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The movie begins with Josie Aimes (Charlize Theron) being questioned in court by a female attorney. The questions are pertaining to her past. Thus, we see several scenes of the things that happened to her before she started working at the mine.
The first scene is of Josie on the kitchen floor, lying down helplessly. She gets up slowly and her bloody and black-eyed face is revealed. We then see her taking her daughter, Karen in her arms and going to the car. Her teenaged son, Sam follows her and is complaining. Josie wants to run away from her abusive husband. Sam comments that "This will only piss him (the husband) off." Josie yells at Sam to get in the car. She says she can't take any more of his beatings.
Josie arrives at her parents house. Her mother, Alice receives her warmly. Josie's dad, Hank however, is not as warm. He goes down the stairs to greet her, takes a look at her battered face and asks her if she cheated on her husband to receive such a bad beating. She tells him "I can't believe you're asking me this."
Josie's family (her kids and her parents) all go to church. After the service there is a pot-luck for the church members. People look at Josie with disapproving expressions and whisper to each other. Two ladies in the kitchen who are supposedly friends with Josie's mother discuss how Josie humiliated her family by having a child out of wedlock at the age of 16.
There is a flashback of Josie at the age of 16 with her friend Bobby. They are attracted to each other. They are shown skipping class and going out to the field to kiss and making out. A teacher catches them and punishes them with a whole day spent in detention.
Cut back to the pot-luck at church. Alice enters the kitchen with a plate of rice crispy squares and overhears the ladies badmouthing her daughter. She doesn't respond and just makes a comment about the rice crispy squares and how they are being consumed so quickly. The ladies look embarrassed. They make a nice comment about Alice's rice crispy squares just to suck up to her.
Josie meets Glory at the church. (It's not clear whether they knew each other from before.) They go out for drinks and play darts at a bar. Glory offers Josie an opportunity to work at the mine where Glory works at. Josie is hesitant. Glory tells her she would be making the same amount of money as her dad. Two men notice Josie playing darts and one of them try to smooth-talk the ladies. Glory gives them attitude and they leave. Josie tells Glory to lighten up. Glory tells her she needs to learn how to be tough if she wants to work at the mine.
At home during dinner, Josie tells her parents and the kids of her plans to work at the mine. Her dad disapproves and asks if she's trying to be a lesbian. Karen (Josie's daughter) comments "I want to be a lesbian." The tension on the table is broken by this comment. Josie continues to reason that she needs to learn how to provide for her family on her own.
While she is driving with her kids Josie fills out the application form. She takes it to the head office at the mine.
Josie then goes through a medical exam to assure her employers that she is not pregnant before she is hired.
At her first day of work at the mine, Josie is late for a meeting which is taking place in the ladies' locker room. When the meeting finishes, the manager makes a joke about what he heard from the doctor who physically examined Josie. The manager tells Josie that the doctor was really impressed with how she looked underneath her clothes. Josie is embarrassed and uncomfortable. A young, attractive young girl named Sherry starts laughing and says that the manager seemed like a homo. All the ladies laugh.
When they get out to the work area Josie recognizes Bobby Sharp and gets flashbacks of moments they spent together when they were 16.
The next scene is of Glory out in the work field. Glory is a part of the union and she has a superior position at the mine. She is tough with the guys and it is evident that they do not try to disrespect her.
At a union meeting Glory tells the other superiors that the ladies need a porta-potty out in the field because one of her girls got a bladder infection since she was prevented by her male superiors from using the bathroom.
Lunch time rolls around. Glory instructs Josie to check her lunch box first before taking it to the lunch room. Josie opens it and finds a sandwich and a drink--the stuff she originally put in there. Glory tells her she's lucky today, it could have been something else.
At the lunch table Sherry opens her lunch box and finds a dildo. All the men start laughing. Josie takes the dildo and makes a joke about it. She says "Well, it won't fart in bed or leave the toilet seat up. You might as well marry it." All the women at the table have a hearty laugh. The men around weren't impressed with the women's amusement. The ladies continue to socialize and Josie meets Big Betty and Peg.
