Last year, the North Dakota division of tourism unveiled an ad as part of a series that it hoped would lure people to the state. “Drinks, dinner, decisions,” the ad copy read. “Arrive a guest. Leave a legend.” Reaction to the ad (which you can see at right) was fast and strongly negative. The image of two men leering out a window at a group of women in short skirts struck many as sexist, tone-deaf, and worse.
It turns out that the ad’s subtext may have been more accurate than we knew. From the Times:
At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison.
“It’s bad, dude,” said Jon Kenworthy, 22, who moved to Williston from Indiana in early December. “I was talking to my buddy here. I told him I was going to import from Indiana because there’s nothing here.”
This has complicated life for women in the region as well.
Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth.
North Dakota is the fastest-growing state in the country. Fracking the Bakken Shale formation for oil has brought thousands and thousands of young men to the state, given them good salaries, crammed them into whatever housing they can find. It has also created a massive imbalance in the number of men to women in some parts of the state — and the men that have arrived are young and bored.
Prosecutors and the police note an increase in crimes against women, including domestic and sexual assaults. “There are people arriving in North Dakota every day from other places around the country who do not respect the people or laws of North Dakota,” said Ariston E. Johnson, the deputy state’s attorney in neighboring McKenzie County, in an e-mail.
Over the past six years, North Dakota has shot from the middle of the pack to become the state with the third-highest ratio of single young men to single young women in the country. In 2011, nearly 58 percent of North Dakota’s unmarried 18-to-34-year-olds were men, according to census data. That disparity was even starker in the three counties where the oil boom is heaviest — there were more than 1.6 young single men for every young single woman.
The Times article includes a graphic showing those states with the highest imbalance of single men to single women. The top five states — Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, and North Dakota — are all among the states with the highest levels of oil and gas exploration.
That imbalance is no excuse for sexism, assaults, or harassment. It is, however, another sign of a region strained by a booming fossil fuel industry — a region that receives very little support from that increasingly rich industry to deal with the problems that are created.
Come to North Dakota, a new, more accurate ad might beckon. Instead of being at a bar, it’s in front of a fracking rig, and instead of two guys, it will show six. And it won’t show three young women, but one — with a nervous expression on her face.
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