An Ordinary Disaster
Brothers and Teachers
E11 / Generative Action with Fernando Desouches

E11 / Generative Action with Fernando Desouches

The New Macho, the limitations of progressive masculinity, sustainability in marketing, leading through service, generative action, equality, fatherhood, and being childfree as a brave choice.

This conversation is part of a series of interviews with various brothers and teachers, including many fellow writers, all of which are part of the body of work surrounding my book-length memoir An Ordinary Disaster—one man's proof that we can all learn to listen to ourselves, and to act upon the inner voice of our self, our sanity and our soul.

Today I'm talking with Fernando Desouches, Managing Director of the New Macho strategic division at London-based brand marketing agency BBD Perfect Storm, whose mission is to help brands grow through positive gender narratives. Along the way Fernando led a radical repositioning of Unilever's Axe brand and has worked with many other global brands to help them stay relevant, dispel negative cliches and redefine how they approach and understand masculinity.

It took me a minute to remember how I came across Fernando's name, but it was originally from a blog post that

did with Michael Katz about meditation and lucid dreaming. I looked up Michael's name and came across a podcast interview that he did, and then from looking through other episodes of that show, I came across Fernando's name…and now he's on the show here.  Fernando's accent can be pretty tricky to understand, so in this case, I have provided the full transcript of our interview below.

It is well worth the slight extra effort in listening, as Fernando is working at the cutting edge of masculinity, identity, and gender—and he kind of blew my mind with what's going on today in the world of brands, advertising and marketing, and how some brands are taking the lead in moving towards a more sustainable relationship with customers, and in helping to inspire people to come into better relationship with themselves.

As you listen, you might scan the questions at the bottom of the show notes or at least consider just one, which is: what does identity mean to you in the context of gender? And where do you think cultural constructs like masculinity and femininity are headed? I'd love to hear from you, and you can subscribe, recommend, share, and comment right at the bottom of this page or in whatever app you're listening with.

Fernando is doing important work and bringing the conversation around evolving masculinity into the very powerful realm of advertising and marketing. He's someone whose work I respect, who is speaking up with his own voice as a new man and who I want to get to know more deeply, all of which is why  I've invited him to be with us here today.


Bowen Dwelle: Fernando, so great to have you with me. So really first question. How did you come to be doing this? What inspired you as a marketing person, a brand strategist, to bring this point of view about the new man and involving masculinity into your work?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah it's interesting. So it is like when you can join the dots from the past , like Steve Jobs said. I work 18 years in a [00:04:00] company called Unilever. Quite famous, big company. Just was certain deputy I realized later that I work most of the time either in brands that talked to men or brands that then I launch a men part.

The Axe Effect

Fernando Desouches: So I worked for Man plus Care three years , and then nine years for Axe. But also I worked for Suave and launched Suave Men in Argentina . What got me the attention is something that happens in parallel. That is my middle age crisis at the moment.

My assignment was to reposition the Axe campaign, the campaign idea what the brand stand for. In the past, the brand was super clear. It has a promise that was called the Axe Effect when you wear the fragrance and then you get as many women as possible. But then we realized that this wasn't working with the same direction anymore, and this was the year 2013. So we did a deep research to understand where men were across the globe in 10 countries. We talked to 3,500 guys. And in the output, we got for that study, there was [00:05:00] a slide that I really engaged to really resonated with me that saysmen are performing their masculinity and not live it.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes.

Fernando Desouches: And I said, I see this all around. We don't need to go to China or in the States. It was all across the globe. But also I was seeing in Iran, I said, Yeah, that is true. So men are performing who they are, not their masculinity. I said, something is very weird, and we need to do something about it. And this is how that changed the brand. And we went for a place that would transform how the brand communicate with men.

From Conquering to Connection

Fernando Desouches: That was through attraction in a very singular way. So attract as many women and as you can and as a conquering game, you conquer women. And we move that to a connection game where we invite men or we show men that their most attract serve is when they are who they are.

And they need to embrace that. And we will give a set of product to hands that, and we have proof of that. We test it also, we ask women are men. And it was very clear. We ask guys, Okay, what do you think [00:06:00] that makes you more attractive in the eyes of women? And they would tell us be muscular or be fit , show off wealth and behave in a manly way. But when we ask women what they like most about men, They told us men that are confident being who they are, and they make the them laugh, have humor.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: So it was very clear and I need to change that.

Bowen Dwelle: this is the Axe body spray, right? That's what you're talking about - you said it wasn't working anymore, and I just want to clarify. And not that the acts body spray wasn't working anymore, as if it ever worked in the first place, but that the message wasn't working with men anymore.

