Stop calling Sandy a bitch

I have finally escaped the wilds of northern California and am now back in New York, where I thankfully have electricity but no internet. Good thoughts are with Feministe readers and loved ones who may be less lucky. I did manage to squat at a friend’s house to write my Guardian column, which is about what it means that we anthropomorphize a hurricane into a slutty, bitchy woman:

Sandy was a real bitch.

She was a whore who screwed cities across the eastern seaboard. She can blow real good, but we’re glad she’s gone. She’s sorting the men from the boys. She’s the most important woman in the swing states.

Hurricane Sandy was awful. It has left dozens of people dead and many more homeless. But it was an it – a hurricane. Not an unpleasant woman, and not a “she”. Anthropomorphizing the storm can be a fun rhetorical trick, and I’m hesitant to be the crabby feminist who lectures everyone on word choice. But talking about storms like they’re angry or promiscuous women is not benign. It’s a symptom of a misogynist culture.

Roundups of tasteless and sexist Sandy commentary have been curated elsewhere, so I won’t belabor the point that discussions of the hurricane, especially on social media, rely heavily on calling the storm a bitch or a whore. The inevitable “Hurricane Sandy is a bitch” Facebook groups have popped up. #SandyBitch was a popular storm hashtag. Bad jokes abounded about Sandy blowing the East Coast. And a whole lot of the tweets and Facebook posts were weirdly violent – Sandy is a slut, and so users “will cut the shit out of a bitch”, “beat that bitch”, “stab a bitch” and “hope you fuckin die you dirty bitch fuck u twice.”

Putting aside what I assume is our collective moment of terror upon realizing that these missives were typed by grown adults who, in just a few days, will be choosing the next president of the United States, what does it say about our culture when we image a natural disaster as a woman and then fantasize about beating her?

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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91 Responses to Stop calling Sandy a bitch

  1. PrettyAmiable says:

    The best part of having limited access to power was missing out on this issue.

  2. bekabot says:

    My question would be: if we have to anthropomorphize Sandy, why should we gender Sandy as feminine? “Sandy” is an ambiguous name. Why not gender Sandy as male? As in: Sandy’s a violent dude, having a girly name has not calmed him down one bit: look at how he smashes things up when he gets pissed. Why don’t we hear more of that? Why do we get jokes about blow jobs instead? Who decided the one alternative was a bigger draw than the other?

    (Although I think that providing storm systems with human handles and personalities is pretty silly either way.)

    • Jadey says:

      My question would be: if we have to anthropomorphize Sandy, why should we gender Sandy as feminine? “Sandy” is an ambiguous name. Why not gender Sandy as male? As in: Sandy’s a violent dude, having a girly name has not calmed him down one bit: look at how he smashes things up when he gets pissed. Why don’t we hear more of that? Why do we get jokes about blow jobs instead?

      Sexism.

      Who decided the one alternative was a bigger draw than the other?

      Misogynists.

      • John says:

        “Sandy” is an abbreviation of the man’s name Alexander in Scotland.

        You are your own worst enemies sometimes.

        • And the second you can find me an article, quote or anything that anthropomorphosises Sandy as male I will give you a cookie. A nice one, with little doodles of dicks in icing.

          Now STFU.

        • Past my expiration date says:

          Oh, did the hurricane hit Scotland, too?

        • GaryW says:

          1. The previous hurricane of the season was Raphael, and the next will be Tony, because the NOAA switches off the “gender” of the hurricanes, one can only assume that they mean Sandy as a female name.

          2. The preceding point has nothing to do with the language people have chosen to use to describe the hurricane’s destructiveness.

          3. So I want to be clear, is your argument that “People are assuming that Sandy is male (because it’s a male name in Scotland) and therefore when they call it a ‘bitch’ or a ‘slut’ it isn’t offensive to women! Those terms aren’t implying that to-be-a-bitch i.e. woman-with-power, especially while male, is a bad thing”

          That’s your argument? Not a great argument.

        • Jadey says:

          Right, and in Scotland, are men named Sandy commonly referred to as “she” and “her” as well? Because that is the language used in the comments being cited and discussed.

        • Jadey says:

          I mean, COME ON.

