Viewing North Country: Sexual Harassment Goes to the Movies
27 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2009
Date Written: Spring 2007
North Country has much to teach its audience about the sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Oscar-nominated film was based on the first class action establishing sexual harassment, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the District Court finding that the mining company employer was liable for hostile work environment sexual harassment in favor of an entire class of women. The women demonstrated that the male-dominated mine was pervasively sexualized through highly offensive verbal and visual anti-women references which portrayed women as sexual objects. Although the District Court determined that a reasonable woman would have found that the workplace constituted a hostile environment, the court held that to obtain individual relief, each woman in the class would have to demonstrate that she, individually, was affected as a reasonable woman.
North Country has four significant lessons to teach the audience through its depiction of the female protagonist in somewhat formulaic terms. First, it demonstrates that sexual harassment of women is commonplace and pervasive in the workplace. Second, it underscores the fact that sexual harassment is about power--the exertion of power by men over women in the workplace and the home. Third, it depicts the devastating effects on individual litigants in pursuing discrimination claims. North Country demonstrates that there may be “safety in numbers” in that class action litigation may be more effective in a practical sense than litigation by an individual. Nevertheless, the litigation itself often re-traumatizes the sexual harassment victim. Finally, North Country indicates the importance of film in both depicting and redefining societal views of significant legal issues.
Keywords: North Country, law and cinema, sexual harassment, women, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., law and film
JEL Classification: K31, K39, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation