Monday, June 09, 2014

Getting Hit By a Girl Can Hurt More Than You Might Think

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield was famous for his signature line, “I don’t get no respect!” His entire professional image was built on his reputation as the downtrodden and disrespected fellow that nobody ever took seriously (“My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I wanted a second opinion. He said okay, you're ugly too.”). But Rodney Dangerfield isn’t the only one who doesn’t get less respect than he deserves.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hurricanes with female names get less respect than hurricanes with male names. Here’s what the abstract of the study says:

“… We use more than six decades of death rates from US hurricanes to show that feminine-named hurricanes cause significantly more deaths than do masculine-named hurricanes. Laboratory experiments indicate that this is because hurricane names lead to gender-based expectations about severity and this, in turn, guides respondents’ preparedness to take protective action.”

In short, because we tend to associate feminine names with nurturing and gentleness and masculine names with strength and power, people are less likely to take seriously the danger posed by a storm with a feminine name. The study suggested that that changing the name of a hurricane from male to female could nearly triple its death toll.

Hurricanes were first given names in 1950, and the names they were given were exclusively feminine*. In 1979, partly because of pressure from women’s advocacy groups, the World Meteorological Organization began to alternate between male and female names for storms. It might be interesting to know whether there was a measurable difference in death rates among storms when only feminine names were used (for instance, whether hurricanes with more unusual or harsher-sounding feminine names - like Griselda or Beulah - were reacted to differently than those with softer-sounding names - like Mary or Donna), although I’m not sure how that might be measured now.

One suggestion for fixing the problem of under-respected storms has been to use the names of famous villains or monsters instead of men and women, the theory being that a hurricane named Godzilla, Voldemort, or Limbaugh would engender more fear and, thus, better preparation than a hurricane named Charity, Daisy, or Taylor Swift**.

No matter what we call them, though, devastating winds will continue to wreak havoc on defenseless populations. Such winds are particularly likely when Congress is in session, during election years, and when the GOP senses a juicy new potential scandal with which to bedevil the administration.

There's never any shortage of hot air and wind in DC, climate change or no.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Leading to the old children’s joke that asked “Why are hurricanes always named after women? Because otherwise they’d be himicanes!”

** Hurricane Gaga would be another matter entirely.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Hurricane Katrina was the worst! I don't buy the idea that feminine names make people less cautious. This is likely simply one of those chance relationships that sometimes occur when statistical approaches are used.

Evacuate or not evacuate? In fact, people are put In a conflict area. Evacuating metropolitan areas is not easy, with horrendous traffic jams. And there's the worry about looting, pets, etc.

My family did it both ways for different hurricanes.

Duckbutt said...

With time, they will run out of common names, and have to use names such as Beulah or Harley.

Hurricane Taylor is a possibility, provided it's an active hurricane season.

Big Sky Heidi said...

Give all hurricanes scary boys' names, like Spike!

Mike said...

I remember the Himicane joke!

Grand Crapaud said...

The Weather Channel has gone on its own and now names winter storms.

No names for tornadoes, though....

Kate said...

Love the idea of Hurricane Limbaugh.. or Hurricane Palin! Might be able to do some national housecleaning with name like those! Go ahead.. stay home.. I'll be back when it's over. Kate