There are a lot of places women don’t get taken seriously as seriously as men — workplaces, sci-fi conventions, the military, politics — but a new study just proved that our culture’s tendency to think of women as weak and inconsequential actually has a measurable death toll, in a surprising form: hurricanes. Weather researchers noticed that hurricanes with female names usually result in more deaths. When they charted the numbers, they saw how dramatic the difference really is: in the past 50 years, the most damaging female-named hurricanes averaged 45 deaths each, while the most damaging male-named hurricanes averaged 23. That’s nearly double the loss of life. And the results were even more jarring when they compared storms with strong masculine names to storms with strong feminine names. According to the study, “The model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll.”
To put the data to the test, the researchers asked groups of study participants to describe their responses to hurricanes based on the name only. Study participants perceived hurricanes with male names to be more “intense” and indicated that they would be more likely to take shelter from a hurricane named Jason than a hurricane named, say, Sandy. “When under the radar, [sexism] has the potential to influence our judgments,” the study’s co-author explained, citing “implicit sexism” as the reason so many of us are willing to brush off powerful storms with lady names.
The moral of this story? Sexism is dangerous in any form, and take hurricanes seriously. Even if they’re named Missy.