I remember this from, this interview that you did with Mickey Ferre, that you talked about changing the operating principle of this campaign from an attraction game to a connection game, and I just thought that expression was so beautiful.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. The way we say it is move from a conquering game to a connection game.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes. Thank you.

Between Equals

Fernando Desouches: And we've continued, it was a connection game between equals. Its [00:07:00] regarding the gender, so everything in the same level. And the interesting part is that is not only a message that relax either the opposite sex or another gender, but your parent it relax, the person that is interesting in generating that.

Bowen Dwelle: Absolutely. As you said, it becomes a game, which can be a very positive thing, the game of life, a game between equals and a game not about conquering or about dominating or even winning. It reminds me of this concept from this book, The Courage to be Disliked, which talks about this concept of keeping relationships horizontal as opposed to relationships with verticality. It's very much the same thing. It's about equality.

Early Conditioning

Fernando Desouches: This was the beginning. So you asked me how it started, and I realized that after relaunching the brand, I said, There's a lot of work to do. When I started digging on what was happening and realized two major conditioning amongst other that men were having and young boys were the first conditioning when we are 6, 7, [00:08:00] 8 years old.

And what is being a man and that men don't cry and pull yourself together, that part, that boys absorb consciously and act accordingly to keep their parents happy and be part of the male cohort. And that with time, the parent that have is that this repression on certain behaviors and exacerbation of others make that, that the beginning is conscious, then become unconscious.

And when we are teenagers, young adults, we disconnect emotionally. We don't understand very well where we are. But the one that I found super interesting is the one that follows that the second big conditioning for me that was, okay, once we are young adults or teenagers and we aspire to be a successful man, how does it do look like?

And still today it's very narrow and materialistic when men worth for what they have on how they look and not much for who they are. And that marketing can change because marketing can build as an aspiration of men and actually is part of the problem marketing and the media on how we show the aspiration for men. But we can [00:09:00] open that, showing a bigger scope that represents different values for men that could be and bring inspiration because if a brand that has certain respect starts showing different type of masculinities, that will be accepted in the way, the same way they did with different standards of beauty for women or different genders, expressions, or different abilities more recently.

Performative Masculinity

Bowen Dwelle: This relationship it leads me to a couple of questions. Perhaps first to go back to how your personal evolution relates to where you found yourself professionally. You mentioned a midlife crisis or midlife moment. Was there an awakening for you personally in terms of your own masculinity and your understanding of yourself that contributed to this direction of interest in your work?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. So I think it was that I had everything. I had the work I dreamt of. I was working on that, I was living abroad, I already [00:10:00] have my wife, one kid, but something was missing. So it was that call that, that you get at that stage. It doesn't matter if you get what you want or not, because many people, as we build aspirations in a way that is a ladder, that we need to grow and get that, the ones that don't get it says and I'm not happy because I couldn't get what I want. But that's not true if you're performing who you are, because even though you get it, it will feel empty.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: And that was the call. One day, I was walking in the coast walls here, outside London, in the countryside, feeling not very good. I sat on bench by myself looking at the woods, and this is when the lightning came. I, At that moment, I realized I need to leave. I didn't know where I have to go, but I need to do it. I need to leave. And it wasn't immediate. That was 2014. It took me three years to leave. But from there, that day, the plan started.

Bowen Dwelle: And was that when you had the inspiration to create this agency focused specifically on new masculinity?

His Personal Breakthrough

Fernando Desouches: No, [00:11:00] the answer no. And this is very interesting because at that moment I felt the need of starting the transformation. But as I did a breakthrough transformation, it wouldn't be a breakthrough if I would see it immediately, what I have to do.

I understood that I need to plan for change and that change require a change in behaviors and change in beliefs. Get new insights and experiment something new. And it was a long journey when I prepare, in terms of, get some money out before jumping in, get the conditions. Then when I left the company, I study things, I did coaching, I tried with leadership development. I saw that coaching was very interesting, was one to one. When I get leadership development, the type of leader I face were very difficult to transform. And as for change, because they were very successful and very closed.

And then in a trip, again, in the nature in Scotland is where New Macho appears. And I said, Okay. I was leaving marketing aside. I need to get [00:12:00] marketing back because that will give me the scale.

And this is when by talking to a friend of mine and a company called bbd Perfect Storm that is in London, we decided together to start working on this.

Bowen Dwelle: Amazing. Great. Great. And just to stick with that for a moment, your personal transformation there, as you said, you felt a call and you didn't know the answer yet. You didn't know the direction that you would go, but you knew that you needed to go in a new direction and that you felt to plan for change. And it sounds like nature was a big part of that experience.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah, it's the thing that I joined in the dots from the past and I have a call for nature now, so something is there.

Therapy and Mens Work

Bowen Dwelle: I've heard you mention men's work before in some context, was that also part of this process for you?

