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About ClearyWorks

Contact and Quick Purchase

Girlie mags can lead to prayer

by William Cleary

If you're like me, "girlie" magazines produce an instant revulsion. Your mind races: what can I do about this outrage against women, especially against this poor woman in the photo?

My chance came one day on the streets of New York City. It was snowing, and I was dressed in clerical attire no less -- (this was almost 40 years ago), working my way through the downtown newstands to win a place there for our religious weekly.

Near day's end, tired out, coming up the subway steps, I saw a massive newsstand at one of the city squares spreading its great green wings in three directions, hundreds of magazines side by side in blaring competition, piles of newspapers rising in disorder from the lower shelves, people in overcoats moving in and out without speaking, the noise of the street blotting out most attempts at words.

Suddenly my eyes felt another affront -- from the girlie magazines, and when I got the proprietor's attention (he had a severe back deformation but was totally capable of his task), instead of starting my sales pitch, I pointed to the offensive magazines and said something like: How can you sell that trash?

He looked up at me with a mix of dignity and disbelief, and what he said changed my life. In the serenity of his eyes I felt I could see his own mother's reflection as she hugged and accepted her physically challenged child and gave him the self-image that would carry him confidently through life.

"Because this is how I earn a living," he said defenselessly, and looked carefully at my black suit. "How dare you criticize that!" And he looked straight at my roman collar.

I suddenly had no answer and withdrew, but after forty years I still blush at my callow arrogance and naivete. Now when I encounter such magazines, I think of that proprietor and remember how complex is the evil process that produces them. After all, how little we have from Jesus about sex and how much about non-judgmental compassion.

Of course I still long to heal the ugly symptoms of the vicious sexism in pornography, but I know that no healing therapy will work that does not start very deep and go very deep. The ugly disdain for women that's beneath pornography is the same disdain, I feel, in people -- sometimes even the clergy -- who have few truly human links to women and can't imagine that women can be entrusted with their own pregnancy decisions. Could it be because nature itself might give them (like that newsman's mother) an connatural moral sensitivity for the real demands of their real life? I for one think so.


Holy God, whose ways are not our ways, give us hearts ready for surprises and open to your voice that speaks in everything that happens. Make us like your prophet Jesus live beyond the quick moral judgments that are so often superficial, and open to a humbler wisdom more deeply human. Amen.

William Cleary

(The writer's books are listed www.clearyworks.com)


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