Fighting Back: Workplace Sexual Harassment and the Case of North Country

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McDonald, Paula
Backstrom, Sandra
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National Institute of Labour Studies
Sexual harassment in the workplace has been documented as a widespread and damaging phenomenon. Less well examined, however, are the tactics used by perpetrators to inhibit outrage about the harassment or the counter-strategies which can be used by women to oppose these tactics. This study, using the framework of backfire theory (Scott and Martin 2006), explores how a victim opposed sexual harassment in the film North Country (2005). In the course of her employment, the main character in the film, Josie Aimes, and her female co-workers, were subjected to systematic and brutal sexual harassment ranging from name-calling to physical sexual assault. Consistent with backfire theory, the analysis revealed five specific strategies used by the perpetrators to inhibit outrage: cover-up, devaluation, reinterpretation, intimidation and use of official channels, as well as anti-harassment strategies that attempted to make these tactics backfire. The findings have implications for educating and empowering women to actively stand up to and oppose sexual harassment in the workplace.
McDonald, P., Backstrom, S. 2008. Fighting Back: Workplace Sexual Harassment and the Case of North Country. Australian Bulletin of Labour, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 47-63.