The West is a Feminine Region

The West is a Feminine Region

Review: How the West was won — and lost — by women: A new history revises the record.

The West is, for better or worse, a masculine region, at least at heart. So when its men are called upon to do some of the most complex and difficult tasks of war, of leadership, of diplomacy, of planning, its men seem to relish the challenge more than their female counterparts. The women of the West are sometimes viewed as a bunch of oversexed, pampered prima donnas, but the truth is, quite the contrary. In America, the feminine ideal seems closer to the ideal of the man — more than man, more than man.

I came by this insight quite by accident. In the late 1980s I was hired as a columnist to write a column for the National Public Radio affiliate in Fort Collins, Colorado, and as I was preparing a draft of the column, I was trying to figure out what would constitute a West story. I came to realize that the West was a complex, fascinating place with a rich variety of stories to tell, and I was fascinated by how different the cultures of the West could be.

But it wasn’t until I spent a day in Montana, where many aspects of the West — from the mining days of western Montana to Billings to Glacier National Park — were well-known to me, and where I was able to meet many of the people who had made the story, that I really came to understand the West.

I was staying with a professor of journalism who was teaching my daughter, then 8 years old, in Montana, and my daughter’s interest was piqued by the fact that she was learning all about people and places in the West. So we took her to the National Cowboy Museum in Billings, where there was a museum devoted exclusively to Montana cattlemen — not only the famous Bighorn herd of the late 1800s and a whole array of interesting figures of that time like Billings cowboys like Bob Fitzsimmons, who lived in the house that is now preserved as the John Fitzsimmons House Museum in Bill

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