North Country

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, November 10, 2005


For years after the Anita Hill Brouhaha of 1991, the American news media obsessed over her sexually harassed sistren. Remember how shocked the press was when it discovered that Navy fighter jocks celebrating the Desert Storm victory at their 1991 "Tailhook" (get it?) convention in a Las Vegas hotel did not behave like officers and gentlemen?

The press declared 1992 the Year of the Woman and Bill and Hillary Clinton rode feminist outrage into the White House … which posed a sticky problem. Gov. Clinton had made uncounted sexual advances toward his state employees and the laws of probability suggested that at least a few of them were "unwanted" and thus legally liable. In December 1992, I wrote an article (which nobody would publish) forecasting, "Some enterprising reporter is going to think it worth his while to go Pulitzer hunting among the secretarial pools and law offices of Little Rock," and the revelations could threaten the Clinton Presidency.

Indeed, David Brock's investigative reporting led to Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit (which Clinton eventually settled for $850,000), in which Clinton perjured himself over Monica Lewinsky, causing his impeachment.

You might assume that the sexual harassment issue died of hypocrisy in 1998 when feminists stood by the wounded Clinton, but the left's long march through the institutions is immune to shame. The media is perhaps the key institution, because, as Orwell noted in 1984, "'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"

So, now we have "North Country," a thoroughly fictionalized retelling of the landmark Jenson v. Eveleth sexual harassment case. Charlize Theron, the 2003 Best Actress winner for "Monster," stars as a gorgeous miner who learns that the men who labor in the open pits of the Mesabi Iron Range are crude. Ultimately, she wins a "hostile environment" lawsuit against the mine.

Unlike in "Monster," where Charlize famously had her lovely complexion artificially weathered, here she looks like what she is, a former model posing amidst vast heaps of rubble. (Charlize recently attributed her beauty to thinking nice thoughts, burbling to Oprah, "I really believe that we look physically the way we do because of the emotional impact that we've made on our bodies during our life." Well, sure …)

Still, Charlize's face is bland, distinguishable from all the gaunt blondes in Hollywood only by a layer of adorable baby fat.

Her "North Country" heroine is equally dull. Feminist victimism has rendered actresses' roles more two-dimensional -- notice how few femme fatale characters there are anymore? -- denying them any less-than-saintly motivations while insisting, stupidly, that they compete with men on physical strength.

Still, "North Country" works fairly well until the cliché-addled courtroom climax. The supporting cast (Sean Bean, Sissy Spacek as the Iron Miner's Mother, and Richard Jenkins as Charlize's long-suffering miner father) is strong. As Charlize's best friend, the always-terrific Frances McDormand dusts off the Northern Plains accent that won her an Oscar as the pregnant sheriff in "Fargo," but McDormand's mastery just highlights how vague Charlize's attempted accent is.

Strikingly, even an agitprop film like "North Country" is more informative about sexual harassment cases than most journalism was. Screenwriters need dramatic conflict, so "North Country" explores the clashing interests of women, while the press coverage mostly bought into the fiction of female solidarity against men. Perhaps the best scene comes when the homemaker wife of Charlize's abusive boss screams at her to keep her hands off her husband at work.

Moreover, reporters took their storylines straight from the plaintiff attorney's press releases and thus ignored -- because contingency fee lawyers focus upon the deeper-pocketed defendants -- that the union is often more culpable than the corporation.

In contrast, "North Country" makes clear that the union members were more upset than the mine's owner by women entering the workforce. Well-paid industrial unions disliked admitting women members because doubling the potential supply of labor made high wages harder to sustain. Moreover, management finds it easier to browbeat women into believing they don't deserve a raise, and their presence undermines the fraternal solidarity needed for successful strikes.

It's no coincidence that industrial unions have become moribund during the feminist era when the government forced heavy industry to hire women. With only 7.9 percent of private sector workers unionized today, this latest denigration of organized labor seems like overkill.

Rated R for much vulgar abuse.


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