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Hurricanes with “Female” Names are Taken Less Seriously, Cause More Fatalities

"An evacuation warning? She's probably just hysterical!"


Gender bias has countless serious implications, but here’s one that I never predicted: a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows severe storms with “feminine” names are taken less seriously and consequently cause three times the number of casualties than comparable “masculine” storms. To be fair, though, we haven’t had a Hurricane Daenerys yet.

The research was conducted through several stages of studies and examined the death toll of severe storms from 1950 through 2012, excluding Hurricanes Katrina and Audrey. A little bit of meteorological misogyny as context: from 1953-1979 hurricanes were given exclusively female names because, in the words of the study, “meteorologists of a different era considered (women’s names) appropriate due to such characteristics of hurricanes as unpredictability.” It’s a bummer that ye olde weather dudes went with “unpredictability” as the defining characteristic of hurricanes rather than “sheer strength” and “awesome power,” but I digress (curse my womanly brain!).

Researchers asked participants that were unaware of the study’s hypothesis to determine whether a storm’s name was more inherently feminine or masculine. Severe storms with names considered “relatively feminine” caused three times more deaths than storms of similar strength with names that participants deemed “relatively masculine”…indicating that people might be more willing to take their chances against a Sandy than an Ivan.

To determine whether gender bias was in fact the variable impacting perception of a storm’s threat, the researchers also asked participants to rate the name’s popularity or likability, but the only characteristic that consistently appeared to impact participant’s perception of a hurricane’s threat level was its gender.

As a follow-up, research subjects were asked outright if they felt the gender assigned to a hurricane impacted their perception of its risk. Participants were split, with an equal amount of men and women admitting that they were more likely to take precautions for a boyicane than a girlicane.

The study states,

Feminine-named hurricanes (vs. masculine-named hurricanes) cause significantly more deaths, apparently because they lead to lower perceived risk and consequently less preparedness. Using names such as Eloise or Charlie for referencing hurricanes has been thought by meteorologists to enhance the clarity and recall of storm information. We show that this practice also taps into well-developed and widely held gender stereotypes.

While society tackles the fucked-up realization that even hurricanes have glass ceilings, I propose a new naming system. No one’s gonna be having a roof party during Hurrican Blood Face I or any of her successors. But hey, what do I know? This dame’s brassiere’s on so tight, it’s cutting off circulation to her brain!

(via Discover and The Verge, image via X-Men)

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