I was shocked to find myself in Minnesota last night, in 1989…and think that I could just as well have been living in the Longdale Mississippi in the early sixties (recall the 1963 murder of three civil rights workers). Well, that’s a stretch, but not much.
I’m referring to the movie "North Country", which I watched in some trepidation, with my wife, and my daughter and her boyfriend. It tells the story of Josey (Lois Jenson) who after ten years of witnessing and enduring both subtle and in-your-face sexual harassment at a Minnesota iron mine, launches America’s first-ever class action lawsuit for sexual harassment.
The film, while based on a real event, is "fictionalized inspiration" and can be charged with being preachy and inflated. But there’s a case here for some Flannery O’Connor wisdom: "To the nearly blind you draw with large startling figures, to the hard of hearing you shout." And this is what the film does with great effect.
It ends with a courtroom victory. Other women, inspired by the courage of Josey (Lois), stand up and join her, giving legal and moral weight to the class action.
But in real life it wouldn’t be until fourteen years later, in 1997, that federal appellate Judge Donald Lay, in reversing a lower court decision, would write concerning Jenson vs. Eveleth (Corp): "The emotional harm, brought about by this record of human indecency, sought to destroy the human psyche as well as the human spirit…. The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable."
Allow me a wee bit of fulminating as I make this connection: Tragically, our own Christian churches have contributed to a Patriarchy where women, once chattel and non-entities, are still defined into "roles". The roots of this kind of Patriarchy, if not continually pulled up, will reestablish and poison again.
As followers of Jesus, we need always to read our culture, our bible, our theology, through the lens of the gospel. In Jesus, there’s not a whisper of misogyny.
Here’s Dorothy Sayers’ wonderful take on Jesus and women:
Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or The ladies, God bless them!; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious.