It was before 8 o’clock in the morning. The sun was up and the temperature was rising slowly. I was walking my two dogs around the neighborhood when we met with a couple walking towards us. The logo on the woman’s tee shirt read “Cunt Works”.
I felt uncomfortable. I wondered why she chose to wore this tee shirt. Maybe I was offended, but I didn’t want to judge her. I needed to understand what was behind the words.
Does it mean her cunt works? Does it mean that calling her ‘cunt’ is fitting? Did she buy it at a concert by a band called “Cunt Works”? The logos on our shirts are like sandwich boards advertising something about us. Was it an overstated way of letting others know she’s a lesbian? What is the appeal of wearing this shirt this particular day? Maybe it was a dare?
In 10 minutes I had all sorts of thoughts and feelings about the words and the person who could’ve been of any gender and any age and of any race. Today the wearer was a black woman in her late 20’s to early 30’s. Her hair was cropped and dyed blonde. She wore spandex pants. She was stocky. She was talking and walking with a man. They could’ve been taking a break from working out at the LA Fitness.
After the dogs finished their business I turned back. The man and woman had turned around too, and I had another opportunity to cross paths with them again. This time, my younger dog Goliath seemed to be sporting for something so I moved her to my other side, furthest away from the couple. I stepped aside to let them pass. The man looked suspiciously at the dogs. I looked at her curiously. Then I turned my attention to Goliath to harness her down as she started to lunge and bark at them.
No harm done, as I had checked the dog in time, except for the barking. The woman reacted by saying “Oooo. I’m scared.” Upon hearing her I put the last period at the end of my character study. Within 15 minutes of walking the dogs I encountered a part of me that I had not faced before. It was the word ‘cunt’ paraded by a woman.
What I tried to avoid is judgment based on my own feelings. The initial impulse was curiosity about the words, and that they were brazenly printed on a shirt, and the shirt was worn by a woman walking in public. When I put it in that context it removed the offensiveness of ‘cunt’ which is generally considered rude – ‘cunt’ is harsher than ‘bitch’. But I suppose if a word is thrown out there often enough then it de-sensitizes peoples’ feelings and consciousness that they let the words go by like litter on the streets.
Imagine if your drawer only had tee shirts in different styles and colors with the same logo. You don’t have a choice except to pick the style and color and what attitude you’re going to wear with that shirt. It’s how you say it. Words are words and the power comes from the meaning we attach to it. It can command respect or draw degradation.
I think of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” and how the stories in her play elevated the anatomical word to be acceptable in conversation outside of a medical lab or biology class. It awakened peoples’ hearts to the tragedies and comedies about women’s vaginas. It’s not about the hole but the whole of it – in other words, what meanings we attach to this part of the woman’s anatomy.
I’ve only been called ‘cunt’ once by a man who was very angry with me. He felt powerless over me so he could only resort to calling me a name that he thought was the most degrading thing he could offend me with. Calling me ‘cunt’ didn’t hurt me. However it gave me the opportunity to understand his sense of helplessness. Like this woman today, I see her. In my mind, despite her comeback to the dog’s aggression and the words on her tee shirt, maybe she’s really a pussycat and wears a tough exterior to protect her tender parts. There is a story there, and I’m curious about it.
“ – imagination to me is not the capacity to invent what is there but the capacity to see and develop what is there.” Samson Raphaelson