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 TC mark

image – Zoe Shuttleworth

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  • Asdf

    Sorry. I was just having a bad day. Perhaps you didn’t realize that I have a speech impediment. I was saying, “You can’t take my sushi!” but girls make me so nervous, so I just kind of left it at “You cunt!” If you heard me say it, it’d come out like, “You cunt tunk moi soosheeee!”

    You have my sincerest of apologies. I have written many of these apologies. Maybe I need to get this condition checked.
    – Prick-face from sushi counter

  • A.

    I probably wouldn’t have been this offended but I probably would’ve kicked him in the shin.

  • Anonymous

    This was really well written. I liked it a lot! It’s a topic that could have been stale, but your writing made it a great read.

  • Alli

    The fact that the word still offends you means that you aren’t one. XO.

  • http://twitter.com/cmyungtweet C M Yung

    Two words made you write 1266? Girl, don’t give him that power. Shake it off like he probably shakes off “you douchebag” or “you dick” or “you asshole”, and move on.

    • Anonymous

      douchebag, dick, and asshole will NEVER have the same power as the word cunt for the majority of the female population. you may be able to just let it roll of your back, but for a lot of people, it’s just not ok. no matter how much some feminists want to take that word back and make it their own, it is still a foul loathsome word that will never be as innocuous as douchebag, dick, or asshole.

      • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

        Don’t go to Australia or your head will explode. 

      • Anonymous

        been there, done that.

      • http://thefirstchurchofmutterhals.blogspot.com/ mutterhals

        It only has power if you let it. Also, vagina means sword sheath in Latin, yet no one has a problem saying that.

      • Anonymous

        still. it rocks everyone in different ways. and to say that it isn’t a big deal is not fair to A LOT of people.

      • rose georgia

        ugh that awful moment when aeneas strinxit his ensem from his vagina. i don’t want to think about swords anywhere near vaginas.

  • Taylor Brogan

    It’s “Hilary,” not “Hillary.” And this was very well-written!! I look forward to future TC contributions.

  • Mamajohn

    preach girl.  this is excellent. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5WQXSSKAMOU4WCHKCWYMUKKKNU Aladin Sane

    Grow a pair, cunt :-)

  • http://twitter.com/laurahtfraser Laura Fraser

    I thought parts of this were done really well, and while I agreed with a lot of it, you made a lot of assumptions about his life that didn’t sit well with me.

    You reduced him to a business man who was cranky due to a disruptive schedule and uses foul language because — you know — business men are so self important. Putting aside your ridiculous idea of the business world, you really have no idea what he does for a living, or why he was so irritable that day. You’re partially upset that he didn’t consider that you were buying sushi for someone else… But clearly you really didn’t give him the consideration that you wish he had given you.

    You were clearly both emotionally charged. Instead of reacting as your regular self, you surprised yourself by crying. What makes you think that his language was a knee jerk reaction to people getting in his way?He shouldn’t have called you a cunt. What he said was offensive and I’m completely behind you on that. But good god is this hypocritical

    • Lo

      Wow. I feel you have missed the entire point ogf much of this.

    • dehnofrockandroll

      With all due respect, Laura, I don’t take offense to her “reducing” him to a “cranky” businessman–after all, didn’t he “reduce” her much more gravely by his calling her a cunt?

  • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

    Should have told him to fuck off. You’d probably have no longer felt the need to write this. 

    That is shitty of him, but don’t let a stranger ruin your day : )

  • http://thefirstchurchofmutterhals.blogspot.com/ mutterhals

    I agree that you should have told him to fuck off. It may have made things worse, but you’d feel better.

    • Fijiwater22

      Hindsight in 20/20. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to at the time. There’s always next time (hopefully not though).

  • Saralee

    Regardless of whether or not you should have reacted, I think the point of this is that even though words are words, this one hurt and you do an excellent job of trying to dissect why. Enjoyable read, and while maybe you should have given him the benefit of the doubt you asked for, you didn’t do anything wrong and he did so I don’t really see how that’s “hypocritical.” 

    • http://twitter.com/laurahtfraser Laura Fraser

      I’m not trying to downplay how disrespectful it is to call someone a cunt. I’d feel awful if a stranger used that language with me. 

      “Hypocritical” would refer to not giving him the benefit of the doubt that she asked for. It, by definition, has nothing to do with the fact that he did something wrong and she didn’t. 

      I just think that they both reacted emotionally. Hilary admits that her reaction was unusual for her and I believe her. Why can we assume that this guy is such an asshole? That makes as much sense to me as him assuming she reacts to everything with tears based on their only interaction.