Josie and her kids move out of her parents house and move into Glory and Kyle's home for a while so that they can have some time to establish themselves. In the basement Kyle shows Sam a watch that is really old and is worth a lot of money. Sam doesn't seem to be interested in the watch. He asks to Kyle if he can watch his TV instead.
Josie takes the kids out to an average looking diner and has a talk with them about her plans for their life. She said that from now on she'll be taking them to more nice restaurants like this one. Sam playfully makes fun of Josie in the middle of her heart-felt speech to the kids. The family laugh together and they are happy. After their meal Josie meets Mr. Pearson, the owner of the mine, since he was also eating in the same restaurant. He tells her that if she ever needs anything she can always come to him. Josie feels assured by this.
Employees of the mine go out to a bar. There is drinking and dancing. Josie is on the dance floor with Sherry, along with Big Betty and Peg. Glory and her husband Kyle are at the bar with Kyle's friend Bill White (Woody Harrelson.) A drunken and rude miner approaches them at the bar and pokes fun at Kyle since he is a stay-at-home husband and Glory is the one who makes the money in the marriage. Bill tells the guy to back off. Rude words are exchanged and Bill ends up hitting the rude guy and he falls to the floor.
Later on Sherry tries to pick up Bill. He declines and says she's probably too young for him. Sherry is persistent and says "You're not a homo, are you?" Bill is unyielding and continues to decline Sherry's offer to dance. Offended by this rejection Sherry gets up and says "You really are a homo." She walks away.
While Glory and Kyle are at the dance floor they notice Bill sitting at the bar all by himself. Glory motions for bill to come on over and ask Josie to dance. Bill shakes his head. Glory continues to motion to him to go ask Josie. Finally, Bill gets up and goes over to Josie, but he's too late because Ricky (another mine employee) has already stepped in front of him and asked Josie to dance. Bill sadly walks back to the bar area. While Josie is dancing with Ricky she drunkenly tells him that he seems like a nice guy. She asks him if he's different from the other guys.
At work, Josie continues to get a lot of attention from the men because she is attractive. But it is a negative kind of attention and they verbally harass her on numerous occasions.
On one occasion, Josie is alone hosing off one of the machines and Bobby Sharp comes up to her and starts talking to her in a manner that makes her uncomfortable. Josie just walks away.
Josie's sacrifices at work seem to be worth it for her family. They are seen looking at a new house, hoping to buy it. Josie and her kids examine the house and then she tells the agent that she'd like to take it if he would let her put down a 5% down instead of 10. The agent accepts.
Next we see Josie present Sam with a gift. It is a set of hockey equipment. She also surprises Karen with a trampoline in the backyard. All three of them try out the trampoline and they seem so happy as a family.
At work, Sherry and Josie are cleaning tar off the walls with hoses. There is graffiti on the wall of a stick figure giving a blow job to another stick figure. Sherry's name is also written on the wall with an arrow pointing to the obscene picture. Josie hoses it down.
One of the guys starts talking trash to both of them and Sherry banters back. Then he asks Sherry for some cigarettes. Sherry takes off her glove to reach for the cigarettes in her breast pocket but the guy says not to worry, he'll go get the cigarettes himself. He slides his hand in Sherry's breast pocket and feels her up for quite a long while. Sherry feels helpless and does not retaliate.
Josie goes to complain about this to the manager. The manager tells her that if she doesn't like the harsh reality of what goes on in the mine, then perhaps she should quit. Josie leaves the manager's office dissatisfied.
Later, the ladies enter their locker room to find the walls covered in obscenities which are written with feces. The ladies are angry at Josie for causing this by tattle-taling to the manager. Big Betty hands Josie the mop and tells Josie that it's her mess and that she should clean it up.
Out in the field Big Betty is operating a machine. She asks one of the men to help her with something. They just laugh at her from outside her booth. Then we see that they wrote graffiti all over the outside of her booth saying "Blow-Jobs for $5" etc.
