Monday, December 21, 2015

Let It All Hang Out: Shifting The Conversation About Men's Fertility

Shifting the Conversation About Men’s Fertility

Tooting, London

I'm hosting a fund-raising event for male-related charities CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably – the charity which exists to prevent male suicide) and infertilitynetworkUK (the UK's leading charity providing information, support and advice to all those struggling to conceive). The event will be held on Saturday, January 9th at the Gorringe Park Pub. There is no admission and the fund-raiser runs from 12:00pm to 3:00pm. The event is also a chance to bring some real-talk to a challenging area, and shift the conversation about male fertility and infertility, and masculinity in general.

I created the project while participating in a Landmark leadership program.  Part of the coursework was to create a project that benefits the community.  Landmark is an international training and development company, who is known for offering their flagship course The Landmark Forum.

Around 50,000 couples per year have IVF in the UK. For three quarters of them the treatment fails. My wife and I had two failed rounds in 2013. It was an upsetting time. Whilst there is a lot of support for women around this difficult issue, men are spectacularly silent. A chance to create a project that would raise awareness about this was natural for me.

The event is being supported by The Gorringe Park Pub who have waived their venue fee to support the event.

For more information: call The Gorringe Park on 020 8685 0469, or register to attend via Facebook here.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What Makes A Man?

This is the whole-school assembly I delivered during Movember. I considered it to be part of a well-executed school awareness campaign.

The ‘news-cycle’ in our school (and others?) is pretty short. Especially in a recently-gone-co-educational school where the majority of pupils are boys. Boys have short memories and the routines and rhythms of schools are so strong it’s a wonder people remember anything. There is little time for reflection.

I had also made an announcement about Movember at the beginning of November where I referenced my facial hair, Professor Green's programme and other members of staff. The team have eventually raised over £1,000. And it's still increasing!

But anyway - during the week before my assembly, I put up posters of distinctive men (David Beckham, Barack Obama, Sonny Bill Williams, Jay Z etc.) with a simple question above each picture: ‘What does it mean to be a man?’ The call to action underneath was ‘if you have an answer, tell Mr. D’Souza.

I got a range of answers from across age groups - from ‘having a penis’ and ‘a beard’ through to ‘manners’ and ‘not showing weakness’.

So when I stood at the front of the hall to address the whole-school, the pupil body already had some kind of awareness.

I had written and rehearsed something in advance (reproduced below) so I had the flexibility to respond to my audience. However, I also wanted to create engagement. Which is a challenge with an audience ranging from 11 to 18 (and staff).

I did this by asking a question. Not a rhetorical question - an actual question of my audience. What happened is written below.


Good morning. For those of you that don’t know, my name is Mr. D’Souza. I teach Business Studies, and Psychology and I’m one of the Heads of Sixth Form. I’m here to do three things: one - ask you a question; two - give you some facts, and three - suggest how the future could be and invite you to take action.

So firstly, here’s the question I'm asking you: what does it mean to be a man?


That was a question. I’m asking you a question. What does it mean to be a man?

(I continue to wait, there’s more silence, shuffling, awkwardness rises, a teacher points across the room - but I think he’s raising his hand…I look across and a Year 13 pupil is brave enough to raise his hand)

Me: Yes - what does it mean to be a man?
Pupil brave enough to put up his hand: Sorry can you repeat the question?
(ripple of chuckling from whole school, awkwardness dissipates)
Me: What does it mean to be a man?
Pupil: Being brave enough to give an answer in assembly
(audience starts clapping, I smile, and after the seal was broken, there were another three answers…which I can’t remember right now)

You may have seen my posters around school. I got some other answers which were either stating facts or pointing to stereotypes. For example, beyond the obvious biological facts, some people said having a beard means I’m a man, or having manners means I’m a man.

Someone else told me that ‘not showing weakness’ is what it means to be a man. Others said ‘taking care of the people around you’, ‘having lots of money, women and fast cars’, ‘having a six-pack’ or ‘being a man is different from being manly’, or even ‘we can’t or don’t talk about feelings’.

I went to Sutton Grammar. When I was at school, being clever didn't seem as important as being strong and good at sport. I was the small round kid who tried really hard but was a bit rubbish. I decided as a young boy that being a man meant being strong. A very fixed idea.

In response to that fixed idea, I then spent most of the rest of my life being a rebel against this fixed idea. Keep this in mind...

