New York Post's Ugly, Sexist Stereotype of Nuns

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A detail of the Post's print edition.

The New York Post promoted the sexist and rude stereotype of angry nuns hitting disobedient children this weekend.

Alongside the print edition of the story, the Post included what appears to be a photo illustration or stock photo of a stern-looking nun (or perhaps an actress portraying a nun) brandishing a ruler, evoking stereotypes of hard-nosed disciplinarians who traumatize children.

The article was intended to illustrate, at the expense of nuns, a New York Post story on the New York City’s non-profit St. Joseph’s Immigrant Home raising rents for tenants.

The story pitted tenants as victims in its print and online story. The report focused on bullying nuns who raised the rent, reportedly to pay for building repairs.

“They’re kicking them like a bad habit,” the Post story claims. The article further quotes a resident saying the tenant relationship with the nuns is “hostile” and the nuns are “not budging” and “very adamant.”

The home is described by Catholic Charities of New York as a “residence for students and for business women” with “temporary and transitional residences.” However, a letter from the City of New York Manhattan Community Board Four to St. Joseph’s this spring about the rent increases and tenant concerns says that some renters have been at the home for two decades.


The photo itself wasn’t labeled “photo illustration” or stock photo, just Getty Images. This lapse could unfairly lead some readers to believe the image was somehow affiliated with St. Joseph’s Immigrant Home or real nuns — especially as it’s paired with a photo of two actual renters.

It certainly leaves all readers with a negative view of nuns.

The nun image is not included in the online version of the article, but iMediaEthics scanned in the print edition so you can see.


There was a photo credit on the upper left side of the image, stating “Getty Images” next to the image, but iMediaEthics’ search for a ruler-wielding nun didn’t produce the Post‘s print picture.

(Getty Images does sell a different stock photo of a nun with a ruler, though.)

Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in New York, told iMediaEthics, “It is all so tired. Every time there is a controversial story about a nun, the tabloids go back to the well by trotting out a picture of a nun with a ruler. And, of course, she is always in habit. Thus did the New York Post play to the bigots by cruelly caricaturing nuns, even though the inclusion of the photo was nothing but gratuitous.”

“I noticed, too, a related story on the same page about a religious person allegedly showing no compassion for the poor, but the photo of the Orthodox Jewish man was unaccompanied by any cruel caricature of rabbis. Thus it would not be fair to say that the Post treats Catholics and Jews equally,” he added.

Below, see the story to which Donohue refers.

 iMediaEthics also asked Catholic news site Pew Sitter what it thought of the Post article and imagery. Frank Walker, the associate editor, told iMediaEthics by e-mail:

“I agree that the ‘nun with the ruler’ is an outdated cliché, but I didn’t find much to fault in the article itself.  There are some reasonable questions as to why the non-profit’s expenses have skyrocketed so much.  Why are they now deep in the red and forced to raise rents rather quickly?

“It’s good that tenants are making a protest against these quick hikes, but at the same time the rents may still be relatively low.

“Is it possible that with the huge influx of new illegal women and children, and the efforts to place them with Catholic agencies; the nuns are anticipating a glut of renters with federal backing?  If that’s the case, then what does it say about the focus of Catholic Charities immigrant housing?”

iMediaEthics has left messages with St. Joseph’s Immigrant Home and the Daughters of Mary of Immaculate Conception, which runs the home, asking for comment. We’ve also reached out to the Post asking where the nun image came from, why it’s not labeled an illustration or stock image, and for comment about our criticism about the way  the Post portrayed nuns in a negative stereotype.

CORRECTION - July 23, 2014 07:08 PM

An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Pew Sitter’s associate editor. His name is Frank Walker, not Frank Walkers. We regret the error.

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New York Post’s Ugly, Sexist Stereotype of Nuns

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