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Review: ‘Missoula’ an important read that puts spotlight on rape culture

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Missoula LOGO use correctToday we roll out the first of what should be five reviews from literary-minded women about the recently-published book “Missoula” by Jon Krakauer.

So, why are we doing this series?

Firstly, when it comes to rape, it’s a real problem that women understand more intimately than their male counterparts, more often than not.

Another big reason for this series is because many of the reviews I’ve seen from media outlets around the state, and even nationally, for that matter, have mostly come from men.

So, without further ado here is our first review of “Missoula,” written by Bryce Weinert.

Weinert is a writer currently living in New York City, but a part of her will always belong to Montana.

Her plays have been performed in Montana, California and New York. Her recent work, “KING RA: LIGHTS OUT,” was a finalist in the Manhattan Repertory Theater’s 2015 Winter Competition. Currently between respectable dramatic productions, she’s engaging in pure silliness in a weekly Youtube webseries.

Review by Bryce Weinert, April 25

Jon Krakauer’s latest piece of investigative journalism tackles the crisis in Missoula, Montana, the so-called “Rape Capital” of the U.S.

That moniker, first given to the Garden City in a story on the website Jezebel, came after journalists and then the Department of Justice started investigating a series of sexual assault complaints made against players on the University of Montana’s football team in 2010-2012.

As a Montanan-turned-New-Yorker, I’m often asked to be the Voice of Montana for friends and colleagues.

Bryce Weinert
Bryce Weinert

This is delightful when I’m describing why the state is called “Big Sky Country,” or explaining what the “mutton busting” event at the rodeo is or even when explaining how common gun ownership is.

It’s not so delightful when I’m trying to convince a room full of friends that “no, the whole state isn’t made of rapists and rape apologists.”

When I think of my home state, the things that come to mind are the beautiful landscapes, shockingly cheap drink prices and the genuinely kind people that live there. In a way, I dreaded the inevitability of having to read this book. I worried that my love of my home state would compete with my militant feminism.

That I would want to say to myself “That’s not true! It’s not like that in MY state!” when I know very well that it all could be. I’ve also had a mixed history with Krakauer in the past, finding difficulty appreciating both Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven. “Maybe,” I thought, “This won’t be a good book.”

Though written in a readable, narrative style, this book isn’t a novel. There aren’t any real heroes or villains, nor is there a climax followed by a satisfying ending that wraps up each dangling plot point. There definitely isn’t a Hollywood ending, where the plucky small town prosecutor delivers a rousing speech that sways the jury to his side and causes the beautiful victim to regain her sense of worth and faith in the judicial system. Definitely not that.

This is a meticulously researched expose of a small town that faced a daunting rape problem. The problem was not just that men were raping women, or rather, that wasn’t the only problem.

Police weren’t investigating victims’ complaints; the prosecutor’s office was failing to take cases – even cases with video evidence or suspect confessions – to trial; the town was turning against victims simply because of football fever; the university was protecting, perhaps intentionally or perhaps just tacitly, star athletes from the consequences of their misdeeds.

Most depressing for me was reading interview after interview where townsfolk were so certain that the women in these stories were making up their accusations to seek attention, as if the public attention victims receive is not generally negative and hateful. When feminists talk about rape culture, this is what they mean.

But this isn’t a problem that exists only in Montana.

In fact, it feels depressingly familiar, as reports of similar scenarios come in from all over the United States, in the smallest towns and the biggest cities.

The only thing that made this book feel different from a hundred other articles I’ve read in newspapers, online and in journals over the years was that I recognized street names and the players involved in the local politics.

This isn’t a problem divided completely by gender lines either, with women joining together to protect The Sisterhood and men cast as evil, slavering villains.

Many male police officers, lawyers and friends of victims were shown to be supportive, trustworthy and militant in their pursuit of truth and justice.

One woman, Kirsten Pabst, a Missoula County prosecutor-turned-defense-lawyer, strikes me as almost diabolical in her rejection of women’s claims that they’ve been raped.

That her personal rejection was codified into that way the law was interpreted in Missoula was particularly troubling. Ignorance and misguided judgement aren’t in anyway to what set of chromosomes a person has.

Missoula 1What do I wish people would take away from this book?
That the problem is real. That women are being sexually assaulted in absurdly high numbers. That our justice system – our society – fails those women by not believing their stories, by not vigorously pursuing their attackers in the court of law, by blaming them for their own victimization. That false rape accusations happen at such a low rate that there isn’t any good reason not to initially believe a woman’s claims.

I feel that we, as a society, are at a tipping point.

Where so many people are coming together to share women’s stories, to reject the rape culture that’s been central to our society for so long. Jon Krakauer’s book… The DoJ investigation on the failure of universities to address their rape problem… The videos documenting the prevalence of cat-calling on public streets… The insistence that women be allowed a space in niche (and male dominated) spaces.

The negative pushback against these voices and movements also is loud and strong, but I hope that they’re the desperate cry of a disappearing way of being.

So I request, not humbly but insistently and stridently, that you join the right side of this issue. That you learn and investigate and believe and speak out and speak up when necessary.

As this is a book review, as well as a personal screed, I suppose I should get around to answering the question “Is this a good book?”

Yes. It’s readable and interesting and well-researched and informative. But more importantly than being a good book, this is an important book. Read it.

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