I was disappointed that I didn't get a chance to see this movie in the theatre, so I was very happy when it showed up on DVD this week. North Country is about a woman (played by Charlize Theron) who works in an iron mine in northern Minnesota in the late 1980s and, along with all her female coworkers, experiences sexual harrassment by men who are angry that women are working there at all. She takes a stand, and launches the first-ever sexual harrassment class action lawsuit in legal history with her coworkers. The movie was based on a true account. In real life, the lawsuit took 14 years to settle (1984 to 1998), and set a legal precedent that affected every company in the USA, forcing them all to draft sexual harrassment policies to protect female employees.
I liked the movie a lot, it was well-acted by Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand particularly. I also thought it did a good job of showing the problems those women faced. Their male bosses did nothing to stop the behaviour of their male coworkers, and suggested they "take it like a man". It got me thinking about gender equality, and the problems that some people have with understanding that treating men and women equally doesn't necessarily mean treating them the same. For example, one of the complaints the female union rep (McDormand) brought to the union was portable toilets for the women in the pit, because the male crew bosses were not allowing the women to leave to use the bathroom when they needed to and they were getting bladder infections from holding their urine too long. The men didn't require porta-potties, but the women did, and work equality means the company must provide porta-potties for their female employees. (By the way, in the movie, a few of the men tipped over one of the portables while a female employee was inside.)
Having worked in mostly female-only work environments for the past ten years, I haven't experienced sexual harrassment in the workplace. I feel lucky to be protected against it, although my suspicion is that sexual harrassment happens all the time in workplaces, and despite having legal protection in place, many people don't speak up about it for fear of being ostracized by their coworkers for getting someone in trouble or worse. There are lots of ways an employer can get rid of an employee that can hide the real reason they are being let go. All the same, I admire the women portrayed in this movie for standing up and saying No, and fighting for the right of every person to go to work and make a living without the added pressure of sexual harrassment.