understand how Trump won and Hillary lost.
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.
For many audience members, the experience was an enlightening one. Now I understand why Trump won being a common sentiment:
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.
Most interesting is how this particular gender-reversal revealed so many unexpected biases. Trump has often been accused of sexism and of only caring about himself. He might be an ego-maniac, he might not, but the perception as someone who you might not like but is working in your best interest was really the bottom line for many-a-voter last November, and ultimately the reason Trump won.
Snippets from their rehearsal can be viewed beneath:
[Featured Image a photo by Richard Termine, as used in NYU’s publication]
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