The struggle against the system

Why I’m sick to my stomach


Don’t you want to rail against the system sometimes?

A headline describes the feeling as “sick to my stomach.”

Problem is, the system is a web of sticky loops and traps.

Good luck changing it.

So why do some of us insist we can make a difference and change the system?

I think the sick to my stomach feeling comes from seeing harm that can (and should) be prevented.

Let’s get specific.

My relatives, and other girls and women, have been harmed by men.

The range is wide, from hurtful words to body injury.

Nearly everyone I know has–not just one anecdote–but many.

I’ve been harassed as a girl, a student and a worker-bee.

  • In high school, more than one male teacher grabbed me for a smooch.
  • As a college student working in my first internship, one employer had a policy that he’d start the day with a kiss on the lips from all the women in his circle.
  • As a professional, I had more than one co-worker placed his clothed body next to mine, insisting that I feel his stiffness.
  • And a colleague recently threatened my job when I disagreed about policy.

I’ve come to realize harassment is part of the landscape of being female.

The problem?

Male behaviors are normalized.

So: Why didn’t I do something? Tell someone?

Because it was normal.

Boys will be boys.

That’s the response I got as a member of a family, school and office environment.

Today we have a much sharper focus on what it means to harm someone else, but old habits are woven into the fabric of our social structures.

We can hope to alter the fabric one stitch at a time, but we first need to recognize that we’ve passively accepted the cultural milieu.

I admire someone who has the guts to confront her harasser in public.

But she’s confronting more than the frat-boy or office hound-dog: she’s facing the full network of cultural mores that are slow to change.

Harm is harm.

It doesn’t matter if it happened 36 years ago or yesterday.

So, let me reframe the question:

If you learned that a reasonable woman accused a man of harassment that caused her harm, then would you (if you had the choice):

  1. Ask him to babysit your children or grandchildren?
  2. Hire him to teach in your local elementary or high school?
  3. Seek him out as your personal physician (if he were a doctor)?
  4. Vote for him as a local judge in your community (if he were a judge)?

See, I think it matters more to muggles when the issue becomes personal.

It’s one thing to have a sick to your stomach feeling when you don’t know the accuser and the accused: when they are just faces in the news.

But it’s quite another issue if the accused is going to babysit your kids.


Image from

24 September 2018













About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in kavanaugh, metoo, nativescience, Supreme Court. Bookmark the permalink.

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