Fernando Desouches: Yes, of course. Part of the preparation was not only money, part of the preparation was getting the courage and psychological sustain. I am from Argentina, so the good thing there is that

Bowen Dwelle: Lots of [00:13:00] therapy.

Fernando Desouches: there's lot of therapy and there is not seen as something bad, but something that helps you to grow.

My mother was a therapist and so on, so I had a therapist. Then I started to open up and then I took, I have a very good mentors that, I dunno if they were mentor, but they are the guides that help me to path through this. I have a coach that help me to get the courage. I have another leadership development, and writer friend that also give me a lot of tools to go with change and transformation and help me to understand how is the natural way of transformation that this is very useful for men to understand where I am in this path because in certainty that I am walking the path.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes.

Fernando Desouches: And then I met Kenny, that is a guy that also has been working with men in men groups for more than 20 years. And I started getting in with him and understanding in men's group how other men's were thinking outside of my small corporate circle, all of that. Plus, I went to with [00:14:00] Mexican shamans. So op really open. I was really in a moment of opening.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah, that's beautiful. Yeah. Yeah, that was certainly part of my experience too in the corporate world. I had my own company for many years and it was fantastic experience and interesting, successful, fulfilling in many ways. But I did not have the kind of personal connections, myself in that realm that were inspiring and, helping me to flourish and grow personally. And it wasn't only men's work, but certainly men's work was a big part of that for me. So, fantastic to hear a little bit about that, about your journey.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. This work gave me not only insights about where men were in a different environment, but also connected me with the power of men. That I remember being in a, with the guys from Rebel Wisdom that are guys that, that work with masculinity as well. And I went to a retreat with them, and they call it Vitamin M.

And [00:15:00] it's true when you are in a circle that you hold the space and men open up and sustain each other. It's something I think we lost for quite a generation or two, or more,

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah,

Fernando Desouches: That was new for me. It was very powerful.

Bowen Dwelle: that's, Yeah. Great to hear. I experienced the same thing. I think there's something very simple about being invited, and inviting oneself to participate in a group of other men. And, that's the choice I made as well. At a certain point, I realized that I was missing this vitamin M, in my own life, and I went looking for it.

And not only in men's work, but certainly that was part of it. And, people talk about initiation and, these other kind of rituals or processes that can be part of men's work or, or not. But for me, the foundation of it is simply participating, joining, being invited into a group of other men and experiencing directly, as you said, the power of men and therefore [00:16:00] some of my own power as a

Fernando Desouches: Of course.

Yeah. And for me, it's not necessary to have a group of men. It's the conditions that men are under. No, I play football all my life, soccer, and I have very good friends there and I have very, a good fun, banter all the time, but I didn't felt the energy. Energy was when we were present together, open and in circle.

Something like really even I couldn't go there in Zoom. Have to be person.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah. There's an intentionality, certainly again, which is very simple, to set the intention, I often do it at a dinner party, for example. It's just the difference between a conversation that just happens at random versus a conversation that happens with a little bit of intention to go deeper.

Just to sum up on, on men's work, people ask me, what is men's work? What's it for? How do you define it? And I just describe it as a place and a way to practice connecting.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah,

Bowen Dwelle: Is there a simple short definition that you have?

Integrated Masculinity

Fernando Desouches: No, I think it is [00:17:00] what we need. So if you tell me what men need now, is that this reconnection, connecting with the self, because we are moving from that performing that I describing before to being and this is the journey we are under. It's not just understanding the journey, but part of the journey is reconnecting with myself.

Cause I don't know me have, I am emotionally detached for many years. And interesting part is when I recover the masculine energy to start doing from there. Because some, for many people, the story ends up in being vulnerable and emotionally, or connecting more with the em, feminine compassion and empathy care.

But it doesn't finish there. Once you are there, you need to grab that and do something, Get the masculine bag and do the change through there. From my point, perspective, and through the compassion, from the empathy, from the gap. From there, move.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah. And to integrate these different elements into a more complete being.

Fernando Desouches: indeed.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you.

A Positive Role for Marketing

Bowen Dwelle: To go back to your work then, I read what your client, Carlos Gill at Unilever said about your work, what he said is, [00:18:00] you've allowed our brand to be part of the change we want to see in men and their place in society.

And that's really beautiful praise from a client and also very illuminating, you know what I mean? To hear a corporate client say that there is a change that they want to see in men. Really fascinating. Because of course , as you pointed out earlier, the relationship between marketing and identity is complicated and fraught, that is marketing has often in the past served to narrow our identity, and it's of course helped to create the man box, as it did for women as well. And so what role does marketing and advertising have to play in society and how can that role be more positive?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah, I think I can start with the example of what happened there. Know the one you just read. So the brand Man Plus Care have a care there in the center. And when they approach it, us, they told us, Look, we have a [00:19:00] problem that is they don't care about care. And we want them to care about care, not just in a physical care, but also openly care because the brand is ful brands. We want to get meaning and we want men to care for themselves and others.

