What Hurricane Names Can Teach Us About Sexism

Charley or Chelsea. Tom or Tina. Would you think that changing the masculine or feminine sounds of a hurricane would have an impact on our preparedness for them?

Sadly, the answer appears to be yes. From a study out of the University of Illinois and Arizona State University:

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning 1950 and 2012. Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities…model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll.

hurricane

It certainly appears that sexism flying under the radar is having deadly results. Researchers didn’t stop there, though, setting up another experiment to test.

To test the hypothesis the gender of the storm names impacts people’s judgments about a storm, the researchers set up 6 experiments presenting a series of questions to between 100 to 346 people. The sexism showed up again.
Respondents predicted male hurricanes to be more intense than female hurricanes in one exercise. In another exercise, the hurricane sex affected how respondents said they would prepare for a hurricane.

If this sexism that is baked into our culture is having deadly impacts in hurricane preparedness, it is not hard to imagine that these judgements creep into our lives in other areas as well.

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