An Open Letter To The Man Who Made Me Cry At The Sushi Counter


Dear Man Who Called Me a Cunt at the Village Market Sushi Counter,

Yes, sir, I am aware that there was a hurricane. My family has been without power for three days as well, and believe me, the noxious nature of our septic situation, the disconnect from the outside world and the consumption of every product in Campbell’s collection is enough to irk even me. I’ve doubtlessly snapped at my family members, but as we’re in the same boat, we forgive one another. Hell, even sheer boredom can drive anyone to an unnatural level of jumpiness, but calling a nineteen-year-old girl a cunt surpasses jumpiness, snark, or bite. I can’t forgive you.

We were lucky enough to both be in the part of town where there was electricity when this occurred. We were at an upscale grocery store, at which the cashiers wear ties and button downs. There’s a Stop n’ Shop one block from the Village Market, but we both chose the latter because hey, it’s been a hard few days and hadn’t we earned it? Let’s indulge a little. We were buying sushi for Christ’s sake, not exactly emergency rations material. Irene left us uncomfortable, but considerably blessed.

The store was crowded and everyone was a little harried, but with a little patience we would all leave with “real food.” It wasn’t even for me, did you know that? It was for my sister, who was stuck in the powerless house watching my little brother. I know you didn’t ask. You were at least 40, and if you live here that means you probably have children. I could see you at a baseball game when I come home for Thanksgiving.

This is Connecticut, so maybe you work in New York. I understand that maybe your line of work has bred a potty mouth, so to speak. Very important business men consider themselves very important. They often deal with more men than women. They often speak hyperbolically or offensively. I am no stranger to this fact.

But its a Tuesday afternoon, and in case you were wondering, I actually ordered the sushi you reached for. And as you leaned in to take it as I did, and you said “You cunt” with rancor, I counted to five before I let a few hot tears escape by the deli counter. My response, or lack thereof, astounded me; I wasn’t witty, improv troupe Hilary, or agitated feminist Hilary, or any Hilary I’ve ever known with a backbone. I was frazzled, hurricane Hilary who just wanted to bring her siblings some food that didn’t come from a can to cheer them up. I was polite, hometown Hilary, the Hilary from whom you probably bought Student Government bake sale goods from outside the Village Market on better days, days when I didn’t get in your way.

And we were in the Village Market! The supermarket socialites could have heard you. You didn’t even mutter under your breath. You said, “you cunt.” You didn’t imply that I was acting like a cunt, but that I was one.

I really want to say I’m not. I’m not what you called me. I’m not a cunt. It’s a word that rarely leaves my lips, and only does so in the most blinding moments of anger; its a word that cuts in a way others don’t, but as I’m sitting here trying to defend myself against your accusation, (or statement of fact, in your eyes), I realize I can’t even define the term. Am I a bitch? Situationally my attititude can be self serving and aggressive, and I am a woman, so I guess I could concede that I can be a bitch. But a cunt? Man who called me a cunt at the Village Market (may I call you MWCMACATVM?), you actually motivated me to Google the word “cunt” in the very crowded Wilton Library. Someone could see me do that, you know. It may interest you to know what I found.

Scholar Germaine Greer has said that “it is one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock.” It’s been said to reduce women to mere body parts, dehumanizing them. All my girly bits were covered up today at the grocery store, MWCMACATVM, so you couldn’t have been alluding to any oversexualization I may have been indulging in. It’s not as if you were referring to my vagina, so I can’t even give you any anatomical pardon for using such an inflammatory phrase. In England in the nineteenth century it was used to define a dumb or inept person, but as my liberal arts education and my thoroughness in dissecting your vocabulary choice may highlight, I’m actually quite bright.

I’m sorry if this exercise in etymology feels pedantic, sir, but I’m trying my hardest to understand why you chose the word you chose. In doing so, I’m probably giving you more credit than you deserve; its likely that you didn’t choose at all, that this is a knee jerk reaction to you, that your perception of people who get in your way (and, though I don’t want to take the leap, of women) is intrinsically linked to this word.

Perhaps that’s all I am in your eyes, a vagina with a debit card who happened to get to the sushi counter first (I’m too angry to make an awful fish joke here) but again, I don’t want to make the easy argument. I’d like to think this isn’t a feminist issue, as much as I do think you would have called a man a prick or an asshole in this situation. You were angry and you took it out on me. Did you realize I’m young enough to be your daughter?

God, I didn’t want to play the daughter card but I’m going to, if only for a moment. Would you want yours growing up in a world where a man twenty five years her senior could call her a cunt in a grocery store? There’s no protection from other people’s words, no condom to protect against condescending, flagrantly offensive speech. You ruined my day, you harassed me, and I didn’t get a say in the matter at all.

At least you let me take the sushi. What I don’t understand is, if you were using that word—no, I won’t even do that. I want to feel the way you feel. I’m going to say it every time—if you were saying cunt for intimidation factor, it worked. I physically recoiled. But you let me take it. It’s as if you were punishing me for my action; an action that apparently wasn’t worth fighting all the way for, because I left the store with the tuna california rolls, not you. It just rolled off your tongue, and you probably forgot about it before you picked up your own sushi three minutes later.

I wish I could blame your behavior in desperation, but I just can’t bring myself to let you off the hook like that. Sure, trees obstruct roads and the weather has disrupted your schedule, but that doesn’t give you the right to erupt at me.

May the Deities at Connecticut Light and Power Restore My Electricity Before Yours,

Hilary Clifford

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image – Zoe Shuttleworth