The problem that happen is that in the man box and the mantra of being a man, care, when we ask them, they tell us, no, care is a feminine trait or something that is self-indulgence. So what I, in terms of self care, what I would self care, whether care myself. And we said, Okay, but men are dying early than a woman, mental health, violence, drug abuse, and all of the things that we know are affecting more men than women, despite this is not a competition. They have to be for, we want the best for men and women.

The thing is we needed men to care for themself.

And when we understand, okay, we understand why you don't care for yourself though, Tell me, what do you care about? And the first thing they would say is, I care for my family. Perfect. So we needed to convince then that they need to care for themselves to care better for the family. So we did a survey with Equimundo now that is based [00:20:00] there in the us working on communities and gender and Unilever. And we got data from the US that show that when men care more for themself, not just physically, but also emotionally and socially, the more they care for the loved ones and more people and more hours.

So then we have something that marketing can say, that is, when you're caring for others, start by caring for you.

Bowen Dwelle: It makes sense, But going back one level, how did Dove come up with this idea that they needed men to care more for themselves? They came up with this brand concept. Dove, men cares, or dove cares or something. So where did that idea come from?

Sustainability in Marketing

Fernando Desouches: yeah. There are different type of brands. Of course, this brand is a brand itself, personal care product, so they would say, we want men to care more for them to care the skin . But that is a little bit more than that. At Unilever and other companies they have demonstrated that brands that have certain purpose or grow by helping the society [00:21:00] and the environment to grow, have more sustainable growth over time, more brand love and more growth.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: So this is why that brand in particular was looking for a space that bring its products benefit to life, but also the same time should do good. Brands have in general something that is called brand say - what they talk about and the brand do. What is the change they're carrying. In that case, the change they were carrying was bringing that message and start working with fathers and working, in different ways to give space for men to care for themselves, for the benefit of of us.

Bowen Dwelle: I'm not a brand guy. My involvement in the media world came from the publishing and technology side. But this relationship between marketing and culture and identity and brands is very fascinating to me. And what you've just described is like an inversion, a reversal, of the classic kind of [00:22:00] targeted marketing. We're gonna create a product and we're gonna figure out how to sell it to people. It's a reversal of that to, okay, we came up with this cool brand concept, Dove Cares, but there's some real substance to the care. And it's based on the idea of doing something purposeful and meaningful. And then how does that translate down into products And okay, sure, you're gonna sell men face cream, , as part of that. But there's a mission. There's a mission in there.

Fernando Desouches: And this is the power of a brand. So many things can be copies. So how much you can differentiate in the shampoo you have. Creams, snacks, beverages. So the differentiation in a world that changing that fast and the technology we have today lasts very little in time. It could be copied very fast.

So what brings the difference is the brand, and the brand is the emotional relationship you generate with the person that is buying it in certain [00:23:00] space. So what do you do with that emotional space? How do you transform that emotional space in a way that the society needs it? How you can really add value apart from the product you sell? And there are people that believes in that and people that not.

We have data that shows that the brands that are doing it well, benefit from it.

Bowen Dwelle: At this point, we should know intuitively, but we also have evidence that brands that actually do things realize more long term value. And I think you said this earlier, brand love, Is that what you said? More brand love? Yeah.

Yeah that's sweet. Because a lot of us myself included have this idea that marketing is sort of inherently evil, and I have said for years that advertising is obsolete.

And I'd love to get your take on this, that perhaps we could just turn advertising off, all of it, right?

Like, why do we need advertising ? Because of course, if I actually need something, I'm gonna go [00:24:00] find it myself. Now, of course, advertising is a big part of how capitalist economy works, but, as a thought experiment. What if we just turned it off and all that effort went into something else?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. Yeah. You are not alone. 70% of the people, or actually not 70% of the people, but people say that if there are 70 or 75% of the brands disappear in media from what day for the other, nothing would change. But there are brands that make the difference.

What a brand does is give you information, a shortcut about a need that you may have or maybe don't have and you could have, and the quality of the product you are getting.

This is what uh, why maybe you, when you go to buy something, I said, Okay, maybe invest a little bit more and buy something that I know that is a good quality or I share the values or just because I love it. Not many how many years Coke has been working on that.

