Waymon Hudson

Karate/Sissy Ad Update: A Teachable Moment in Stereotypes, Gender Roles, & Shaming

Filed By Waymon Hudson | August 16, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: feminine boys, gay baiting, gay panic, karate, Lawrence King, sissy, Zubi

The print ads for a South Florida Karate School featuring young boys doing stereotypically "feminine things" like wearing their mother's high heels or playing with make-up have been making their way around the internet this past week and causing lots of debate and anger. RDCAkarate1.jpgThe ads seem to use gay panic and gender shaming to say that the cure for this "shocking" behavior and the best way to "man up" your obviously queer kid is to take karate classes to "straighten them out."

I spoke to the Zubi Ad Agency, whose motto is to "Erase Sterotypes", which created the ads to try and get clarification about the situation that led to these ads being made public and learned some interesting background. Here's the explantation from Joe Zubizarreta, the chief operating officer of Zubi Advertising:

The ads in question were posted by an individual that works at our agency on a site that creatives use to share ideas and get comments from others in their line of work.  The art director who developed them told me that he had posted this campaign as well as three others to get feedback from other creatives as to their opinions of the work. We want you to know that we don't condone this action and we are taking steps to make sure something like this never happens again. I apologize to you and anyone else that may have thought we knowingly allowed these ads to leave the agency. These ads were never produced nor would they have seen the light of day had they come across my desk. 

The creator of these ads is very apologetic and never intended to offend anyone however, we as the owners, understand that they can be considered offensive and would not under any circumstances have ever let them ever be produced.  Zubi Advertising embraces and celebrates all religions, lifestyles and ethnicities as part of our "Erase Stereotypes" philosophy. 

Much more after the jump, including information about the Karate School that the ads were created for...

The phone conversation I had with the COO of Zubi was actually very illuminating. Mr. Zubizarreta seemed very contrite about the ads, especially for the way they reflected on the Key Biscayne's Academy Of Martial Arts RDCA, which never approved the ads in any way. He also seemed very open to listening to why these ads were offensive to so many people and willing to let this be a teachable moment for both him and his agency.

While I do question the atmosphere of an office where these ads could be created in the first place, using them as a jumping off point in a conversation to educate about the danger of using shame and rigid gender roles has actually made a difference. The perfect example is when I explained the problematic use of the term "lifestyles" in the official statement, which many in the LGBT community find to be offensive and denote a negative changeable "choice" like the use of "sexual preference." Mr. Zubizarreta seemed genuinely surprised and thankful to learn and grow from the conversation.

1.jpgAnother positive outcome from the public discussion around the ads was from the Karate School itself. A reader of the Bilerico Project contacted the an instructor from the school to offer them some training materials on how to reach out to the LGBT community and how to also be more sensitive to young kids who may not fit into the traditional gender binary. The school has been very receptive and interested in learning on how to make all students, families, and communities feel welcome in their business. While the school actually had nothing to do with the ads, it seems they recognize an area of their business plan that is lacking and are taking steps to fix it.

These steps and conversations are improtant. While they certainly aren't an endpoint in the debate over using stereotypes and gender-shaming in advertising or in society in general, nor do they excuse the creation of the ads in the first place, they do show that movement forward can be made. It also shows the power of calling out things that play into the dangerous problem of bullying, shame, and violence towards young people who happily exist outside of the outdated, rigid gender roles of yesteryear. By confronting these situations that reinforce the attitude that "different is wrong", we can continue to shift the conversation forward and hopefully make it easier for the next generation of children that come along after us.

Reinforcing rigid gender roles that no child (or adult, for that matter) truly fits into has real world consequences. The violence, bullying, suicides, and emotional distress that it causes can be seen in the horrendous stories we see in the news far too often- stories of parents beating their effeminate sons to "toughen them up" or students killing their classmates for being "too gay."

We have a duty to challenge these actions and the ideas that create them or reinforce them. The conversations to break down these stereotypes and educate only happen if we take the responsibility into our hands and not only get angry, but also reach out to change minds.

That's when the conversation really begins.

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So I'm guessing the karate school fired the ad agency?

Right? I swear that's a picture of me as a kid...

demandingequality demandingequality | August 16, 2010 6:39 PM

Maybe you could suggest to the Karate School owners that they talk to GLSEN about offering classes to kids being targeted by bullies so they can learn how to stand up for themselves and increase their self esteem. I've been suggesting this to GLSEN for years. Maybe now an opportunity to make the connection is available

When I sent training materials to the instructor for himself and his staff he was very open to them and to making use of them.

Just wondering out loud....

Did it ever occur to any of you so incensed to the advertisements, that perhaps the message was not "deprogram the queer out of him" but instead was...

"for those who are different, it is a good idea to know how to protect themselves"?

I realize the notion of self-defense is an anathema to many in our community, since pieces of Legislative "Hate Crime" paper do such a wonderful job of saving individuals from harm, but the outrage over this ad is silly.

Congratulations on possibly getting someone fired in the middle of the continuing recession/depression, bravo well done.

Now if you could just muster the same level of guttural outrage over the continuing wars, torture, reckless spending, and insurmountable debt, we as a country might just be able to pull ourselves out of this economic tailspin.

Oh but that's right, Alex says there is nothing to fear from yearly Trillion dollar deficits, especially when compared to the glossy machinations of nefarious subway poster art.

There are those of us who are trying to get more people in the queer community to learn defensive skills. Triangle Martial Arts has a list of their clubs and associated schools, the style of Shorin Goju Ryu-ha is accepting as are many schools and I personally work through instructor training to make more instructors open and aware, in fact the Goju instructor training material is available for all martial artists to use. The Pink Pistols have chapters in many places and if there is not a chapter near someone he or she may start a chapter.
As a matter of interest do you do anything for your own defense or contribute to getting other people in this community to address issues of defense?