      • DEHNOFROCKANDROLL

        We can assume he’s an asshole because this is how he reacts to missing out on a meager tray of sushi, when he procured an identical one three minutes later. Whether or not he was stressed is of no consequence because no one should EVER say that word with those intentions to anyone; the fact that purchasing sushi is such a small and relatively mundane task and he STILL reacted like that raises some clear and serious questions about his character.

      • http://twitter.com/laurahtfraser Laura Fraser

        What we can’t assume is that he wasn’t buying it for someone else like the author. He also clearly didn’t know that you had to order the sushi first. If someone took something I was clearly in the process of picking up, some pretty nasty words would be racing through my head too. 

        I honestly liked how the article was written and I agree with how offensive he was. I just find it unnecessary to develop a whole persona about someone to make yourself look like a victim next to this business man who is so used to swearing and getting his way.

        Her arguments on why someone should never have to be called that should –and certainly can– stand on their own. 

      • Agreed

        I half agree with you. There’s some benefit of the doubt in his corner. As you pointed out, he could have been picking the food up for family and not just himself, like the author.

        However, even if he wasn’t sure how/what the system of ordering was, his reaction was overly mean, disrespectful, and indeed, very telling of his character. It wasn’t the fact that he was reacting to her taking the food; it’s the particular way in which he reacted. You yourself said you probably would’ve had “some pretty nasty words would be racing through my head too” but 1. You said in your HEAD; it doesn’t have to come out of your mouth, and 2. He just as easily could’ve said, “Hey, that’s my order!” and started a little argument or whatever over it. The fact that he tossed out such a loaded word to a young woman, yet didn’t stop her from taking the food or even TRY to put up a fight for it, says a lot.

      • Guest

        what if we didnt make it an issue between genders and made it an issue between races….what if he was a white man calling a hispanic person a spic, or a black man a nigger…..would you still say…well we can’t assume he’s an asshole just because he throws around racial slurs when he’s slightly peeved….. why isn’t injustice against women taken as seriously? (im giving you the benefit of the doubt that you dont find racial slurs acceptable when annoyed about sushi, please dont prove me wrong)

  • space mtn

    there is nothing as bad as that word to say to a man

    • Agreed

      SO TRUE. It honestly needs to be banished from the English language. Terrible that a GROWN man just tossed it out like that. There really is no equivalent to spit back (once you regain composure).

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        usually a slap suffices/kick to the groin. then again, I throw that word out every once in a while to keep people in check

    • http://twitter.com/galette_rois Julian Galette

      *white man

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I know people wish you physically attacked him or let the vituperative language flow,  but I love you more for not deigning yourself to his level, whether by choice or shock.  You seem like a sweet girl…stay above people like him   

  • mp90909

    Get over it.

  • Tricksy Rix

    Wow, you really are a cunt.

  • Luxe

    Ahahaha oh my god this article is just
    Move to England, I’ve been called a cunt by strangers more times than I can count, and probably called strangers cunts more than it’s happened to me
    But saying that I also completely love you for being offended by it, and hope you won’t take my desensitised English view of the world to heart <3

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans 371747

      hey that was a great comment but maybe next time you could try being a little more patronizing 

  • RicePaperPlant

    I’m a pledged feminist and I find this article asinine.

    You’re honestly distraught by the fact that the worst aspect
    of your life is being called the “C-Word?” Taken in any context, that
    fact comes off as ignorant and pathetic— not to mention incredibly ungrateful.
    Start crying when you get a nasty diagnosis or a stranger’s gun in your mouth.
    This gripe— fuck I’m disgusted— this is revolting. And, quite possibly, it’s
    the epitome of how blind we upper middle class Westerners really are. There are
    so many worse things deserving of exposure and, yet, you’ve decided to complain
    about the moment when you were verbally harassed in luxury grocery store? Please, reprioritize
    and target your talents elsewhere— towards something more worthy of  your talents.

    Granted, the guy is probably an asshole. Even so, did you
    consider that, maybe, by picking up that oh so necessary California roll,
    “you ruined [his] day, you harassed [him]” and by writing this
    article you are imitating his actions by putting your rage into flagrantly
    hateful prose?

    Fire doesn’t extinguish fire, Ms. Clifford.

    • Taylor B.

      Oh, grow the fuck up. She just had  her life shaken by a hurricane, and in the process of trying to do something nice for her family, a man twice her age verbally abused her in public. She never said that this was the worst thing to ever happen to her, or the worst thing in the world. She isn’t blowing this out of proportion. She was just analyzing why a  four letter word had such a great impact on her in that moment.

      To paraphrase Frankl, suffering is relative. Yeah, there are people dying all over the world, there are a million things both I and probably she could list off that are much more horrible than being called a cunt by a 40 year old man in a high end grocery store.  But in that moment, it had a great enough impact on her to bring her to tears. That’s enough.

