#11: The Patriarchy and its Hurricanes

Our 11th prompt comes from Guchu. She asks:

How do you speculate patriarchy contributed to hurricanes traditionally being given female names?



I love this question. I remember asking my mother why hurricanes were given the names they were in 1998. She had no clue, and back then we didn’t have Google, so we both just had to let that one go.

I remained curious about this, and when I was in uni, on some idle day, I researched this topic. In 1950, a formal storm naming system was developed for the Atlantic Ocean by the US National Hurricane Center. Before that, they used latitude and longitude numbers to designate them, but this was mostly useful for meteorologists and confusing for everyone else. The names followed an alphabetical order, but they still were confusing since they were used repetitively. So you’d have to say Hurricane Able of 1950, Hurricane Able of 1951 and so on.

In 1953, this system was revised, and storms were now to be given female names. In the 1970s, a growing number of women became meteorologists, and persisted in pointing out the sexism in this practice. In 1979, they were successful in getting the naming system changed, and now, storms receive both male and female names.

I posit there are many reasons people thought it was okay to give storms exclusively female names. One, sailors have for a long time thought of the sea as female. Nature in general is thought of as feminine (Mother Nature) because of the life giving aspect, which can be compared to a mother’s incubating and birthing of a baby. We expect nature to nurture us, protect us, nourish us, and so on. These are traits that are associated with women in the patriarchy, hence the feminization.

Sailors were also fond of projecting their thoughts on women to the sea. It is not unusual to read books that describe the sea as such (I made this up): She was beautiful; mysterious. Quiet, but harbouring great potential for havoc. I wanted to conquer her.

Sailing provided opportunities for conquest, which is why ships were also named after women. According to the patriarchy, women also exist to be conquered by men. Think of it as Adam putting his “rib” back (shudder).

There’s also the fact that “irrational anger” is associated with women by patriarchal men (and women), and in the 1950s meteorology was chock full of men. In Kikuyu, strong winds that leave destruction in their wake are called Ngoma cia Aka – the spirits/demons of women. Men, according to the patriarchy, are perfectly logical beings, while women cannot be understood. They are irrational – when they are angry, they cause destruction. Along comes a hurricane, doing the same things men think women do. The men have a light bulb moment – hurricanes are obviously female.

I laughed when I read that some men in the 1970s thought that male named storms would not be taken seriously. Apparently, they lacked the romance and urgency that female named storms had. I never thought the word romance could be used to describe a storm. I hope these men were alive in 2014, when it was found that female named storms cause more damage and claim more casualties because people just don’t take them as seriously. The lesson in all this, I believe, is that women simply can’t win under the patriarchy.


This post is part of a daily writing experiment that I’m running for a year. I’d love it if you took part! 🙂

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