Later, Bobby comes up to Josie and asks her to check out a machine which is located at an upper level of the factory. She goes up to the factory scared because she has never done this before and she does not really know what she is doing. When she reaches the top which looks out to the mine field Bobby shows up behind her. They have small talk and then he makes sexual advances at her. Josie rejects him and pushes him away then leaves.
Next scene is of Josie with Karen, Glory and Kyle at Sam's hockey game. Josie's parents, Alice and Hank show up but sit in another area. Later, Bill shows up and looks around for them. Josie notices him and asks Glory why she invited Bill. Bill sees the group and sits with them. Bill White and Josie get acquainted. They go to the lobby to buy chilli. When they get back to the bleachers, a woman comes up to Josie and asks her if she is Josie Aimes. Josie says "Yes." The woman then starts yelling at her, telling her to stay away from her husband Bobby Sharp. Josie is shocked and confused. Bobby must have told this to his wife to spread rumors about Josie since Josie rejected him. Then the wife tells Josie to stop throwing herself to all the other men who work at the mine because they're already married. The woman calls Josie a whore and walks away.
Josie is embarrassed and is shaken because everybody heard what the woman said. Sam, who was on the rink, stopped in the middle of his game and also heard what the woman said. After the hockey game a teenaged girl comes up to Josie and says "Mrs. Aimes I'm Sam's girlfriend." Josie is shocked to learn that Sam even has a girlfriend. The girlfriend tells Josie that Sam doesn't want to go home tonight and he'll be staying at her house instead. Josie does not approve of this and she storms outside and finds the girlfriend's parents car and starts screaming at Sam causing a big scene. Everyone stops to stare at them and Josie starts screaming at all the bystanders. She then opens the door of the car that Sam is sitting in and starts yanking Sam out of the vehicle. Glory yells at Josie to stop and Josie lashes out at her too, telling her "You're gonna tell me how to be a parent now, Glory? With all your personal experience?" Glory is hurt but ignores the comment. She and Kyle just walk away.
At work, the women experience more trouble as Josie receives more sexually harassing comments. Later, Sherry goes to use to porta-potty. Inside, she carefully places toilet paper on the seat, being concerned about cleanliness. Outside, the guys disturb her by rocking the porta-potty. Sherry hysterically screams for them to stop, but they keep on rocking it and end up tipping the porta-potty over. The men open the door and laugh at Sherry who is covered in feces and is crying. She crawls out of the tipped porta-potty and tries to stand up, still crying. Ricky, who is a nice guy, helps her up and holds her. He lets Sherry cry into his arms but he cannot do anything to the other guys.
Josie makes an arrangement to have a meeting with Mr. Pearson, the owner of Pearson mines. When she gets there they receive her warmly and let her sit down on the table with them. Josie is thankful and she takes out some crumpled sheets of paper from her purse. She says she wrote everything down to make sure she doesn't forget to bring up any issues. Mr. Pearson cuts her off. He speaks in a nice tone but he tells her that he understands that she wants to resign from the mine. Josie is confused and looks at the manager who must have misinformed Mr. Pearson about her intentions. Mr. Pearson continues talking and tells Josie that they normally require 2 weeks notice for an employee to resign, but they will make an exception for her and allow her to resign immediately. Josie cuts him off and clarifies that she doesn't want to resign, she just wants to talk about some problems that the women are experiencing at the mine. Mr. Pearson basically says this is how things run at the mine and he doesn't want to change it. He adds that if she wants to keep working at Pearson Mines then she would just have to be tough about it and stop stirring up trouble.
The next day at work Bobby is angry at Josie for her attempt to tattle to Mr. Pearson. Bobby attacks and roughly feels her up. Josie cannot fight back because he is much stronger than her and she is pinned down underneath him. When he gets up to leave she just cries. Josie goes to the lunch room and confronts Bobby about the attack in front of Ricky. Ricky is concerned and sternly asks Bobby if this is true. Bobby denies it and another guy covers up for him saying that Bobby was with him the whole time and that Josie is just a lying whore. Ricky can't really do much so he just takes a sip of his soda can. Josie walks away. Towards the exit, the manager approaches her to ask where she's going. She tells the manager that she quits.
