She plied her trade.
This is how the local media described her attributes.
Who is this frivolous female?
"She" is a hurricane—a terrifying and destructive phenomenon
Over the last 40 years, over 1500 lives have been lost in this country
alone. In 1928, nearly 2,000 were killed in the "San Felipe" hurricane
that struck Florida. Property damage over the years has run into the
billions of dollars.
In view of the tragic consequences of hurricanes, it seems extremely
irresponsible to trivialize their potential for destruction by giving them
"girls' " names. The logical outgrowth of this practice is to endow them
with so-called feminine characteristics—whimsical, fanciful and
A striking analogy to this situation is the plight of female flight
attendants. As long as they objected to being portrayed as "empty-
headed, whorish sexpots" on the grounds that it was demeaning to
them as women, they got nowhere. Remember "Fly me...I'm Anita,
Babe, Clara, etc."? Results only came when they started making the
point that such a portrayal poses a threat to the safety of the passengers, who must obey a flight attendant's instructions immediately
So it is with hurricanes. It is a dangerous practice to embellish the
threat of impending disaster with "humorous" remarks on the vagaries
of the female sex. It confuses the issue. How can a hurricane be taken
seriously when "she flirts and teases"?
This media mixing of the news with entertainment has been called
"news theater" by Robert Brustein, dean of the Yale School of Drama.
He points out that it is an unhealthy kind of theater because it robs
real events of their significance.
Witness the Son of Sam saga, as relayed to us by network T.V. By
the time of his capture, it was the hottest property on the home
screen. Terry Ann Knopf (Knight-Ridder Newspapers) in a brilliant
series on news theater and Son of Sam, says, "A continuing police
drama had made the evening news." Knopf expands on her theme: "It
is news when Patty Hearst is kidnapped. But the manner of the
kidnapping is theatrical, as the kidnappers plan every step to gain
maximum media attention, even selecting a bank for robbery that has
an automatic camera to record the event. It is news when a group of
Hanafi Muslims seizes 149 hostages in three buildings in Washington,
but it is theater when they insist on airing their demands through a
local television anchorman."
Everyone is playing the ratings game, and it becomes increasingly
difficult to separate reality from fantasy. The media must accept
responsibility for blurring the distinction between the two. In sensationalizing murders and kidnappings, it exploits the tragedies that
real people suffer. In trivializing the dangers of hurricanes, it sacrifices accuracy for cuteness. The end result is an affront to our sensibilities.
Whatever name changes will be made in the future, for the time
being we are stuck with Clara, Dorothy, and Evelyn. The least the
media can do for the safety of us all is to resist the impulse to capitalize on this unfortunate fact.
•^Houston- .« ******* 1»
Vol II, no. 8
STAFF - THIS ISSUE
Ailene English, Nancy Landau, Jane Little,
Pat Bohan, Tucker Bradley, Jan Adrienne Hirst,
Kiki Neumann, Jim Nelson, Mark Stinson,
Frances Belikoff, Juannita Lalor, Lana Lalor
Sam A. J. Akers, Deborah Diamond Hicks,
Esther Horton, Jeannine Klein, Cheryl Knott,
Molly Rein burg, Mary Jane White
Janice Blue, Lana Lalor, Mary Jane White
Janice Blue, Janis Fowles, Marilyn Jones,
Nancy Landau, Beth Parker
Janice Blue, Gabrielle Cosgriff, Niami Hanson,
Cheryl Knott, Lana Lalor, Ernie Shawver
Debbi DuBose, Deborah Diamond Hicks,
Neil Barrett, Ruth Barrett
Gabrielle Cosgriff, Cheryl Knott
Deborah Diamond Hicks, Lana Lalor, Niami
Hanson, Jeannine Klein, Molly Reinburg,
Janice Blue, Gabrielle Cosgriff, Gertrude BarnStone
Houston Breakthrough is published monthly (with the exception of the July-
August and December-January issues) by the Breakthrough Publishing Company,
1708 Rosewood, Houston, TX 77004. P.O. Box 88072, Houston, TX 77004. Tel.
713/526-6686. Subscriptions $5 per year, newstand 50? per copy. This publication
is on file at the International Women's History Archive in the Special Collections
Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60201.
