gender bias


Weather Sexism: Female-Named Storms Deadlier, Seen As Less Threatening

Forget the brouhaha over Jill Abramson’s firing and questions about sexism running rampant in America’s newsrooms: here’s some really hard-core sexism that could kill you.

Researchers from the University of Illinois and Arizona State report that female hurricanes have proven to be more deadly than male hurricanes. Why? The researchers theorize that hurricanes with girly names like Alexandra aren’t taken as seriously as male-named storms, like Alexander; so, faced with a female storm, people don’t prepare as fully, or heed evacuation orders as intently.  

As USA Today notes: “The paper claimed that a masculine-named storm would kill about 15 people, but a hurricane of the same strength with a female name would kill about 42.”

Hurricane Katrina, 2005 (News Muse/flickr)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005 (News Muse/flickr)

Here’s more from the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

[Researchers] use more than six decades of death rates from U.S 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.

And in conclusion, the authors write:

…these findings suggest the value of considering a new system for hurricane naming to reduce the influence of biases on hurricane risk assessments and to motivate optimal preparedness. For media practitioners, the pervasive media practice of giving gendered descriptions of hurricanes should prompt a reconsideration of the use of “he” or “she” when communicating about hurricanes. Finally, making members of the general public aware of the impact of gender biases on subjective risk perceptions may improve preparedness in the face of the next Hurricane Fay or Laura. Continue reading

Globe On Gender Bias In The OR: Subtle But Persistent

Don’t miss this important story by the Boston Globe’s Liz Kowalczyk on persistent gender bias (subtle and sometimes not so) in the operating room.

Following news of a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit that earlier this month ended with a massive $7 million settlement against Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and its former chief of surgery, Kowalczyk reports that bias against female surgeons still exists but it tends to be more under-the-radar and potentially insidious. After interviewing 10 female surgeons, she offers some examples:

–A female surgeon pointedly asks why her patient is late being wheeled into the operating room, and is accused by nurses of being too aggressive.

–Surgeons meet weekly at 7 a.m. at one hospital, just when some of their female colleagues are home getting their children dressed and fed.

— And several female neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons said women in these overwhelmingly male specialties often feel they must work longer hours and operate on more patients than their male colleagues to prove they belong.

…Still, female surgeons can experience subtler obstacles, including pressure to behave a certain way and conflicting family responsibilities.

I’ll add two more Boston doctor anecdotes to this list. First, one longtime neurologist recently told me she happened to discover she was earning far less than her male counterparts. Second, a general surgeon I know, who, after taking off several years to care for a young child, returned to the job market. At one interview, she was asked what her husband did for work. When she replied that he’s a manager in the financial sector, the interviewer responded (and I paraphrase here), Oh, well, then you don’t need to work.

Kowalczyk reports that gender bias within the medical arena these days generally doesn’t include sexist comments or a Mad-Men-like milieu. Rather, it tends to involve fewer promotions and recognition, particularly if you’re on the Mommy track: Continue reading