Ok now bearing in mind everything that's been said, here’s my second point: some facts:
a) two thirds of murder victims in the UK are men
b) the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide

Now I'm not saying that there aren't horrible stuff happening to women because of men. There is still inequality between men and women - and we need to eliminate that.

I'm saying that the fixed ideas we have about what it means to be a man squash and limit men and boys. These expectations can make it harder to talk about how we feel. It's not that we can't. It's not that we don't want to - it's just hard not to bow to the stereotype.

Thirteen men take their lives every day in the UK. I have three friends whose dads committed suicide. One of them is my best friend Simon. He was best man at my wedding and I'm going to be best man at his. We were 19 when his dad took his own life. We all kind of knew. But none of us spoke about it, or asked him how he was. He's ok now and I said to him that I want to talk about his dad when I give my best man's speech at the wedding. He's said he would really like that.

However, what's predictable is that us boys and men will keep the walls up. Men in power will keep the stereotype going: show no weakness, don't discuss feelings, fight war.

This leads me to my third point - the future - maybe the future doesn’t have to be this way.

Perhaps we could start asking our friends, dads and grandads how they are - not the obvious way - but how they *really* are. Maybe we could start sharing honestly about how we're feeling. Maybe we could stop saying phrases like 'man up' or insulting weakness.

Remember what I said before about my fixed idea about what it means to be a man? That fixed idea is what I’ve rebelled against for most of my life.

Maybe being a man is not fixed. Maybe I could take all the best bits from my dad, choose my own role-models, and make up my own version of what it means to be man.

So my invitation to you: smash the stereotype and create your own version of what it means to be a man.

Thank you very much for listening.

The reception of this was very positive with comments from pupils and staff. It stimulated conversation. It's a theme I've explored on this blog, but also in my writing for Good Men Project and in my art for thismanscollages here and here.

It's also opened the door for staff other than the senior management team to do assemblies.

To round off the campaign, I left the posters up for another week. Part of the completion to the strategy was taking the posters down. In a school, putting up the posters myself drew attention to them. Taking them down had the same effect.

It has been interesting to think of my assembly as a campaign. I wonder if this way of thinking could be applied to other things at school?

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Man Who.

A walk in the park
1. The man who always thinks/ the man who never stops/ the man who sees it all/ the man who never drops. 2. The man who's standing firm/ the man who doesn't slow/ the man who holds together/ the man who's in the flow. 3. The man who's level-headed/ the man who is aware/ the man providing all/ the man who's always fair. 4. The man matching word and action/ the man that says, "You can!"/ the man who lifts me up/ the man; on who's shoulders; I stand. Thank you Dad.


Father's day is a bit of pointless commercialism really. I make sure I go and have dinner with my parents every week and thoroughly enjoy monopolising their attention.

At some point every time I'm there, I'm struck by how much they've done for me, supported me and encouraged me. I acknowledge the contribution they are.

So it was nice to capture something about the spirit of my dad.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Utterly Fearless Sister

That's me and my sister.
Younger but not behind.
Creative but not unhinged.
Older but not darker.
Spiritual but with no more faith.

Empathic but not lost.
Talkative but not domineering.
Annoying but not unreasonable.
Standing firm but not inflexible.

Small but not ignored.
Bright but not dazzling.
Happy but not flighty.
Impulsive but not inconsiderate.

Angry but not unfocused.
Chaotic but not disorganised.
Intuitive but not illogical.
Child-like but not childish.

Truthful but not sugar-coated.
Real but not vicious.
Compassionate but not uncompromising.
Loving but not wordy.

My utterly fearless sister.

This started as a throwaway Facebook status acknowledging my sister on her birthday. I expanded it and wrote it in her card.

My mum read it and said, 'Where did you get this from?' When I told her that I wrote it, she didn't believe me!

I took it as a compliment.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Shades of Grey: People Sometimes Call Me Judgemental

People sometimes call me judgemental.
Don't Judge...

I say it is part of my job to be judgemental.

It is my job to take limited data and make some assumptions based on my worldview beliefs.

I am well aware that I am judged on my opinions, what I say, how I act, how I dress, my music taste, my religious upbringing, the colour of my skin...anything actually.

And I am willing to be responsible for my own judgements, the fact I express them, and therefore the way I conduct myself.

But if I gently (because it has to be subtle) point out the judgement you made about me, and laid bare your thought process, you don’t have to get annoyed. That’s your choice.

Perhaps people don’t know they’re being judgemental.

When you're young, being part of the group is almost all that matters. After the nice home and parents sorts itself out (and I'm lucky in this regard), being part of the crowd was essential for me.

