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Hurricanes and Feminism

mbackus's picture

Last night while I was waiting out the most intense part of Hurricane Sandy (thus far) with my fellow dormmates our discussions led us down many paths, but inevitably towards the hurricane. And even more specifically to the question of, "why does it seem like the most destructive hurricanes have female names?" The friendly discussion turned to anger and could be summed up in one of Bryn Mawr's favorite sayings, "Death to the Patriarchy!" So I had the intention today of starting my post as a rant that would take a similar route of the discussion I had last night, that is, talking about the seemingly sexist nature of the hurricane naming system. However, I was proved wrong. Upon further investigation and according to ( the most destructive US hurricanes seem to be fairly evenly named. The list cited hurricanes Ike, Floyd, Hugo, Charley, Ivan and Andrew as the most destructive hurricanes with masculine names and hurricanes Opal, Jeanne, Frances, Camille, Besty, Agnes, Rita, Katrina, and Wilma. According to this list, 6 out of the 15 most destructive hurricanes have masculine names, or 40%. Feminine named hurricanes make up the other 60%. While these numbers are skewed towards the feminine named hurricanes it still does not show the huge gap that I was anticipating. Add Sandy to that list and the ratio is more like 37.5% male and 62.5% female, which widens the gap, but by much. So, it doesn't appear that extremely destructive feminine named hurricanes are that much more common than masculine named ones. That's what the numbers tell us, but why then were my friends and I all of the same opinion that the numbers seemed far more disproportional? What could be the reason that feminine named hurricanes seem so much more common? Are they really more destructive? Do they hit more densely populated areas? Or are my friends and I just overly sensitive to it all? Thoughts?



Anne Dalke's picture

i thought

you all might be interested in how the students in my other eco-class are thinking about naming--"we are trying to comfort ourselves by turning the storms into something campy, familiar, and non-threatening…Giving something a gendered name to familiarize us with something we don't understand and to potentially decrease the feeling of a threat" (see Hurricane Thoughts and attached comments)

Susan Anderson's picture

I looked it up, and

I looked it up, and apparently there is a naming system where the number of male and female names given to hurricanes are even.  I saw that, even though there is a proportionally even naming system, a lot of the names are very androgynous.  I think the naming system speaks to how American society is trying to make up for the times when things were unequal for the genders by making them equal now.  The old system in the Caribbean was to name storms based on which Saint's Day it came on, and most of the saints are male.  So, I think we are making some good steps towards the rehabilitation of women under the patriarchy.

Sarah Cunningham's picture

the power of mother nature

I think maybe its matriarchal thinking, not patriarchal! Hurricanes are wonderful projections of MOTHER nature's uncontrollable power, and so we subliminally think of them as female. It's in awe, not in condemnation, that we feminize them. Any takers?