Tuesday, December 13, 2005

No Place for a Woman

Last Sunday I happened to catch a radio documentary about the women who worked in the Eveleth Mines in the 1970s. Until then it had been a male only profession (they didn't even start hiring women since 1975), and, like many male only professions, relatively high paid work for working class people. I only caught the end of the documentary, but discovered that both the documentary and the transcript are online - it's certainly worth reading.

[The women] testified in court that buildings at the mine were full of raunchy pictures of women and filthy graffiti about the female workers. Women were groped and grabbed and punched. Men exposed themselves. They threatened women with rape. They called women at home to make obscene suggestions or threaten to hurt them. Some of the women feared for their lives; they barricaded themselves into their work areas so men couldn’t get at them. When they crossed onto company property, some women carried mace in their lunch pails or knives in their boots.
The women fought back, and when their union couldn't or wouldn't help them, they took a court case, which got filed years, 13 years after women started working in the mines, 1988. It's nice to think about this sort of thing as part of history, a time long ago and a place long forgot, but it wasn't.

In 1991 a judge thought it relevant to a sexual harrassment lawsuit to put the women involved on trial, one woman was asked:
If I’d ever had venereal disease. If I’d ever had an abortion. I mean just getting personal. Did you ever have intercourse with anyone on the job? Who did you have intercourse with? How many times? It was like, no. When they started subpoenaing women’s personal records, they found out things they shouldn’t have. That was bad. That was wrong. That was evil.
Anyway go listen to the whole documentary, or read the transcript, it's really good, and it's not just history.

Apparently Nicki Caro has made a mediocre movie about this called North Country. It might be worth a look when it comes out.

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