The Woman and the Patriarchal System
Based on a true story about the first ever class action lawsuit regarding sexual harassment, the movie North Country directed by Niki Caro, portrays the life of Lois Jenson who is played by the character Josey Aimes. This movie tells a story about a woman who struggles as she faces sexual assault, oppression, domestic abuse, misogyny, patriarchy, and sexual harassment. The movie portrays Josey’s life through flashbacks showing her struggles and how she ends up being interrogated in the courtroom.
The movie begins in the year 1989 when women were often subject to domestic abuse. After being beaten by her husband Wayne, Josey takes her daughter Karen and teenage son Sammy and drives back to her family hometown in Northern Minnesota. There, she does not find her father’s support in regards to her bruised face and bloody eye. Instead, Hank, Josey’s father, further confronts her with the question, “So … he catch you with another man? Is that why he laid hands on you?” (North Country). This suggests that there must be a good reason for her husband to lash out and beat her this way.
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Her father tends to easily come to the conclusion that if there is a conflict between man and a woman, the woman is always the one at fault. At her new job in the Pearson Taconite and Steel Mine Josey and her female co-workers face discrimination. Based on the scenes of this movie I have chosen to go through and further analyze the effects of the sexual double bind situation, patriarchal system, and sexual harassment that oppress the main character, Josey.
The sexual double standard is the nation’s judgmental observation in regard to the sexual conduct behavior for both women and men, where men are praised and women humiliated for their sexual lives. Since Josey was a teenage girl with a baby of an unknown father, the town people condemned her “to censure and punishment for being loose, unprincipled or a whore,” the punishment is enforced in the forms of “criticism, snide and embarrassing remarks” (Frye, 1983).
When analyzing the “sexual double standards which are based on binaries of what it means to be the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ kind of woman,” one can see the common theme where single teenage mother Josey is subject to punishment instead of seen as the victim, shown with the following examples. (Cubagge, 2018). The ladies at the church lunch whisper to each other about her shameful life as they say, “got two kids with two different fathers already,” implying that she is the town’s slut and therefore a “heck of a shame ” (North Country).
After Bobby Sharp’s unwanted sexual advance toward Josey at the top of the conveyor, he tells his wife that she tried to seduce him. The wife publicly accuses Josey during a hockey game as she yells, “stay the hell away from my husband” (North Country). The town’s people have long assumed that Josey is a tramp; therefore, they quickly conclude that the allegations are true and that Josey is the guilty one.
Even though the people in the stands around begin to wonder, no one questions Bobby’s sexual behavior because he is a man and he has never been exposed to the sexual double bind situation, therefore he is expected to tell the truth. The towns “slut shaming” situation of Josey has gotten so out of control that even her son Sammy believes that his own mom is guilty of all accusations (Cubagge, 2018).
He angrily insults his mom, “You’re a whore, just like everyone says” (North Country). When Josey decides to complain about all of the sexual harassment that the women in the mine have endured, her boss Donald Pearson, without even letting her speak, rudely asserts, “spend less time stirring up your female co-workers and less time in the beds of your married male co-workers” (North Country). Even when Josey decides to sue the mine for sexual harassment, her lawyer Bill White assures her of yet another sexual double bind situation that Josey needs to face in court.
As he states, “It’s called the ‘nuts and sluts defense.’ You’re either nuts and you imagined it, or a slut and you asked for it” (North Country). Yet one more time, Josey needs to face the demons of the town’s assumption that she is guilty of all “slut charges”. This is a common theme when one analyzes the sexual bind situation, where victims have only a few options of which “all of them expose them to penalty, censure or deprivation” (Frye, 68).
Throughout the movie one can see that the sexual double bind situation has ruined Josey’s life, however, she has managed to keep her head up high and strive for justice. The men in the Pearson Taconite and Steel Mine are driven by the patriarchal culture in which according to Johnson, “mothers should stay home and fathers should work outside the home, regardless of men’s and women’s actual abilities or needs,” therefore women have no right to take men’s job opportunities away no matter the reason (Johnson, 28). During the year of 1989, Josey joined the women mine workers, when men strongly dominated the workforce as “male employees still outnumbered females by thirty to one” (North Country).
According to the book’s definition, patriarchy is “cultural system in which men hold power and are the central figures in the family, community, government, and larger society” (Saraswati, 3). One can see that the patriarchy indeed ruled within the steel mine as the male workers had the power to dominate. The following are some examples of the strong patriarchal culture that are expressed in flashbacks throughout the movie. Josey’s mom does not support the idea of her working at the mine as this will bring shame to her father.
On the first day of her orientation at the mine, Josey meet’s her supervisor, Arlen Pavich, a strong patriarchal believer that further explains that the miner’s job “involves lifting, driving, and all sorts of other things a woman shouldn’t be doing” (North Country). Right from the start, he made sure the women know that they do not belong in the mining industry. When Josey complains to the supervisor about the misogynistic way her male co-worker Arlo inappropriately touched her friend Sherry, he snaps at her and tells her, “you got no business being here and you damn well know it” (North Country).
Arlen blames the cheap steal market that leaves male miners without a job. Since she is a female that is actually working, she has no right to complain. He blames her for taking a job that does not belong to her in a male-dominated workforce. To further make her understand that this is a patriarchal culture ruled by men, he suggests to her, “work hard, keep your mouth shut and take it like a man” (North Country). After buying her own house and being able to provide for her kids, Josey tells her father that she deserves her paycheck because she works as hard as he does.
However, Hank shuts her down with the words, “now you’re the same as me” (North Country). In his patriarchal world, his daughter will never be equal to the male population no matter how hard she strives to achieve his approval. One sees Sammy’s strong belief in the patriarchal culture as well, when asked if his mom can choose her own job, he firmly asserts, “not when you’re doing someone else’s job” (North Country). Sammy is actually suggesting that his mom took away some man’s job and that her actual place is in the house to cook and clean and not at the steel mine.
Since the women in the mine did not obey the patriarchal system of being homemakers, the sexual harassment they endure comes with the male-dominated steel mine job. Sexual harassment is the “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and offensive comments that cause emotional distress and physical health” which in the male-dominated work environments is used to force women out of the blue collar workforce (Saraswati, 212). A further definition of sexual harassment suggests that it is “about forms of power … the intimidation and humiliation” where the man has not only the ability “to sexually violate” a woman but enforce the “coercive power and control” (Cubagge, 2018).
The following examples of sexual harassment show the control and power male co-workers had over women. On Josey’s first day of work, her supervisor Arlen Pavich makes a perverse joke, “Yeah. The doc says you look darn good under those clothes” (North Country). Even though this is a very personal subject, he makes it clear that in the male-controlled environment, women must be able to accept these kinds of jokes as he further criticizes their poor sense of humor. During their tour of the mine, Josey hears a male miner referring to the women as “cunts,” a vulgar slang word referring to a human’s genitals (North Country).
Misogyny is men’s prejudice against women where men fragment women “into breasts, buttocks, genitals, and other variously desirable parts” (Johnson, 2014). Misogyny is often a component of sexual harassment, and one can see it in the following example of the way Bobby Sharp greeds the women, “So, Arlen, which one of these girls is gonna be my bitch?”(North Country). With this intentional male supremacist question, he demonstrates his misogynistic view “of women as objectified sexual property valued primarily for their usefulness to men” (Johnson, 2014).
Bobby makes many sexual advancements towards Josey because he sees her as an easy target. Josey’s female co-worker Sherri finds herself to be a subject of sexual harassment as well. She finds improper toys in her lunch box and semen on her blouse. One of her male co-workers, Earl, grabs Sherri in a hostile manner and sticks his hand in her upper pocket as he grabs her breast right after he asks her for a smoke. His excuse is he is just checking the cigarettes pack quantity.
Later, Sherri finds herself covered with the contents of the toilet as some male workers overturn the portable toilet with her inside. Unfortunately, all the women of the steel mine were subject to some kind of form of sexual harassment, but not one of them had the strength to do something about it. Realizing that the only way to create a safe working environment for all of the women and to stop sexual harassment, Josey decides to file a sexual harassment class action lawsuit against Pearson Taconite and Steel Company.
The movie North Country illustrates the issues and further summarizes the theories we have been learning in the class lectures of the way women in the past were treated with disdain. Even though I chose to analyze sexual double bind situation, patriarchal system, and sexual harassment I noticed there were many other issues of which I read in the course book. Sexual harassment towards women in the patriarchal male-dominated workforce did not change overnight, however, Josey’s courage to fight for equal treatment and strive for respect was the first push towards equality. I realize from the course material that the push for equality has improved but there is still a long way to go since even nowadays sexual harassment cases are still present.