The Redemption of Fabulist Mike Daisey
You know Mike Daisey as the guy who fabricated entire conversations with Chinese workers in his acclaimed monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. He got the popular radio show This American Life to break precedent and retract the episode devoted to him, then stopped short of apologizing in a subsequent episode about the retraction. He blamed the declining state of journalism, his director/wife, anything in the days following the scandal, before finally giving in to a (still somewhat defensive) apology on his blog.
Then he became the guy who decided to call his new monologue Yes All Women.
#YesAllWomen is the hashtag response to #NotAllMen, the kneejerk defensive reaction from some men in the aftermath of misogynist Elliot Rodger’s fatal shooting rampage at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The prospect of Daisey (a man) making money by monologuing (one-man show-ing) and appropriating the avenue thousands of women used to share personal stories of everyday sexism is, yes, a colossally stupid idea.
Twitter had no problem letting him know.
Then the bizarre happened. Mike Daisey, serial liar and non-apologist, actually listened.
On Wednesday afternoon, writer and editor Kelly Hills, cited in the third tweet above, suggested less vomit-inducing titles for Daisey’s new monologue. In a blog post published two hours later, Daisey announced he was changing the name of his monologue from Yes All Women to Yes This Man.
“Women’s voices get taken away so often and appropriated so often,” he later told ThinkProgress. The backlash to his chosen title “was the opposite of what I originally intended. I was hoping to provoke things more like, ‘a man is actually talking about these issues, why don’t more men speak about these issues?’ But it didn’t.”
Daisey sets a great example for taking constructive criticism, even if it came after an initial bout of nastiness (“I shit bigger than you,” he snapped at one critic). Yes This Man more accurately reflects a monologue in which he “interrogates his own history and choices as a way of framing a human discussion about how it could be possible to live an authentic life where we actually see one another,” as a press release promises. He says he will not “try to speak for women,” a well-advised choice since he is, in fact, still a dude. And if the show goes successfully, it will hopefully prompt more men to analyze their own complicity in perpetuating the social mores that make this world difficult and often dangerous for women.
But the role of men in discussing and addressing sexism is complicated. Men are still often more likely to gain attention for talking about women’s issues than, you know, women are. Of the countless women who contributed to the #YesAllWomen hashtag, making themselves targets for online abuse and physical threats from anti-feminists (the woman who started the hashtag, in fact, ultimately had to delete her Twitter account), none are currently selling out one-woman shows named after it.
A man in the public arena addressing his part in gender inequality is still such an anomaly that press and attention are almost a given when one does. Comedian Louis C.K., the easiest example, wrote lines for a Louie character (played by Sarah Baker) that amounted to “fat women are people, too”—and the Internet swooned (despite all the fat women going around all day actually being people). He showed a fictional version of himself sexually attacking a woman in a different episode and behold, think pieces galore. As one Medium writer points out, “it’s the equivalent of how impressed people get by men who are parenting in public, while women who are going about being mothers are invisible and unremarkable.”
It’s great that Mike Daisey and other men are self-aware enough to acknowledge and try to correct their roles in perpetuating sexism. But that becomes counterproductive when done at the expense of the people they aim to help. In Daisey’s case, these are the contributors to #YesAllWomen. But this is a lesson that Daisey says he has learned. “I’ve learned in my life that it’s a process of revision—the past few years have been all about that for me, and I’m grateful,” he writes in an entry on his blog about the name change. “I hope that people take this change in the spirit that it’s intended: of openness, transparency, and with the belief that everyone has stories to tell.” Right on.