When I was younger, at one point it was all that mattered. It became a driven thing.

Of course, the formative experiences with integrating myself into a majority-white culture have influenced my worldview. This is of course just a view - not the truth. Just my truth. My judgements.

Marketing is just making judgments based on data. Information is collected, collated and assembled about our behaviour continuously. Quite a few (somewhat accurate) predictions about someone’s behaviour can be made from which websites they use, the supermarket from which they buy their family shopping...even their postcode.

I've seen and used information on this in my job previous to a teacher.

It's not that difficult to make an educated guess based on available data (what could be considered a judgement) about someone's vote in a general election based on their job, likely income, car they drive, the area in which they choose to live, and upbringing.

They all paint a picture. And it's not black and white.

Don't tell me I'm judgmental and then shy away from an intellectual discussion with me because I can articulate my thought process. And. You. Cannot. I know I use assumptions to make a statement. I am aware of my world views, opinions and upbringing. I can explain all of that. I can give reasoning why I’m doing that. I am responsible for it.

We all make judgements and assumptions. It's how our brains work and conserve energy.

It's a survival mechanism.

Consider these facts.

Fact 1:
Young man grows up in Surrey. Goes to Catholic primary school. Does well. Passes 11+. Attends grammar school. Does well. Goes to university. Votes. Leaves with good degree. Starts working in marketing. Earns good living. Pays taxes. Goes to the gym. Retrains to become a teacher. Teaches in a private school. Buys a flat. Votes again. Gets married. Makes progress in teaching. Buys a house. And on Thursday May 7th 2015 voted...

Fact 2:
Teacher phones parent about son's progress. Teacher has Spanish-sounding name. Teacher speaks in perfect grammar-school home-county-grown English. Son enjoys lesson but needs to work harder. Parent comes to Parents' Evening and can't hide their flicker of surprise when they meet the brown-skinned-black-bearded teacher of their son. Who was brought up...

Fact 3:
Student walks into an off licence with friend. Student buys ice-cream. Friend buys alcohol. Friend pays for alcohol. Student pays for ice-cream. Shop owner speaks to student in foreign-sounding language. Student feels awkward. Student mumbles apology. Shop owner delivers withering but confused look. Student leaves with friend. And is angry because...

As you read those, you may have noticed your own judgements, thoughts and opinions.

Scratch the surface a little and you might be surprised what you find.

Response to Fact 1:
I registered to vote. I spend my time poking holes in the Conservative party facts. I do not like what they say they stand for. Thank you for immediately assuming I am Labour voter before giving me a chance to detail my views. Actually no. There are shades of grey amongst the blue and red. I went through the basics of each party’s manifesto. I could not personally align myself with any of them. Politicians are only interested in votes. Their job is based on serving interests other than the people’s. They do not conduct themselves with integrity. So I took my voting card, went to my polling station and spoiled my ballot. A perfectly legitimate expression in a so-called democracy.

Response to Fact 2:
I sit at my desk during parents’ evenings and observe. I have grown up on the edges and in the cracks. I’m happier there. I have the freedom to be thought of as ‘weird’. Some parents sit down and say ‘Do you have a brother who works for xyz? His surname is D’Souza’. Yes! Of course I would be related to someone whose name you had not been exposed to in your narrow existence. There are shades of grey amongst the blue-rinse and bleach-blonde. My first language is English. My parents’ first language is English. My Mum was born in Kenya. My Dad was born in Uganda. My family originate from Goa. My grandparents learned Portuguese in school. My parents met in the UK. Wrap your head around that. Thank you for attempting to bridge the gap between your majority-culture-superiority-complex mindset and the brown-skinned-black-bearded teacher who was brought up Catholic.

Response to Fact 3:
I know that withering but confused look. It says ‘you have betrayed your culture’; it says ‘you’ve become one of them’; it says ‘why did you turn your back? We’re supposed to stick together’. Actually it’s not that simple. There are shades of grey amongst brown, black, white and yellow. Thank you for assuming I could speak your language because I have brown skin. I’m sure you would have reacted differently if I walked in with the blue-hair I had the previous week.

I used to live my life desperately attempting to integrate. But the more I tried, the less I accepted myself. The more I wanted a standard family history like my contemporaries, the less I felt like participating. The more I craved attention for my intellect, the less I valued friendship. 

I could go on.

People sometimes call me judgemental.

I say it is part of my job to be judgemental.

It is my job to take limited data and make some assumptions based on my worldview beliefs.