I think the "outrage" over the advertisements is a gross exaggeration. The Ads were never even used. They just became a platform for more victimization - that didn't exist.

Dramatic grandstanding. That's all.

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | August 17, 2010 12:16 AM

My daughter who is a second degree black belt and her fiance who is a 5th degree black belt in Shukukai Karate have tried to get me to sign up for lessons perhaps for the exercise I certainly need.

What I've seen is that karate is mostly mental and self discipline! For my daughter it is a very positive experience and the self defense is a real plus!

For LGBT people who fear being bullied... self defense should be mandatory!

often bullied but rarely assaulted | August 17, 2010 9:11 AM

I learned to fight well because I was weird as a kid. My father put me into a private karate class at 12. In 6 months the bullies still said hurtful things but they stoped trying to assault me soon enough.

If you are GLBTABCD, whatever, you NEED to know how to protect yourself.
Just because you know how to hurt people doesn't mean you are required to do so. Some of us seem so dead set against violence that I wonder what form of self destructive feelings they must have.

Learn Karate, Kungfu, Judo whatever you think is coolest.
Join the pink pistols. Learn the basics of firearms and keep your home armed.

Stay safe and live well.

I'm glad you made a big deal out of this Waymon. Thanks for staying on top of it and getting the statement from the ad agency. I wonder if the designer in question got fired.

I don't know the answer to that. But if he is as willing to learn as the others involved in this, I really hope not. Sometimes people who go through situations like this (doing something insensitive, then being called out for it) and get educated in a respectful manner turn out being our biggest supporters later.

If the person who did the ad (with out the Academy approval) had had a bad sales month as a lot of people might have damaging others people image and playing with this topic is not the way to pick-up on sales, it shows you as an immature and non professional person.
You can do better if you show respect and talent.
Who ever wrote the article I think had nothing else to write about, non of the persons commenting here had ever met Sense Robert or the instructors.
I invite you to take a visit to our academy and see the privileged people we are to have sense as part of our family.
This is a high performance academy. They teach self respect and respect others as well we have earned tons of tournaments, awards and recognitions. I was taught discipline and technique, my husband and I are very proud to be a RDCA Purple belts and parents of 5 great children. We are very happy with our Sense, with our academy and with our instructors. Keep going Sense Robert. We Love you!

I kind of think it was much ado about nothing. The issues of gender variance are very fraught, and one should think twice before venturing into those waters. But while these ads could be taken the wrong way, but I think the intent was to portray gender variance in a positive light. At the same time, I understand the anger and outrage that they caused, and sympathize with those who called attention to the problem.

Sounds like you are trying to be nice both ways, or every way, and totally contradicting yourself.

As possibly the woman here who was most like the kid in the suggested ads, other than not being American, I'd like to point out a crucial aspect no one else seems to have noticed. Which is that those transsexual girls most affected by transsexuality will resolutely refuse to use violence to defend themselves, just as many girls would. We use words and social tools, not punches, kicks or head-buts, or even clever violence like Karate. Its not a stereotype, its our nature, who we are. Anger just doesn't flow to the shoulder muscles.

Days after I first started school, at four and a half, my father bought a kids-size punch-ball and boxing gloves and tried very hard to get me to use them to learn to hit back. Because I was being hit from the first morning break on my first day and refusing to respond but for asking them to stop (loudly), and placing myself where teachers could see. Not that teachers ever did anything about it.

But I refused to punch. I didn't want to do it, it felt wrong and just seemed stupid and likely to get me hurt more.

Of course it was also another futile attempt to make me a boy, and instead was another confirmation that I wasn't. But I was long past needing those, and my parents were pretending they were ignoring them.

The punch-ball stood in our front lounge for years, untouched, a constant reminder.

So the suggested ads are mistaken, although the people who came up with the angle must be pretty amazing.

Also, the most dangerous violence we face, as obvious kids, is sudden, unexpected violence in the streets. Like suddenly being shoved into traffic. If anything I'd guess that confidence learned in martial arts might make one the more susceptible to that.

I'm glad some found the suggested ads a teaching opportunity, but I just hope kids like I was don't start being told that they have to betray themselves in order to support LGBTIQ community efforts on self-defence awareness, or that all trans people have to learn to fight, physically.

I'm not saying anything about others who behave differently. I don't understand that, just as you clearly don't understand those like me. Like when you mis-call us gender-variant; our gender isn't the issue, thats the wrong sex we were born. Our gender isn't variant, its well within the norms for females, which are pretty wide. Its a term invented by our enemies instead of acknowledging we are the gender we say we are, and which trans people should know better than adopt.

Something about this just doesnt smell right, sorry. I mean, here you have an agency that says it doesnt exploit stereotypes, then puts these out as a "brainstorm" to other creatives in the field, accompanied by "Oh these were never meant for publication!" -- despite the no-doubt expensive photography (The lighting is just a little too well done for these to be casual FPO shots with a digital camera), even as the school is saying "Oh we didnt want that!"

It sounds like everyone involved got caught in a really bad move and is now desperately trying to CYA.

Well, the upshot from my exchanges with the staff is that, The ads were never used and that the agency was proposing them to the school but they were never approved for use.
Also the school has a policy that everyone is to be treated equally. How this manifests on the ground I cannot say.
The school has accepted and is using two training essays designed for martial arts instructors one for inclusion and one introduction to LGBTQ issues they also know that they have access to other materials and support within the Martial Arts community designed to help instructors with many issues.
I have run several schools through the years and been an officer in two large international Martial arts organizations and I head up a system. I honestly think that these instructors have responded very well to this situation and I would consider the issue with the Academy to be resolved in the best possible way.

Thank-you for educating, instead of simply being outraged.