The oil boom has brought thousands of male workers to this part of North Dakota, which creates all sorts of interesting gender dynamics. I’m fascinated by the effects of mono-sex cultures, both male and female-driven, and being a woman in Williston has certainly been an interesting experience. On friend swears the ratio of single men to women is 79 to 1. I’d put it more at 10 to 1, but either way, it’s noticeably off-balance.
The phenomenon of thousands of men working long hours in a remote place, with many making six figures, has led to a growth of prostitution and a busy strip club scene. Once a small town cop, Watford City’s 28-year-old Police Chief Jesse Wellen has led multiple prostitution stings, and it’s not difficult to spot sex workers in the night clubs or by some of the local hotels. Domestic violence has also risen dramatically. “It’s a call we receive a lot,” says Wellen. “If you’re living in a camper, things tend to escalate because of the small environment and you have the whole family living there.”
Amber Kehoe, a 19-year-old who works at a nearby gas station, carries a knife on her hip at all times.
Dating can be a challenge for both genders. Betsy Wilkinson, a local bartender in Williston, refuses to date herself, but hears story after story about what it’s like for her friends. “Nobody is really themselves in Williston,” she says. “They could be the worst person in the world back home or they could be married with five kids. You can be whoever you want to be here.”
She also told me about the growing occurrence of the man camp “walk of shame.” “Girls are like unicorns at a man camp,” she explains. “They get up and of course they’re, like, a hot mess, and it’s five or six in the morning and the dude’s going ‘Hey, you need to get out of here before anybody gets up.’ Well, everybody’s already up and having breakfast and they’re walking out carrying their bra, and as soon as one person sees them, the guys just all do that deer in the headlights.”
Of course, there’s also the pickup lines she hears. One guy offered to buy her a Harley if she went to dinner with him. “Most of the pickup lines are, ‘I’ll buy you anything you want, let’s go.’ I’m like, ‘sorry, I’m not a Williston girl, that does nothing for me, I earn my own money.’ It kind of throws guys off. They panic, because they don’t know what else to offer you. They usually just get deflated and walk away.”