I am well aware that I am judged on my opinions, what I say, how I act, how I dress, my music taste, my religious upbringing, the colour of my skin...anything actually.

And I am willing to be responsible for my own judgements, the fact I express them, and therefore the way I conduct myself.

Are you?

Can you see the people who are on the edge and living in the cracks? Can you see the shades of grey?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My Last General Election

I am stating here categorically that I was *not* arrested the last time I voted during a general election.

It was May 2010.

I was hot.

I’d spent a day at school making people think - I was just going to continue doing it for a little while longer.

Some say we all wear masks anyway - we all hide our truest expression. Other teachers at my school wear masks: the fearsome; the nice; the tyrant etc.

I just put on a different one.

A Guy Fawkes mask.

Yes, I had just taught all day such a mask. I like the fact it has become a symbol of many things in recent times. ‘V for Vendetta’ and Anonymous have re-appropriated it wonderfully.
It's not Hallowe'en. It's Election 2010 style.

The funny thing is, I didn’t expect it to last. I walked around all day - and not once was I requested to take it off.

My classes found it disturbing that they had no facial expressions to read. I thought it was hilarious.

So by the time I walked into my polling station, I’d was used to it. There were a few stares. But again - nobody said anything.

I was just hot.

Now - if I’d been asked politely to take it off, I would have. I was ready to.

But nope - nothing.

So with a polite and gentlemanly manner, I handed in my polling card - which had my name and address on it - and collected my ballot paper.

I used my best, calm-sounding voice.

I am a grammar-school-educated-middle-class-Surrey-boy after all.

I made my mark, dropped off my ballot paper, and left.

Unchallenged about the mask.

At this point in the story, it gets a little surreal.

I was walking back to my car (tweeting of all things) when a police van pulled up and stopped. I sighed inwardly.

The interaction went something like this:

Policeman: “Remove the mask”.
Me: “Why?”
Policeman: "Take the mask off”.
Me: “Are you going to say please?"
Policemen: “Remove the mask or I will forcibly take the mask off”.
Me: Removes mask. Reveals sweaty face.

They then questioned me (doing their level best to intimidate me) saying that they’d had reports of ‘disturbing behaviour’ in the area of someone ‘intimidating people’. I nodded.

They questioned me about what I had done. I explained what I did. One of them produced a poster I had altered. (I had changed the word ‘candidate’ to ‘liar’ in pencil).

Criminal Damage
It constituted criminal damage which carried a custodial sentence.

They then searched me and found my board pens. And asked what I was doing with them. I explained I was a teacher. I was then informed that if they suspected I was *intending* to cause criminal damage with the pens, that they could arrest me.

They also said they understood that emotions were running high and that they would let me off.

But they did take my name saying that if I ever caused a disturbance on polling day again, I would be arrested.



I did wonder how they found me. When I asked, they said that they happened to be passing by and one of the polling officers  flagged down the van. They had taken a slow drive around the block and chanced upon me walking to the car.

Damn smartphones and Twitter.

The paperwork was completed and I was sent on my way. To ponder the whole interaction.

I am stating here categorically that I was *not* arrested the last time I voted during a general election.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting off the mark

There is no simple way of saying this - other than saying it. When you’re a teenage boy, you’re going to be mostly terrible at relating to teenage girls.

Women, ladies and girls are not there for your gratification, objectification or vilification. They don’t exist as a measure of your masculinity, virility or technical ability.

Put teenage boys (or any group of men for that matter) in a group and the machismo, chest-beating and dick-waving starts. Rather than learning about it from an older, wiser example, instead teenage boys rely on each other.

Not the best source of information.

Male-posturing might have its* place, but humans became great because of our ability to share and cooperate - not compete.

So you teenage boys - forget about ‘getting off the mark’. The key to finding, creating and maintaining a wonderful relationship in your future is to focus on maintaining the wonderful relationships you have with the women in your life - and that’s not just your mothers. They will teach you everything you need to know if you shut up and listen every once in a while.

No - we don't expect you to do that all the time - but everything you need, you can get from your family and extended family.

And teachers you choose to trust of course...

MCA: Respecting women
I keep coming back to the words of the late great MCA of the Beastie Boys. He said it best on the track ‘Sure Shot':
I want to say a little something that's long overdue / the disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / I wanna offer my love and respect till the end
This is not a sprint or marathon. It’s a lifelong journey of learning and uncovering the mystery, wonder and profundity of women and relating to them.

PS There's a dedication for this post. He knows who he is.

*After lots of people reading this post at school - my rare mistake is now corrected.