No, just impress and love and then you open your mouse and then you don't say, gimme a so that, gimme coke. And this is why brands are investing, but it's true that lazy marketing is invisible and more, more now, I dunno, when you work in media before, but, or. Now with all of the channels you have the amount of information you receive per day, if you don't take really meaningful at the right time in the wrong place,

Bowen Dwelle: you disappear. Yeah. Immediate. Yes. Yes. I think that you're right about that, and I think that is a very positive change . [00:25:00] That, . people have much more choice and more immediate choice these days, and so they will react very quickly and move towards what is actually meaningful to them.

Where is Masculinity Headed?

Bowen Dwelle: To get back to masculinity, I do absolutely feel and share the feeling that, something really is changing, with men and with masculinity much as it has for women in such a big way over the past several decades.

You have named this division that you run The New Macho, and it's all about helping brands to work with men, understand men, and to further the conversation about what is the new masculinity.

And so what is your take on that? Where do you feel that masculinity is going?

Just to say one more thing for me. One thing is that, a greater wholeness, a broader view of what it means to be a man is a big part of that. But part of what happens there is that, as our conception of what it means to be a man or a woman gets broader, it gets closer and [00:26:00] closer to what it means to be a person.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah, of

Bowen Dwelle: right?

And less different. And that, that's perfectly fine. But that then leads us again back to the question of, okay so what does it mean to be a man? If it's a lot like being a person.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. And I wouldn't care about that, that, So I think masculinity and femininities are things that we used to synthesize, to summarize the world. So course men have masculinity and femininity in different degrees.

From Performing To Being

Fernando Desouches: Where we are going is from the place you perform it to the place of being, in that place of being that you describe very well as presence. It's from there when you can then engage with certain attitudes that we may call masculine attitudes or feminine attitudes to respond to a situation that happens.

And this is what I like to think that we are going to an individuation, we are going to understand in ourself, detach from the situation, be present, get the tools, not just one set of tools, several, where we can choose from to respond to something, drive [00:27:00] change or whatever we want to do.

I think honestly, I think men are doing the journey. What I don't see maybe is media brand communication following because we have data on that as well. And what would happen, Politicians are not following as well. So what do we do with some of them? So what do We will regress or we will shape the other.

And I'm working certainly in try, not just working with brands, but also working move the industry, get the attention on industry to do things and drive change on how we can help men in this journey that already started to facilitate them and not regress. It's not easy.

Brands as Part of Culture and Identity

Bowen Dwelle: You said it's not easy. Yes. And nobody wants to be alone. We want to feel like we have companionship and support and to feel the resonance of who we are being with others. Like it or not, brands are a big part of our world, and brands can be a huge expression of identity, it's part of our cultural identity.

And so, it can be a very beautiful thing. And so [00:28:00] I really appreciate that aspect of the work that you're doing. That you're, bringing this work into

Fernando Desouches: As we work with aspiration, you can be the brand saying, Okay, I will read where men are and represent that, or you can sense where men are going to or represent that.

Bowen Dwelle: I agree. It's putting something out in front. And taking a leadership position.

Fernando Desouches: Yes, exactly.

The Trap of Progressive Masculinity

Bowen Dwelle: Back to this question of where masculinity is headed. You've used this term of the man box or the man trap, which is often used to describe the narrow conception of masculinity that comes from a kind of patriarchal and performative history. You've also talked or written about the trap of progressive masculinity, and if you could just talk about that a little bit about the man trap and about what's the opposite of the trap.

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. That's very interesting. There is a man box that is not serving men or boys. This is even costing society and there are studies from Equimundo that quantify that. This is the traditional masculinity.

The counter movement of that was we need to be more progressive and we need to realize that men can [00:29:00] be everything they can be, but the traditional one, and then you started to create a sort of conservative–progressive battle that doesn't exist because we are traditional for some things and progressive for others.

So what happened? When we've been a man before, maybe was constraining men, but was very clear and it was a set of rules that were clear when those rules were broken and opened, immediately we went to say, Okay, what is the new playbook? There's no playbook. You write the playbook. So we go from rules to there's no rules, but the ones you make and this is the journey. This is the difficult part, and this is something that is not easy to do.

So many men today feel lost.

I was in an interview last week before the Brazilian elections, Why (Boris) Johnson can be appealing to men? They said, Okay, I give you the playbook back.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes.

Fernando Desouches: it's not that those men are bad people or evil or silly, it's they are lost and they need something that [00:30:00] even though it's imperfect, can help them to recover some of the clarity.

Bowen Dwelle: And that feeling of being lost, can be a very desperate place and it can lead to a lot of frustration and anger and people like Bolsonario and Trump, et cetera, they express and embody that frustration and anger. And I think that's a big part of the reason why a lot of people identify with them and there's a reason that men are frustrated, as you just said, they're lost, all the rules are gone.

