WILLISTON, N.D. – I now have four pieces of equipment I require for work: a notebook, pen, camera and my wedding ring.
As a female reporter in male-dominated oil country, I never leave the house without my ring. And it’s served me well in my 11 months here.
I worried before applying for this job about how women are treated in Williston and how that would affect me.
The scariest thing I’ve encountered is more people calling me ma’am.
But I know my experience would be different if I were single or frequented the bar scene. And I’d worry about my safety a lot more if I lived in an RV or somewhere less secure than my apartment building.
A recent New York Times story highlighted the lack of single women in North Dakota’s Oil Patch and how some are being hounded by men or worse.
I don’t doubt that those stories are true, but I’ve never had such an experience. For the most part, I find that men here go out of their way to be polite to me.
Once while touring a drilling rig, I climbed up on a bench to take a photo. I asked for help getting down and at least three guys’ hands shot out, eager to help.
“Don’t feed the roughnecks,” one joked.
I slipped and fell while taking photos of a storm in November, and a man rushed over to help me by brushing snow off my butt. (OK, that was a little too eager, but I think he meant well.)
One man the New York Times interviewed said workers know immediately if a female comes to the work site.
This definitely rang true for me. You can almost feel the eyes on you sometimes if you’re at a crew camp or visiting a well site.
It’s also true sometimes if you’re at a restaurant or going shopping.
If I go to Walmart with my husband, no customers will talk to me. If I go alone, one guy will help me pick out the best pomegranate and three more will chat with me in line. (It’s a long line.)
But I’ve never had anyone follow me, as I’ve heard other women report, and I’ve never had anyone make me feel uncomfortable.
When I interview men, I’ll get an occasional compliment, or if I tour a man’s RV/crew camp/trailer/semi cab, he may joke about how rare it is to have a woman in his bedroom. One truck driver I met said to me that it was nice just talking to a woman for a change. But the comments have never crossed the line to be inappropriate.
I learned early on that guys in Williston can discreetly spot my wedding ring in what seems like seconds.
I thought I was being paranoid, but then my suspicion was confirmed. I accidentally forgot to wear my ring on my first visit to a man camp. A month later, I visited again and the security guard immediately recognized me and asked if I’d just gotten married. We had only spoken briefly.
I don’t go to the bars often enough to know if this is a fool-proof strategy, but for any ladies looking to avoid unwanted attention in the Oil Patch: put a ring on it, even if it’s fake.