PAGE 2 SEPTEMBER 1977 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH
letters to breakthrough
This being hurricane season, I'd
like to share some correspondence
about a personal campaign that I
hope your readers will find timely
My first letter was written to
Dr. Juanita Kreps, Secretary of
J am writing to request that the
present National Weather Service
method of identifying hurricanes
by means of an alphabetical sequence of women's names be replaced by a more objective system
using neutral nomemclature.
It is my understanding that a
major objective of hurricane identification is to encourage serious
public awareness of hurricane
danger and to secure the cooperation of the public in carrying out
appropriate safety measures in the
event of a hurricane.
The present identification
mode, with its frivolous emphasis
on personification, is more conducive to colorful writing than to
informative reporting. Radio and
hurricane television bulletins offer
the same misleading and distracting image, all tending to incite an
unrealistic emotional response.
Hurricane preparedness is not
effectively promoted by anthropomorphic fantasies representing
an immensely powerful atmospheric force as a "tempestuous
The confusion of purpose fostered by personfication of hurricanes is exemplified in the opening statement of the principal
speaker at the Gulf Coast Hurricane Awareness Conference in
Clear Lake City, Texas in July,
1975. Said Mr. Joe Moseley of the
Texas Coastal and Marine Council:
"Its no surprise that hurricanes
are named after women, because
they are so vicious. "
No rationale of tradition or
personal preference can offset
the total negative impact of the
present method of hurricane identification. I therefore recommend
that a new 10-year list of neutral
terms, retaining the useful
mnemonic of alphabetic sequence,
be developed and put to use, and
that the old list be retired.
This change could be effected,
I believe, without inconvenience
to anyone except, possibly, a few
diehard misogynists who like ex-
posing their aberrations in p
or a few hack reporters who can Y
start a story without a cliche in
the opening sentence.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
This letter was answered by
Wilmot N. Hess, the Acting Associate Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) as
The routine practice of using
feminine names for hurricanes
goes back to World War II when
military personnel began to name
typhoons in the western Pacific
for their wives and sweethearts.
The National Weather Service first
adopted this technique in 1953.
The practice of using feminine
names has proven to be especially
useful from the communications
standpoint, since it eases the problem of tracking simultaneously
occurring multiple hurricane e-
vents. Mail received at our National Hurricane Center runs a-
bout 4 to I in favor of the method, generally with requests to add
a particular woman's name to our
With regard to changing the
system, an Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference is held at the
National Hurricane Center in
Miami, Florida, in January of each
year. The major participants are
from the Department of Commerce, Defence, and Transportation. The purpose of the conference is to review the previous hurricane seasons activities, to analyze any operational problems,
and to adopt changes in procedures and techniques that improve
our capability to save lives, reduce
human suffering, preserve property and reduce economic losses.
The subject of hurricane names
is taken up at this conference
whenever necessary. The approved
list of names is published 10 years
in advance and repeated when a
cycle is completed.
The National Hurricane Operations Plan for Calendar Year 1977
has been completed. It is not po-
sible for the Department of
Commerce to recommend changes
in hurricane names for the forthcoming 1977 hurricane season because of the internal United States
and international coordination
necessary. We are taking a
look at the problem and I can assure you we will attempt to have
an alternative method of naming
hurricanes ready for the 1978 season.
Thank you for sharing
with your readership.
-PATRICIA M. BUTLER
Editor's note: Patricia Butler, a
Baytown resident, has been concerned about the hurricane naming system for many years and has
been one of the most persistent
voices in this country calling for a
total "name change". At press
time, she received a letter from i
Meg Power, a legislative assistant
to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-
Mass) saying that the Senator had
just learned that the hurricane
naming system will become a "bisexual" one in 1979. While this is
less desirable than getting away
from human nomenclature (both
sexes will now bear a share of the
calamities), "it is somewhat of a
victory," Power wrote Butler, adding "Let us know your reaction,
as the Senator is grateful to you
for having raised questions to this
issue in the first place."
(See Pats, Pans & Dead Pans, this
"That's right ma'm. . .
There's a 30 per cent chance
that we'll stop naming
hurricanes after women."