Fernando Desouches: and this is why we talked to Mickey. We broke the rules, but we are not giving the tools

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: because if we break the rules, we need to give the tools. I always said the same. One guy, I was talking in a focus group and I ask about meaning. Cause men are craving for meaning.

They want to do work that brings meaning. And I said to him, Why would you do a more, meaningful job? And he told me, Yes, of course I would like to engage into a more meaningful career, but people judge me for the car I drive.

So this is where we are.


Fernando Desouches: But it is for both [00:31:00] sexes, the disconnection. We were working also for a dating app very recently in Europe, talking to men and women. Men were lost saying that we don't know what to do, if we need to pay the bill. Ask for a kiss. What are the limits? And women were in the same place, saying, 'I want men to, don't ask me what they need to do. Because I think all of these pressure that men are having about the progressiveness come from media. Nobody asked us women.'

So if we don't give the tools or how to navigate, how to recover judgment, to reconnect with yourself , men will continue being lost. And with that, all of what you said, that is where we are very comfortable talking about it because we are very comfortable talking about symptoms of this disengaged, disconnected men.

We talk about violence, sexual harassment, depression, anxiety, excessive sport, work, workalcoholics, alcoholics. So these are the symptoms. The root issue is another one.

Bowen Dwelle: What I was thinking while you were talking about that, is that for me, personally, it comes back to [00:32:00] identity, and so much of what we had grown up with and had in the past about whether it's masculinity or femininity, is a hegemonic definition that comes from outside of ourselves and is external and is not about identity and is it's performative.

So we perform some act so that we can pass as a man, for example. And that gives us, some feeling of identity, but it's not grounded in our own identity. And so the real challenge is to get to a place where, you know, again, whether we're talking about men or women, where we have better tools to understand ourselves, so that the question of masculinity or femininity or whatever-inity becomes less important, actually.

Some of the most beautiful and meaningful definitions or redefinitions of, for example, masculinity that I have read recently have come from Grayson Perry right there in the UK. [00:33:00] And he basically says masculinity should be, " whatever you want it to be."

Another definition comes from David Buchbinder, he says, " we need to get to the place where we're ready to abandon the idea that men must conform to a certain model of the masculine if they are to be counted as men." Because that is what we have had to do, is earn our place as a man by doing some specific things. And come to recognize that masculinity is simply "the totality of how all men might choose to enact socially the fact of their maleness," which is very vague , but it comes back to identity, right? And individuality.

Fernando Desouches: But, I go back. So Identity and individuality. So we are not, we perform because it's also, I go back to the tools. What are the tools? Education, how I been educated by following a curricula that I need to attach to. Nobody raised me as ' Grow my own interests and understanding who I am, what is the world I want to see. What is the difference I want to make in the world?'

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: Those are tools that, Same with work. We have fixed [00:34:00] ladders. This work, as a marketing director worth more that a policeman,

We know what, no, we don't owe the doctor because we get more money. Is it really true? I don't know. I don't think so. But at the same time, so we are, we need to give values and value and validate that.

And this is where, again, brands can work because brands can give value to that aspiration. As we look what happened with covid, all of the sudden nurses, male nurses, became something very appreciated of the value by society, for the effort and so on. This is an example of how culture can give certain tools for men and women to feel validated on their own individuality by following and being who they are.

Examples of Positive Masculinity

Bowen Dwelle: Related to that , can you give some examples of people that are embodying a positive and new masculinity ? Who do you see as examples?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. One that I talk a lot is David Attenborough. He's an elder guy and he's honestly working for a long time on how he can leave a better world that he received.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes.

Fernando Desouches: And regarding his age, he's continue doing the effort in a very engaging way. I think there are men that are breaking the mold. I don't remember now name of the owner [00:35:00] of (Yvon Chouinard ) Patagonia, but doing what he has done by saying, Okay, my main stakeholder is the Earth, so we give my company to the NGOs that are really making a difference there. Brings a new perspective of inspiration, breaking what is not serving to the system. That this, the three months three months profit and loss for companies. So these are the things that I really value in men.

The system is in crisis. Now, we perma-crisis, so the system is in crisis for a long time. So we need to design the new, this is what we need to do. And these people that are showing different perspectives on how you can drive change in an aspirational way are the ones that feel attracted to.

And at macro level, I think these two are great examples of service and change and not small talk change. All actions that come from compassion and care, the planet in this case. And I would imagine this is not easy for them to do. It's not.

Generative Action and Resistance

Bowen Dwelle: I certainly agree with your examples and the principles that [00:36:00] they illustrate, of service and generative action, generative at a very large scale, and also generative not only in terms of equality for humans between men and women and everybody else, but also in terms of our relation to other species and to the planet.

