Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Women v. the Shepherd Express

In early April, I sent a letter to the editor of Milwaukee’s so called “alternative” weekly, the Shepherd Express, in response to a column by Joel McNally. Since they didn’t publish it in their subsequent editions and are unlikely to do so, I have published it below.

My beef was not with McNally, who wrote about the irony of a jury finding former Milwaukee Police Chief Art Jones guilty of “reverse” discrimination for failing to promote 17 white male lieutenants to captain. (In his seven-year term, Jones promoted to captain 21 white men and 19 white women or men and women of color.) But a line in McNally’s column reminded me of the Shepherd’s own sorry history of discrimination against women and sparked what Elizabeth Cady Stanton once called a “woman’s rights convulsion.”

Stanton’s words will be immediately recognizable to any woman who has faced or endured sexism. Writing to her great friend Susan B. Anthony about some outrage against women back in the 1800s, Stanton declared: “Susan, if I do not find the use of my tongue on this issue soon, I shall die of a woman’s rights convulsion!” (paraphrased but pretty close)

This one’s for you, Elizabeth!

Letter to the Editor, Shepherd Express
413 N. 2nd Street, Milwaukee, WI 53203

Dear Editor:

In your April 7 edition, my favorite columnist Joel McNally wrote about a seemingly previous newspaper job: “The best jobs at the newspaper, including the political reporter, the movie critic and most of the columnists, are still held by white males.”

Mr. McNally is far too reliable a progressive voice to be tweaking his former employer, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on this account. After all, despite its regrettable corporate hegemony, the Journal Sentinel does publish a wide range of women’s voices, from witty TV critic Joanne Weintraub to business writer Tannette Johnson-Elie, from architecture maven Whitney Gould to book critic Geeta Sharma Jensen, from chief obit writer Amy Rabideau Silvers to arts commentator Jackie Loohauis, from Wisconsin treasure Jackie Mitchard to op-edsters Barbara Miner, Maureen Dowd, Kathleen Parker and others.

Could McNally possibly be referring to the supposedly progressive, alternative Shepherd Express, which in its 24 year history has managed to have only one woman – one – the talented Anthe Rhodes, in an editorial position that isn’t preceded by the word “assistant”? Where the only woman columnist in almost 25 years has been a forgotten byline who briefly contributed the painfully self-conscious column called “Girl”? Where the turnover of women is mind-blowingly swift while the old white boy mainstays are destined to die at their desks?

I mean no disrespect to the few women who valiantly contribute to your paper. Overall, however, it is a continuing scandal that Milwaukee’s major alternative weekly serves women so poorly. If McNally can’t say it openly, I will: you should be ashamed of yourselves.


I encourage other women – and men – to let the Shepherd Express know what they think about their shameful exclusion of women’s voices. Email them at:, fax them at (414) 276-3312, or send a letter to the address above.

BREAKING NEWS! — Michael Horne reports on his web site that Catherine Nelson, the Shepherd’s “Associate Publisher and CFO” of the last few years is no longer with the paper. Her name is off the masthead and Publisher Lou Fortis says only that she doesn’t work there anymore.

In February (scroll down to the fourth item in the link), Horne reported that the Shepherd Express (Alternative Publications Inc.) is the subject of three EEOC complaints by former women staff members. Gee, I can’t imagine why . . .

How about catching up to the 21st century, boys?

Flying Nun Cruelly Robbed of the Papacy

SAN JUAN (SNN) – The Sister News Network reports that supporters of Sister Bertrille, the famous Flying Nun from San Juan, Puerto Rico, are bitterly disappointed that she was not elevated to the papacy. The College of Cardinals instead chose Joseph Ratzinger, a former member of the Hitler Youth.

“I can’t deny that we like her, we really like her,” said Sister Jacqueline from the ancient Convent of San Tanco on the hilltop overlooking San Juan. “She has brought the word of our Lord to street urchin, playboy and colonialist alike on this blessed island. And with her miraculous ability to fly – well, we feel sure she has been touched by the hand of God and is destined to lead His church.”

“Sí, and think of the transportation costs she could have saved the Vatican!” added Sister Sixto. “She wouldn’t even need the Pope-Mobile.”

Carlos Ramirez, owner of the swank Carlos-A-Go-Go in San Juan, expressed his disappointment as well: “Sister Bertrille helped me to see the error of my ways. She helped me to stop my evil lifestyle of shameless womanizing and to come out as a proud gay man. The cardinals should not have overlooked her many good works.”

"We could have had a perky pope," said a dejected San Juan resident, "instead of a Nazi pope."