          She was a whore who screwed cities across the eastern seaboard. She can blow real good, but we’re glad she’s gone. She’s sorting the men from the boys. She’s the most important woman in the swing states.

        • John says:

          Pastmyex and Macavity
          The article is in the Guardian, a British newspaper. So fair comment from me. If Jill wanted to whinge to a US audience she should have left it here.
          Sandy is a male character in some of John Buchan’s novels.

        • Jadey says:

          No one is arguing that “Sandy” is a male name in some circumstances. We are just pointing out that it takes a pretty fundamental lack of reading comprehension to confuse a comment about how Sandy is a “bitchy woman” referred to as “she” and “her” with a reference to a man.

          Again, unless there is a very specific cultural practice in Scotland which I am unaware of.

        • PrettyAmiable says:

          Is your argument, “I’m British, therefore my opinion that completely ignores all facts is relevant because The Guardian is based in the UK”?

          You literally ignored everything relevant about this article to say, “Oh, sometimes Sandy is a men’s name.” In this case, it hasn’t been used this way even once. Why could this possibly matter? Self-righteous tool.

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          And in the article, you see the word she.

          What does SHE mean in Scotland, John?

          I’ll wait.

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Oh and in America, John is where I take a shit.

          Coincidence? Maybe not.

        • PrettyAmiable says:

          pheeno – hahahahaha.

        • OMFG John you fucking nitwit, how is saying that THIS Sandy is gendered female saying that “Sandy” can’t ever be a male?

          For someone who claims English for a first language, you seem bloody incapable of parsing declarative sentences. Are you in grade school yet?

        • mxe354 says:

          Worst argument of the week. Seriously, that’s fucking awful.

        • Jill says:

          The article is in the Guardian, a British newspaper. So fair comment from me. If Jill wanted to whinge to a US audience she should have left it here.

          Actually, the Guardian is a British newspaper with an Americas section and regular coverage of American politics and political issues. My column is about American politics and political issues.

        • Fat Steve says:

          Actually, the Guardian is a British newspaper with an Americas section and regular coverage of American politics and political issues. My column is about American politics and political issues.

          Plus, the article is on the specifically American section of the website (right down to a .com suffix rather than a .co.uk,) so when I pull up the Guardian website in the UK I wont see the American CIF articles in the summary.

    • matlun says:

      It is explicitly a feminine name in this context.
      Hurricane naming is done by using an alphabetical list of names with alternating genders.

      In 2012, Sandy comes between Rafael and Tony.

    • GaryW says:

      Jadey is 100% correct about why people are treating Sandy like a “female” hurricane, i.e misogyny and sexism

      I’d be interested to see the tweets, facebook updates et al. for a more explicitly male-named hurricane. The last destructive one I remember being read as male was Andrew, but obviously there’s no social media from 1992.

      • J says:

        Mitch was extremely destructive to many islands in the Atlantic. Ivan in 2004 hit the Alabama coast and did a great deal of damage. Both were catagory 5 storms.

        All I can remember from Ivan was “Ivan the terrible” comments and “little meanie” because of it’s size. I do not remember gendered comments like the above about Sandy.

      • Donna L says:

        The last destructive one I remember being read as male was Andrew, but obviously there’s no social media from 1992.

        But obviously that’s because male hurricanes are nicer in general, and not so emotional and destructive. Women!

      • Computer Soldier Porygon says:

        Hurricane Ike? But I’m looking on Twitter and it’s mostly sour grapes over Sandy getting more coverage than Ike did

      • Anon21 says:

        It does seem like all the really destructive ones lately have had female names… Katrina, Rita, Irene, Sandy. Odd coincidence.

        • J says:

          I have a comment stuck in moderation, and I wont post again if this one also get modded, but there was Hurrican Ivan in 2004 that was a cat 5 and caused a great deal of damage to the Alabama coast and nearby states.

          There were plenty of Ivan the Terrible comments going around, but that’s all that I can really remember. Immediately after I had no power for about 2-3 weeks so I can’t say what the internet landscape sounded like. If I has to guess, it was hardly gendered bs like the above.

        • Anon21 says:

          Yeah, you’re right. I forgot about Ivan. (Probably would have been harder to forget it if I’d been in the storm’s path.) Coincidence dispelled.