Fernando Desouches: And acting it. Acting it in the sense of, this is where I see the ing coming back know it. We went from this space that with the old man box, that when it, it went hyper-masculine in many cases. Then we said, No, we need to be more progressive care. So what is the integration of both, that warrior, that links with the compassion and drives the change we need. Because the systems are suffering, the environment and people are suffering.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. One of the other beautiful definitions of masculinity that I have come across lately is from another writer that I respect a lot, Kim Stanley Robinson. And he talks about masculinity moving from a model based on dominance to resistance.

The thing about patriarchal masculinity, is that it offers this promise of what's been described as a lottery ticket. You know, that as a man, there's this promise that you might get [00:37:00] power, wealth, status just because you're a man. The problem is almost nobody wins the lottery.

And so, many men end up disappointed, angry, alienated, frustrated, et cetera, especially if they remain complicit or subordinated to the system. And that is what leads us to resistance, right? To re resist that system and work against it, and find something different, outside of it, larger than it, new and more valid really, in the present and in the future.

Fernando Desouches: . Yeah, I totally, I don't know, and I need to think I think out loud if he's resisting and attacking or changing from the, from within. I think the guy from Patagonia changed it from within bringing annual phones as well. Not the guy from Toms, the shoes,

new That are serving.

And Paul Pullman as well in, in Unilever, did something like that?

Bowen Dwelle: . Oh, yeah. No I agree. I don't mean to resist from, Yvonne Ard, who from Patagonia, you know, absolutely played the game. To win. He knew exactly what he was doing, and it's a very successful guy from a traditional point of view in business. And yet he used that success and used capitalism to, to very positive ends.

And so it shows that the, the system itself is not so totally broken that it cannot evolve. It absolutely can, and it is

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. I said in a way that I don't know, because, I don't know, maybe not, It's not I want to believe that it is because I think it's would be less painful.

But I don't know. We reach a point that, I dunno if it's dramatic because of the media or is really dramatic. You see all of the systems are suffering.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes. Yes. Yes. You're definitely doing your part in a unique way. It's really interesting to hear about your work and as we get close to wrapping up here.

Working to Lead Positive Change

Bowen Dwelle: So what are you working on now that's new and interesting for you?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. On the brand front, we are working with a brand in a campaign against gender based violence in Mexico that is quite high. The human violence on how we can, what we can do to change that. Next week. I gonna be on a panel at the Unstereotype Alliance Global Summit. That is in the UN headquarters in New York.

So we'll be talking about that to a big amount of people to, at the global level to, to try to drive change. We are working with Mr. Porter, that is a brand that aggregates and sell luxury product for men on a survey on understanding success and happiness and how we can use luxury [00:38:00] brands to, to change that.

And also I'm working with a Equimundo launch one program that calls Global Boyhood initiative that they go with the Kering Foundation, they launch it together, they go to schools in the UK, US, Italy, France. Mexico and talk to boys four to 13 years old in different themes across their ages, through their teachers about gender expressions, their identity, violence, sexuality, masculinity, all of that. And we are doing the branding work for them while working with them in what we can set. And tomorrow I'm attending to the launch of the Global Boyhood Initiative in the UK with Gary Barker, that is the president and the ceo, Ofo.

Bowen Dwelle: Great. Great. That's beautiful to hear. And I have to say, so impressive and hopeful to hear about all of this very positive work that you and others are doing with brands as leaders of positive change in our culture. Well done, Fernando.

Fatherhood and Raising Boys

Bowen Dwelle: I'm not a father myself, but it very much resonates with me, the importance of working with young people, with boys, on the question of who they are becoming and what it means to be a man and, what the direction is.

You're a father yourself. Yeah.

Yeah. I have

Fernando Desouches: two kids, two boys.

Bowen Dwelle: Two boys. , so [00:39:00] what do you tell them?

Fernando Desouches: I try to listen and be with them, and maybe ask questions. The other day one of my kids that is 12 now, he told me no, there was this guy that is very annoying. And I said, Okay. Did you ask him what happened with him? Did you tell him that what he was doing angers you? Because maybe the answer surprise you.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah. You might learn something. Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: And then try to be with them. When I became a father, it wasn't love at first sight. Is, of course, I always love him, but I needed time. And now they grow. The older they are, the more responsibility I feel. But at the same time, the more enjoyable I find this experience, because I see reflected , I see surprise, and it's interesting. It's not easy.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes. So I've heard . Just last question then since you brought in fatherhood. How did you decide to become a father? Is it something that you pursued as a priority? Or how did that happen?

Fernando Desouches: Yeah. My wife is very wise and I learned a lot from her. And we talk about it. We talk about it, and I said, Okay. We [00:40:00] were like 32, 33, and we said, look, we love each other. It's very likely from statistics that there would be a moment that we split or something that we grow in different paths.