At Josie's parents' home her father is disappointed in her again. Her mother tells him to lighten up, that Josie is still his daughter. Hank says that Josie has embarrassed this family enough. Alice defends Josie saying that "She had a baby, she didn't rob a bank."
Josie goes to the skating rink where Bill White is shooting pucks all by himself. When Bill sees her, she motions for him to come over. She tells him that she wants to sue the mine and that she needs a lawyer. He tells her good luck finding one. They talk more about Josie's problems and Bill is hesitant but he tells her that their best shot is to get a class-action lawsuit in which a group of 3 or more people stand together to sue the corporation.
At Josie's house she's holding a small get-together for all the ladies who work at the mine. There are Sherry, Big Betty, Peg and another lady. Sherry is also there to sell some of her beauty products. Sherry lets Big Betty try on some cream. Big Betty likes it and asks for the price. Then Big Betty says she refuses to pay a lot of money for a silly little face cream. Josie is concerned that Glory still hasn't shown up to her gathering. She phones Glory's house and Kyle answers the phone. He tells Josie that Glory is not coming because she's sick. Josie is persistent in wanting to speak to Glory. Kyle tells her she can't he hangs up.
At Glory's house we see that she is not well. She is pouring herself drink from a bottle and she can barely grip the bottle. Kyle, frustrated, helps her pour the bottle and sets it down on the table and walks away. Glory is even more frustrated for being helpless and she slaps her cup off the table causing it to spill on the floor and break. Kyle stops in his tracks but does not turn around.
Cut back to Josie's house on the same day. The girls tell Josie that they are not interested in joining her in her lawsuit because they don't want anymore trouble, they just want to earn their money and mind their own business.
Later, at Josie's parent's house Alice, is upset with Hank for being so hard on Josie so she leaves the house to be away from him and checks into a motel.
At a Pearson Mine Employee's meeting Bobby is at the podium talking trash about Josie and telling everyone that she is trying to shut down the mine. This gets all the men riled up. Josie enters the large room and stays at the back listening to what Bobby is saying. When he is finished talking the emcee asks if there is anyone else who would like to speak. Josie walks to the front of the room and says that she would like a turn. As she is walking all the men are "booing" her.
Josie takes the mic. She tells everyone that she does not want to shut down the mine. She just wants to go to work like everyone else and be respected. The men at the audience keep shouting obscenities at her, interrupting her speech. The men are making noise and telling her to get out. Then the emcee tells Josie that the 3 minute rule is over and he starts grabbing the mic from her hand. Josie yanks the mic back and says there is no 3 minute rule. The noise in the room gets louder as the men want Josie to step down and get out. Suddenly Hank stands up from among the audience and walks to the front of the room telling everyone to please be quiet because Josie has a right to speak. Hank tells the men that "Rules are rules. If you want to speak you can come up here and take the mic, but right now she's got the mic and she has a right to be heard." This quiets the men down for a bit and Josie continues to speak. The men listen to her for a short while but they get riled up again. Hank asks Josie to give him the mic. Josie refuses. Hank pleads for Josie to just give him the mic and Josie finally gives in. As Josie is about to walk away Hank tells her to just stay there by his side. Hank takes the mic and addresses the audience. He says that he considers these men his "brothers" and people who he can trust and depend on. He mentions that when there are employee barbecues and family parties the men bring their wives and daughters. These wives and daughters are respected by the other men and are not called "bitches" or "whores." Hank reminds them that Josie is still his daughter, so why are they disrespecting his family? Hank says he feels he has no friends right now. He adds that he is ashamed of everyone in the room, and the only person he's not ashamed of is Josie. Josie is touched by what her father said.
When Hank gets home he finds the note from Alice and he goes to the motel to get her back.