"The Jews are still waiting for their Messiah; we will just have to be patient and wait for our Flying Pope," another of Sister Bertrille's proponents said philosophically.

San Tanco's Reverend Mother, sometimes at odds with Sister Bertrille’s free spirit, issued the convent’s official statement: “We welcome the elevation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the exalted position of Pope Benedict XVI. With his long history of directing the Vatican enforcement office formerly known as the Inquisition and his early training in the Hitler Youth, we’re confident he will maintain the purity of the Catholic faith and lead us down the right path.”

Sister News Network asked a Vatican official if there was any truth to the rumor that Sister Bertrille was disqualified because some cardinals believe that her aerodynamic abilities are an “intrinsic moral evil.” The Vatican declined to comment as did Sister Bertrille, who was last seen swooping perkily into San Tanco’s bell tower dutifully obeying the Reverend Mother’s order to ring chimes in celebration of the new pope.

* * * * * *

Real quotes about the new pope:
"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism." – Ratzinger biographer John L. Allen Jr., quoted in the NYTimes, 4/20/05

"He's going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track." – Rev. M. Price Oswalt in the NYTimes, 4/20/05

Extending that unfortunate metaphor, let's hope the train isn't a German cattle car . . .

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A Lapsed Catholic on Pope John Paul and His Church

The ceaseless and uncritical media coverage of Pope John Paul’s death and funeral rites are driving this lapsed Catholic crazy! The endless encomiums about his virtue and good works and selflessness and blah, blah, blah are just too much. So how about this for an alternative view?

First, I should point out that I was baptized Catholic (it was coerced, I was only two weeks old!) and attended a Catholic grade school for eight years in the 1960s. There’s no question that I got a superior education there from the strict and often dotty nuns. I was way ahead of fellow students when I got to a public junior high and spent my high school years bored out of my mind.

But the catechism imposed on us youngsters at St. Mary’s (in Elm Grove, Wisconsin) was problematic to me from an early age. A precocious tot, I did the one thing little Catholics weren’t supposed to do: I asked questions – mostly “Why?” I cannot tell you how many times the nuns whacked me or the priest yelled at me for daring to challenge them. The pastor at St. Mary’s, who the nuns treated like a god but who reminded me of my shambling, alcoholic father at home, would bellow at me: “BELIEVE AND OBEY!”

“Believe and obey!” seemed to be the essence of Catholicism in the 1960s and apparently still is today. Problem is, in addition to my natural inquisitiveness, I was deeply impacted by the ‘60s ethos of challenging authority. I also loved history, and I was especially captivated by the period of the Enlightenment, when rationalism overcame superstition, and the peasants and middle classes and colonists everywhere began to challenge empires and the divine right of kings. How could anyone be expected to simply “believe and obey”?!

I had a difficult transition leaving the church in my teens. I was still living at home, of course, and there were often Sunday morning battles with Mom about my going to Mass. Once 18 and out on my own, I simply stopped going. I have no regrets and, despite all the threats and fear-mongering, have no fear for my immortal soul. The few times I’ve gone to church in the past 30 years, it seems the priest has launched into some homily about protecting embryos or lectured about some reactionary papal encyclical, only reinforcing my disaffection.

I have known nuns who were dynamite teachers and Catholics who were/are compassionate Christians. I know that some organs of the Catholic Church, particularly at the local level, are doing vital work in supporting oppressed communities. But I find much of the dogma (about holy spirits and virgin Marys and immaculate conceptions, etc.) just plain silly, and I am appalled by the conspicuous wealth, the institutionalized sexism, the archaic hierarchy, the ritualistic excess and the doctrinal hypocrisy of the Vatican superstructure. The pope runs that superstructure.

I agree that Pope John Paul should be recognized for his heroic stand against communist regimes. And I am grateful that he spoke out against war and capital punishment. But any balanced assessment of this pope and his church needs to include the following indictments as well.

What about the millions of women worldwide condemned to poverty, endless childbearing and physical debilitation by the Vatican’s cruel and deadly campaign against artificial birth control?
What about the millions who have died and will continue to die of AIDS – especially those in the third world – due to the Vatican’s irrational opposition to condoms?
What about the millions of gays and lesbians worldwide whom this pope’s Vatican has described as “intrinsically disordered” and who must endure all the discrimination and hatred that flow from that declaration?
What of the millions of Catholic women who are restricted from full participation in John Paul II’s church, permanently relegated to a secondary role?
And finally, what about the thousands of victims of pedophile priests, a sad but predictable result of the Vatican’s repressive and hypocritical view of human sexuality?

Maybe John Paul can rest in peace. But I’m not convinced he or his bishops can be absolved of these sins.