North Country Movie

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The movie North Country was based on the book ”Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law” which tells the story of Lois Jenson, who filed the first class action lawsuit for sexual harassment in American history. In the film, Theron plays the daughter of an iron miner (Richard Jenkins) working in a mine in Northern Minnesota Mesabi Iron Range.

When Josey leaves an abusive husband and moves back to her hometown into her parents’ house, she was not welcomed. Her father assumes, without even interrogating his daughter, that it was her infidelity to her husband that had created the situation. Even her own son thinks that she is a whore. What this shows is the tendency to assume that it’s the woman’s fault in any conflict with men.

Such biases were more prevalent in the chronological setting of the film, which covers the last few decades of the 20th century (Rosen).

All Josey wants is to own a house, eat decent meals and be able to buy her son hockey skates once in a while, which are completely reasonable. But even her father Hank expresses his displeasure to women working in the mines, because it’s not “women’s work”. He also blames Josey of taking away a job from a man on whom a whole family is dependent.

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But Hank fails to notice that his daughter too has a family to support. Even the women in the community believe there’s something wrong if she can’t find a man to take care of her. It points to the common acceptance in society, which is women’s dependency and subordination to men (Ebert).

Mesabi Iron Range Lawsuit

The most gripping scene in Niki Caro’s off-the-beaten-track drama “North Country” comes when the lead character, Josey Aimes (played by Charlize Theron) addresses her hostile co-workers at the union meeting to make clear that she does not want the mine closed down, but only the sexual harassment of women to stop (Ebert).

Women were as much complicit to such abuses as is evident from the fact that the other female co-workers of Josey choose to bear the humiliation rather than risk losing their jobs. Women felt helpless, in spite of the protection provided by law. This goes to show that the rights granted to citizens of the country as a result of the civil rights movement had still not managed to uproot the patriarchal nature of the society. This is as truer in the 21st century as it was true during the century before. What had decreased is the prevalence and institutionalization of such attitudes and beliefs. Like the court’s decisions on civil rights, it didn’t change everything overnight. Affirmative action was enforced in the Iron Range as late as 1974, when the government finally ordered the steel companies to reserve 20% of their jobs to women and minorities. (Ronning)

When Josie takes up a traditional women’s job of a hairdresser, she could earn only a sixth of what she will eventually earn as a miner. This shows the disparity in wages between the two sexes. Women generally don’t get paid as much as men for the same amount of work they do. Another disparity is in the composition of the work force in the mines. Men outnumber women 29 to 1, which is highly disproportionate to the actual population figures. Yet, the ones who do make it through and got the job cannot consider themselves lucky as they were subject to all kinds of sexual harassment by their male co-workers for no fault of theirs. The other women miners are hard-working survivors who tolerate the obscenity and worse, and keep silent because they cannot afford to lose their jobs in trying to make a point (Rosen).

During the period when the movie was set, Anita Hill was shown testifying against Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment. What this signifies is the permeation of such beliefs and practices across all layers of the society, including the political offices. The movie showcases the approach and expansion of a legal frontier (Rosen).

In the male dominated work environment of the mine, picking on women is all in a day’s work. A woman operates a piece of heavy machinery unaware that a sign is painted on it advertising sex for sale. They find obscenities written in excrement on the walls of their locker room. When finally the union decides to ask for portable toilets for the women, one of the first women to use one has it turned over while she’s inside. Add to that other sorts of touching and fondling, but if a woman is going to insist on having breasts, how can a guy be blamed for copping a feel, goes the logic. It is assumed and widely gossiped that Josey is a tramp, and she is advised to “spend less time stirring up your female co-workers and less time in the beds of your male coworkers.” (Ronning) ?

The patriarchal nature of the American society in the 20th century is evident from the fact that the retired judge named special master to oversee the trial and to decide the compensation amount to the women, had his own biases. He held traditional beliefs and had a history of sexual misconduct. It was also reported that he frequently fell asleep during the testimony and seemed to enjoy the narrations of harassment when awake. Eveleth Mines’ lead counsel during this phase was a woman, and yet she verbally assaulted the plaintiffs to get the damages reduced. Her strategy involved proving that the harassment was the making of the women themselves due to their provocative behavior towards male coworkers and the plaintiffs were dishonest about the severity and the psychological effects. What this shows is the degree to which women themselves were inculcated to believe in their unquestioning subordination to men (Mishkind 147).

Overall, Lois and the other women went through three humiliating trials where their character and personal lives were assaulted over and over again by Eveleth’s lawyers. In addition, they endured the torturous process of litigation, and further torment of the federal court system. The appeals court Judge Donald Lay wrote,

“It should be obvious that the callous pattern and practice of sexual harassment engaged in by Eveleth Mines inevitably destroyed the self-esteem of the working women exposed to it. The emotional harm, brought about by this record of human indecency, sought to destroy the human psyche as well as the human spirit of each plaintiff. The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable. Although money damage cannot make these women whole or even begin to repair the injury done, it can serve to set a precedent that in the environment of the working place such hostility will not be tolerated.” (Belton)

The status and rights of women during the last century was largely only in paper. Only when Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas in October l991, did the United States finally wake up to the reality of sexual harassment. Before that landmark event, few people knew what to call such persistent predatory behavior as it was accepted the norm. If women needed to earn a living, they were expected to grit it out and take it. The idea that sexual harassment could be viewed as a violation of a woman’s civil rights and her ability to earn a living was very slow to catch up with the public (Mishkind 142).

The much more fair and balanced sexual harassment policies that we see in corporations and educational institutions today owe in large part, to Lori Benson’s determination to put an end to some of the most shameful sexual harassment ever described in print. Although she had to wait for another 10 years to achieve justice, the suit eventually became the cornerstone of modern sexual harassment law. The much liberated women of the 21st century enjoy their freedom and security due to the perseverance and patience of these women (Belton).

Works Cited:

Belton, John., American Cinema/American Culture (second edition), McGraw-Hill New York.

Ebert, Roger., North Country Review, October 21, 2005.

Mishkind, Charles S. “Sexual harassment hostile work environment class actions: is there cause for concern?.” Employee Relations Law Journal 18.n1 (Summer 1992): 141-147.

Rosen, Ruth., Behind “North Country”,

Ronning, G., “Jackpine Savages: Discourses of Conquest in the 1916 Mesabi Iron Range Strike”, Labor History, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2003

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North Country Movie. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

North Country Movie
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