Last week at the Indy, there were groans as staffers read the website Jezebel's article "My weekend in America's so-called rape capital." It was the product of writer Katie J.M. Baker's recent trip to Missoula, in the wake of the Department of Justice's investigation of the way rapes have been handled here. Baker's intimation that she needed to have a companion waiting for her outside Stockman's bar "with a switchblade" because "it wasn't exactly safe to go there by myself" made us wonder which town she was talking about. No one here does that at bars. Clearly, Baker came with an agenda, coupled with the belief that she was the only feminist to step foot in town, and she ignored the kinds of complexities that could have made her story interesting.
That got us thinking about image and truth, about what we should be defending and what we shouldn't. Missoula shouldn't be protected from its flaws. Rape culture exists here just as it does everywhere. Eighty sexual assaults in three years might be on par with other, similarly sized communities, but it's still 80 sexual assaults. Insecure neanderthals with rufies in their pockets should be checked by everyone. Grizzly football should be a privilege beyond the reach of entitled douchebags who can't show up to class and who don't have the cojones to treat women like human beings.
And yet, to depict Missoula as a place overrun with dumb kids who condone rape is disingenuous and useless. A better story might have asked how a town with such a good reputation, one constantly spotlighted in outdoors and travel magazines, fell so far—and a better story would have asked what we're going to do about it.
Missoula has held "Take Back The Night" rallies for decades. Last month, UM's Women's Resource Center held a "slut walk" to raise awareness of sexual assault. And the same weekend that Baker was embedded at Stockman's, just a couple of blocks away, the Garden City Lady Arm Wrestlers were showing just how funny, strong and spirited Missoula women can be. Missoula should be shown for what it is, warts and all. That also includes acknowledging that many Missoulians have been combating ignorance since long before there was a Jezebel or even an internet.