The North Country deals with the problem of sexual harassment faced by women workers in steel mine in northern Minnesota. The sexual harassment is not just by their male co-workers, but by the whole community that consists of the mine workers and their families. In doing so, it emphasizes a key fact such acts of gender-prejudice is not perpetrated by men alone, but are perpetrated by the society as a whole. Centuries of marginalization of women are viciously rationalized by one simple sentence by Sissy Spacek’s character, “kids are your purpose, and the father brings home the money”.
Josey Aimes, played by Charlize Theron, flees an abusive relationship, with two kids in tow, to move in with her parents. She tries out odd-jobs before somebody mentions that she could make six times as much by working in the steel mine. Her father, who has worked in the mine for the majority of his life, is not pleased with Josey’s decision for him women just don’t do such things. To start off, she is subjected to a far more intrusive medical exam than one would expect. Then, the torture begins; few outrageous acts passed off as fun, some explicit comments, actions, and some implicit gestures. All aimed at sending one message, women have no business doing a man’s job.
The women respond to these circumstances with whatever means accessible to them. But most of the recourses are fruitless, and taking a tremendous step might put their jobs at risk. The movie deals with the different facets of this problem in the most convincing of ways. The filmmakers are very ambitious in diving into the depths of this problem. This ambition almost derails the movie in the final act.
While any woman in the present day could tell her own story of how sexual discrimination still exists, the world into which Josie entered was so abusive that one could only imagine it happening in a prison (Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin). For the women of this Minnesota mine, every day turned out to be an emotional and physical lockdown: feces smeared on the women’s lockers, direct rape attempts on the job, and continual jeers from the male miners made daily life a death sentence.
The part of women in the workplace was a world of difference only 30 years ago. The TV images of Lucile Ball as the ditzy housewife who always deferred to her husband’s proficient ability to be the “bread winner” have given way to CSI Miami images of woman prosecutors extremely solving mystery cases week after week.
What is most significant is that we never take for granted the sacrifice that was made. Unless we teach each new generation regarding the freedoms we have gained, we are always in danger of caving into our most sinful nature of greed, avarice, fear, and pride.
Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin. North Country Stars – Profound.