In the courtroom Josie's high school teacher is brought in to sit in the audience. A series of questions are asked from Josie about the identity of Sam's father.
We see flashbacks of what happened that day when 16 year olds Josie and Bobby went to detention after getting caught by the teacher. When their detention time is over Bobby leaves and offers Josie if she needs a ride home. Josie says it's ok. Bobby leaves the room before her. As Josie is about to exit, the teacher stops her and starts talking to her in a manner that made her uncomfortable. He also starts touching her. When she tells him to stop, he gets more forceful and eventually ends up raping her.
Bobby, who is now at the witness stand, keeps denying that it was a rape that occurred.
Josie's father lashes out and rushes at the teacher, grabbing him by the collar. Two bailiffs grab Hank and lead him outside.
Billy White keeps pressuring Bobby to tell the truth. Bobby finally says "What was I supposed to do?" Everyone in the room is shocked that he confirmed the rape charges.
Meanwhile at work, more harassment occurs. Sherry goes into her locker and finds her sweater with semen on it. She starts crying and throws the sweater on the floor. She also finds her jar of expensive face cream tampered with and there is also semen in there.
Sam runs away from home for a while. Josie goes over to Glory and Kyle's house to check up on Glory since she hasn't been to work. Josie learns that Glory is really sick with Lupus. Glory tells them she hasn't seen Sam but hopefully he will show up sometime soon. As Josie leaves she looks back and sees Kyle and Glory being affectionate and realizes how much they really do love each other.
The next day Glory struggles to go to work with a walker, just so she can join the union meeting. The guys tell her she doesn't have to be there, but they are very respectful to her. One man offers to help Glory walk out, but she refuses and tells him if he treats her like a helpless person she is going to cry.
At Glory and Kyle's home, Kyle finds Sam in their basement checking out the old watch. Kyle tells Sam he'd rather give him money than have Sam take the watch. But Sam is not interested in taking the watch. He just wants to talk. He tells Kyle that he is angry at Josie because she lied to him about his dad. Josie told Sam that his dad died in the war, but really he is just a rapist.
Kyle tells Sam that he should be grateful to Josie that she kept him, that Josie could have given him away but instead decided to care for him.
Sam goes back home and finds Josie sitting on the backyard porch crying. She tells him that at first she didn't want to keep him, but then each day she grew in her belly and she felt attached to him. She said that she really wanted to be his mom. The mother and son hug and they resolve things.
Mr. Pearson's lawyer, who is a woman, advises him to go for a settlement because he wouldn't want other people to stand up and join Josie's lawsuit. Pearson refuses and wants to continue with this in court.
Pearson's lawyer approaches Glory at the hospital to talk to her about the case. Kyle angrily tells her to leave. Bill White also goes to the hospital and catches Pearson's lawyer in Glory's room. They have a short banter and Kyle throws both of them out of Glory's room.
Back in court, a helpless Glory who is sitting on a wheelchair starts tapping hysterically. Kyle stands up on Glory's behalf and says there is something she needs to say. Kyle reads the note from Glory saying that "I'm not dead yet, and I stand with Josie."
Bill White is happy about this and looks around to see if anyone else would be brave enough to stand with Josie also. Sherry is sitting with Peg and Big Betty. She is a little shaky, but eventually she stands up very slowly. Bill is smiling now. Josie is in disbelief. Suddenly, Josie's father Hank stands up also, along with Alice, her mother. Other men who work at the mine stand up slowly. Ricky stands up as well. Finally Big Betty and Peg stand up along with more people until there are about 20 people standing up in the court room joining Josie with her class-action lawsuit.
At the skating rink, Josie thanks Bill for winning their case. Bill tells Josie that Sam told him their family is rich now. They exchange a few words and Josie leaves. In the car Sam asks Josie if she will buy her a car. Josie tells him "Not just yet." In the middle of the road Josie stops the car and Sam asks what is going on. Jose tells Sam he needs driving lessons before he gets his car. Sam is thrilled and they switch seats.
Josie and Sam drive off on the empty road.
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