Rock You Like a (Lady) Hurricane

by Emily Robinson


Female-named hurricanes have statistically inflicted higher death tolls than male-named hurricanes, and according to one researcher, the reason is clear. 

The research of Kiju Jung at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that sexist stereotypes associated with women’s names are a possible explanation for why female hurricanes have double the average fatalities.

According to Jung, a “Hurricane Alexandra” is seen as “gentle and kind” and, as a result, appropriate hurricane evacuations and/or preparations do not take place; however, if the Hurricane is named Alexander, the average amount of fatalities decreases significantly because a greater number of people are evacuated and/or prepare for the impending storm. 

This discovery is surprising, but it certainly doesn’t shock me. The results of such sexist evaluations do not affect only those who think less of women, as gender-based stereotypes are deeply embedded into the operations of American society. During Hurricane Katrina, I can vividly remember heading to the pool with friends after school let out early due to “possible inclement weather.” As a bunch of prepubescent kids, my friends and I didn’t intentionally dismiss the storm because we thought women were weaker than men, but rather acted in accordance with the social cues we gleaned from our parents, the news stations, and even our schools. These subtle associations with femininity possibly led us, as it apparently has others, to expect nothing from the storm. Tragically, we were wrong. 

Before we start raising our fists and pointing to this new study as proof, there have been a number of faults found in the research as well. The evidence from the study is only enough to NOT rule out a hurricane’s name as a reason for it’s level of destruction. There is nothing that statistically confirms it as the deciding factor.

We should remember that the primary goal of this study is to reduce the number of hurricane fatalities, regardless of whether or not it sparks a sociocultural debate. It should also prompt further research and discussion regarding gendered disrespect. The connection between our society’s ingrained stereotypes and hurricane naming hardly seems like a coincidence at this point in time. Hopefully, once we all understand and accept that a Hurricane Charlotte might be just as deadly as a Hurricane Charles, we will put an end to further gender inequality and ensure that a female-named storm doesn’t put more lives at risk.


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