      For Christ’s sake, this is Thought Catalog. People bitch about their internet connections and the fact that they were called a “hipster” at the farmer’s market last Tuesday. This was written by a one-time contributor who was treated very poorly by some asshole right after having dealt with a lot of hurricane shit.

      So if you want to play the “don’t complain if you’re not terminally ill or dying of famine” card, then stop commenting on people’s blog posts. Stop complaining about the fact that people complain.

      • DEHNOFROCKANDROLL

        Amen, Taylor, amen.

      • Robert.

        It’s a little disturbing that a man would call a woman he barely knows a cunt.  Then again, it is a reflection of him, not the woman, so I suppose it is nothing to cry over.

      • Ci

        Heart you. 

    • Guest

      you’re right….she should’ve just said to herself….at least I have my health, clean water, and access to food.  I’m luckier than people elsewhere, who cares if as a woman i sometimes get harassed by men for no reason….i mean, it’s not like physical, verbal, emotional, and mental harassment of women is a worldwide problem that if we “upper middle class westerners” acknowledged as a problem, we might be able to start progressing…..oh wait.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mkatiehunter Katie Hunter

      “Oh so necessary California roll…”

      “This gripe — fuck I’m disgusted — this is revolting…”

      Okay, you’re rude. And also fulfilling a stereotype I’ve been trying most of my life to repudiate, i.e. the raging, angry feminist.

      And guys, this is the THOUGHT CATALOG. Not the ACCURACY CATALOG. Regardless of any assumptions or extrapolations made by the author (without which, it would not be NEARLY as interesting a piece… study non-fiction prose guys, please, I beg you), she has a right to feel the way she feels. How dare you tell someone tell someone how or when to be offended.

    • http://twitter.com/empirexstate Isabel S

      “Fire doesn’t extinguish fire,” you say. So practice what you preach? I’m not going to bother rehashing the comments below. I hope you get the point.

  • http://twitter.com/melvinismad Melvin Alvarez

    you should just have stared into his purely evil soul, without blinking.

  • Glenn Beck

    Hey at least you have access to food. Ever watched those commercials that show starving African children with really really thin appendages and a rib cage just bursting through their skin? They don’t even have this detestable canned food you speak of. Our First World problems are nothing compared to those of other, less developed societies. I don’t want to say we’re spoiled, but we are. I can see why that would be upsetting, especially with the current conditions on the East coast, but even without power we are still much more privileged than the majority of the world. You are certainly justified in your distress, however, and I don’t deny you that.

    • Ci

      again, I really don’t get why this is topical at all. 

    • Wspencer14

      my friend you put everything in perspective, because someone calls you a name it doesn’t make you that, so many people has suffer from being refer too as cr—–, h—, w– b—, or n  when referring to whites, jews, hispanic, or blacks. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be offended but, to even compare it to suffering that people have indue with all their life shouldn’t be in the same discussion  

  • R.

    I honestly don’t get why people are so offended by the word Cunt, I’m a girl and I honestly don’t find it offensive.

  • Cathy

    I drop f-bombs here and there in everyday conversation and have no qualms calling people dicks and douches and assholes
    but the c-word…
    I just can’t say or hear it without feeling so very uncomfortable.

  • Courtney

    Hilary,

    You should read some rhetorical/feminist position pieces about the significance of hateful words, like fag and cunt. I think your article perpetuates the “no-no” status of the word cunt. Much like many other taboo words before it, the use of the word only stings when we categorize it as that. Bitch used to be a highly offensive word to women, but women know endearingly use it in reference to their closest friends. Offense is purely subjective. If we work to reclaim the word cunt, it’s rhetorical value to bring one woman to tears (in your case at least) is likely to disappear.

    • Ash

      agreed. bitch, cunt or anything referencing femininity or socially constructed feminine traits should not be considered offensive….however….he’s not a woman (as far as the author knows) calling another woman a cunt.. he’s a mand, and he’s also older (lots of power dynamics at work here) and he wasn’t using it in an endearing way, he knew what he was doing and how she would interpret it. if the world were a perfect place in which this didnt happen, it might be easy not to take offense…but it’s not, and i think putting the onus of removing the negative aspect of the word on one girl is like going up to a black person who was just called the n word in a derogatory way and saying “hey, you know if you stop acting offended, this would stop happening to everyone.”  

      sorry if this seems aggressive, but i’m a little tired of blame always being placed on women….for everything that happens to women.  i understand you cant address this man, but it might be more constructive to tell men that they should stop considering a word used to describe female genitalia as a means with which to offend….rather than telling hillary to stop being offended. you know?

  • Guest

    there is either more to the story or that man is mentally ill.

  • http://woodlandcreature.com Alyssa G

    As a born-and-raised Wilton girl (who has been to the Village Market hundreds of times), I’ve never heard anyone use that word there. I’m sorry you were harassed by this psychotic interloper!

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