Are we mature enough to understand if we are bringing a son to the world or other to the world that should be at the center of our attention, even though our life goes different ways? And even though there's a lot of love that was quite rational at the moment, agreement, and we felt okay, we are in the right place then to have kids. We try, we.

Bowen Dwelle: Just so I understand you, it sounds like you made the decision to have kids together with your partner as a, in part, as a way of creating more purpose for the relationship.

Fernando Desouches: No, it wasn't. So we love each other. We were perfect without, so we were in a very good situation.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: see many people that have kids when they are struggling and need something new. For the couple we, we were fine as we were, but we wanted to have kids and we were getting an age. So what we wanted to be sure was having a contract of saying, we understand the responsibility that is this.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes.

Fernando Desouches: And two individuals that, her, myself, could in the future, grow in different direction and split would always be mature enough to agree that we need to take care of that person.

Bowen Dwelle: , I see.

Fernando Desouches: I dunno how serious would be, but that conversation existed. We needed that. We needed, I dunno why.

Bowen Dwelle: . That makes sense. So you both knew that you wanted to become parents and you discussed the meaning of that in the context of your [00:41:00] relationship over the long term. Yeah. Yeah.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a father, as a younger person?

Child-Free as a Brave Choice

Fernando Desouches: Yes. the answer is yes. I never doubt it. But when I became a father and realized what it means, I started to respect more people that decide not to have kids. Maybe it's consistent with what I said, understanding the responsibility of bringing a person to the world. And I know people that wanted to have kids and couldn't, but this is different.

I know people that decided not to have (children) and much more now than before,

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: and I found that very brave because of the social pressure. I was talking the other day with a lady that has come from India. Imagine, indian family, and she decided not to have a family and said I don't want, I agree with my husband, but we both don't want, and that cost me the rejection from my in- laws, that I am the disgrace for the family.

So the bravery of this generation that is open in the game, we couldn't have an eternally [00:42:00]growing population. It's killing us.

Bowen Dwelle: a good point. Yes.

Fernando Desouches: And the ones that break the inertia, and said, this is what I want to do. And then of course, open other point of care. So these people in general, in most of the case, are very creative and do what they love because they have less financial pressure and not the frustration of I tried but I couldn't, which is something that they have to be worked on.

Bowen Dwelle: Yeah.

Fernando Desouches: Opens a new set of population and culture that is reaching certain critical mass now and we need to listen and see what happened there.

Bowen Dwelle: Thank you. That's a very positive point of view and also very refreshing. It helps me, as someone who has chosen not to be a father, for several of those reasons. But it also comes with a cost, it comes with the knowledge of, and the feeling of loss, and you pointing to the generative aspect there is very helpful. Thank you.

Fernando Desouches: No welcome. I didn't know that, the whole story, but I really believe so and I respect a lot that and this is when we maybe too close, but if we are saying being a [00:43:00] man is what you want to make about it, that also needs to encompass not being a father, at least a biological father or an adoptive father, but you can act as a father of people without being father.

Bowen Dwelle: Yes.

Fernando Desouches: And that is fine. That is, doesn't make you less as a man or less as a woman because if we feel it as men, women feel it twice. And we need to respect that. When I was talking with this lady the other day, I was honestly humble about the braveness that is brave because one thing is doing it in London or in California and the other is doing it from Indian roots.

Bowen Dwelle: . Well Put. Thank you. Thank you. Fernando, what a pleasure to meet you and speak with you. Thank you so much for the time.

Fernando Desouches: I enjoyed it, Always learn from these things a lot. So thanks for your time and your interest.

Bowen Dwelle: Great. Thank you again, Fernando, a real pleasure. And I really appreciate the work that you're doing.

You can find Fernando on LinkedIn and at BBD Perfect Storm.

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Please stick around — I’ve got some questions for you…

  1. How well does the work that you do align with your own personal values? Is there any way that you would like to change how you live so that you can feel more aligned with your work?

  2. Where do you think masculinity is headed? Is it some sort of ‘new man’ Or is it a new way of thinking about men?

  3. Do you see masculinity shifting from ‘a conquering game to more of a connection game,’ “from performing who you are not to being comfortable who you are,” from “dominance to resistance,” or perhaps some other shift happening?

  4. Do you think that marketing can serve men to open further, as opposed to boxing men in, as it has in the past?

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An Ordinary Disaster
Brothers and Teachers
This show is a series of conversations with and about people who embody positive presence, talking about identity, addiction, depression, adventure, intuition, love, relationships, gender, sexuality—and becoming ourselves as much as possible. It's also an effort to honor people who who have been teachers, who I love and respect, and who I want to get to know more deeply. In short, a way to highlight people doing and being good in the world.