Dave Molter

Column Dave Molter

Dave Molter is a freelance writer and Golden Quill and Keystone Press Awards winner. He also is a freelance musician in the Pittsburgh area.

Storm warning

June 3, 2014

In 1697, playwright William Congreve penned “The Mourning Bride,” Act III of which closes with this cogent observation:

“Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,

Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

Over the years, we’ve rejiggered the phrase to the more compact “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” But however you state it, and even viewed from a distance of more than 300 years, it’s still good, sound advice. Too bad we ignore it.

A just-released study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” shows that hurricanes bearing a feminine name are not taken as seriously by the public as those bearing a masculine name. As a result, the study says, people tend to view “female” hurricanes as less threatening and thus fail to take appropriate precautions.

Researchers found that of the 47 most damaging hurricanes between 1950 and 2012, “female” hurricanes caused an average of 45 deaths, while “male” storms caused just 23. This can be attributed, researchers concluded, to the fact that people just don’t view “female” storms with respect.

To further test the theory that a storm’s gender influences perception of its potential threat, researchers also designed experiments that asked participants how they would view a storm when given its name and also how they would react to it. Participants in one experiment predicted that a “male” hurricane would be more powerful than a “female” hurricane. And in another experiment, respondents viewed making preparations for a “female” hurricane with less urgency.

“People imagining a ‘female’ hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter,” said Dr. Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing and co-author of the report. “In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave. The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women – they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”

That’s good and bad news for women. We view women as warmer and less aggressive, but still don’t respect them. This is particularly telling now, hard on the heels of the mass murder of women in Isla Vista, Calif., by an admitted misogynist, and when tales of the rape, mutilation and murder of women worldwide seem an everyday occurrence.

The National Hurricane Center first named hurricanes in 1950, using the military system of Able, Baker, Charlie, etc., rather than call them “the current big storm out in the ocean.” In 1953, the NHC began using English female names for hurricanes, and names remained exclusively female until 1979. That year, the NHC began using alternating English, French and Spanish male and female names for storms, a nod to female meteorologists who thought the exclusively female naming convention sexist.

It’s uncertain whether the NHC will abandon the practice of using human names to identify hurricanes or simply start to name less-powerful storms after nonthreatening objects – Cotton Candy or Fluffy, for example. Conversely, threatening storms might bear truly frightening names – Godzilla; Donny and Marie. The important thing is to treat each new storm – despite its name – with the respect it deserves.

However, it’s just possible that no matter how threatening the name – would more people in New Orleans have run screaming from Hurricane Lucifer in 2005? – or how dire the warnings, we still will be content to ignore the plain truth of what’s happening around us.

Like the way we treat women.



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