I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to see “North Country,” because a movie about a sexual harassment lawsuit isn’t my idea of a fun night out–nor is it most people’s, for “North Country” is dong only so-so at the box office.
But E.J. Graff, a researcher at Brandeis University’s Center for Investigative Journalism, thinks that “North Country,” the tale of woman who goes to work as a miner, endures slings and arrows from the male miners, and eventually wins big-time in court in a lawsuit against the mine, is actually too much fun. According to Graff, writing in the Washington Post, sexual harassment is so bad and so all-pervasive that it’s the main reason why women don’t earn as much money as men. Forget the fact that male-dominated jobs such as mining and day labor are far more demanding physically or that many women might choose to sepend their extra hours with their children rather than clawing their way up the corporate ladder.
No, according to Graff, just going to work these days is a gruesome experience in which a gal can expect to be pawed, mocked, flashed at, and semi-raped by her male co-workers, all with management’s tacit or even overt approval (so don’t tell me your job is boring!):
“After enduring years of this abuse, some women finally collapse and are diagnosed with psychotic breaks, crippling depression or post-traumatic stress disorder so bad that even company doctors agree they can never work again. Others change careers entirely.
“Men who use sexual harassment to drive women out of previously all-male workplaces are often quite open about what they are doing. They are documented as saying that women don’t ‘belong’ in the mines, or in securities trading, construction, correctional work — because women can’t ‘handle’ the dirt, the pressure, the criminals. Many of these men then enforce that belief through a brutal, persistent campaign of sexualized violence. Men who object are frequently ostracized or face retaliation themselves, which silences any others who may also disagree. Those who could put a stop to such treatment — union leaders or company managers — either approve or are indifferent to it. So after a burst of job desegregation in the late ’70s, enforced by courts and executive orders, nonprofessional (and some professional) women who tried to break into blue-paycheck jobs have been driven back into the lower-paying world of pink…..
“I had hoped that ‘North Country’ would help expose all of this. The real women at Eveleth Taconite Co. worried about being ‘Silkwooded.’ In 1974, you might recall, Karen Silkwood — who tried to expose dangerous safety violations at the nuclear plant where she worked — was killed in a late-night car accident that many people believe occurred under suspicious circumstances. Most of us know Silkwood’s story from Mike Nichols’s 1983 movie, a belated gasp from the 1970s filmmaking impulse to tackle harsh social issues.
“By contrast, ‘North Country’ is a sanitized fairy tale, made by Hollywood executives who apparently believe that we Americans have lost our taste for reality. Will someone please make the Grimm tale that we really need?”
I won’t even get into the fact that there wasn’t a shred of evidence that Karen Silkwood was deliberately killed. I’ll just say this: Go ahead, Hollywood. Buy into E.J. Graff’s lurid picture of the American workplace and make a really gruesome and depressing film about sexual harassment and its kazillions of psychotic victims. That’ll pack ’em in.