    • PrettyAmiable says:

      Storm names alternate between traditionally female names and traditionally male names. The last tropical storm system was named Rafael (the next is Tony). There’s a greater deconstruction we could do that addresses difference between sex and gender, and what it means that we have the dichotomy anyway, but I’m not splitting hairs over why people decided Sandy was a “woman.”

  3. Jadey says:

    Aaaand it looks like the Guardian comments are following the tried n’ true tactic of, “Read the headline, skip the article, write long indignant and rambling comment about how the issue isn’t worth writing about” with bonus “THIS IS EVERYTHING WRONG WITH FEMINISM I WOULDN’T BE A MISOGYNIST IF I DIDN’T HATE WOMEN SO MUCH” every other comment or so.

    Oh, plus a smattering of, “Why aren’t you writing about everything else that I deem more important?!”

    • SamBarge says:

      This always confuses me. There are a lot of things in the world that other people seem to find fascinating and worthy of discussion that I don’t give a flying fuck through a rolling doughnut about. A. Lot. But I don’t read articles (or even headlines) about them and then comment about how it’s not important because I’m not interested.

    • mxe354 says:

      You have just summarized why I feel like stabbing my eyes after reading the comments on Guardian articles. Seriously, they’re almost worst than Youtube comments.

  4. John says:

    Seriously dreadul article. They are still pulling bodies put of the water in Staten island, others have had their lives wrecked and you write this long whinge? Oh, poor old you.
    Honestly, the Guardian commentariat are appalled for good reason. Women and men.

    • Didn't Mean to Intrude says:

      From even before the storm had fully begun, there have been memes all over the internet making jokes associating the storm with cartoons and video games like Pokemon, or My Little Pony. They’re all over the place.

      But no, no, it’s the audacity to consider the storm from a feminist perspective that’s offensive, and deserves all our attention and ire. Yup, yup.

    • igglanova says:

      Nothing about this ‘long whinge’ takes anything away from the suffering of those affected by Sandy. Jill has not made light of the situation by tracking language use as it pertains to the hurricane. It’s always worthwhile to monitor cultural trends. Entire disciplines exist for this purpose.

      Unless you think some factual information is too offensive to discuss?

      • Jadey says:

        Somehow the repellent verbal abuse and slander endured by prominent women by virtue of their gall to be publicly female, which is what the BULK of Jill’s article actually covers, is an issue not worth mentioning or considering.

        • Jadey says:

          And, of course, it is not only prominent women who ensure such abuse. Women are also targeted for daring to be poor while female, sexually-active while female, employed while female, outside of the house while female, in a bar while female, let’s not forget!, and so on. And the point is that there is an endemic culture of such derogatory language and the violent acts it normalizes and encourages.

          But, right, people (presumably men-people, from John’s interest in them) are dead, and somehow that invalidates everything a feminist might say about violence against women. Better luck tomorrow – maybe then this will finally be important to talk about then. Maybe after some more women-people die.

    • PrettyAmiable says:

      Well, I would like to thank you personally for this epic service you have rendered victims of Hurricane Sandy. The elderly folks living in my building who have nowhere to go and no power to read you complain on the internet about this one article definitely appreciate your whining (ironic!) more than they would, say, you making the effort to deliver clean water and food.

      Kudos for your efforts. If only I had thought of pitching in in such an effective manner.

      • librarygoose says:

        I know, right? John’s helpful comments have magically removed the flood water from my house.

        • PrettyAmiable says:

          What’s hilarious is that my building apparently has had power restored in the last hour. Thank you, Whining John.

        • (LG), (PA), I hope you and those close to you are safe and well.

        • PrettyAmiable says:

          There are people much more worthy of your sympathy than me, mac, but appreciate the thought so, so much. I’m very well, as are most people I know. Others did NOT fare as well as I did, and I am deeply grateful for all I’ve been blessed to have.

          LG, what’s the deal with the flooding? I saw that the city was pumping some of the buildings/sub stations downtown, but I assume you’re stuck with whatever flood insurance will cover and have to do it on your own? (Which I hope, hope, hope you have!)

        • librarygoose says:

          Thanks Mac, but as PA said I’m so much better off than many others.
          I’m in northern Delaware, so luckily we went relatively unscathed. I never even lost power. The flooding isn’t as bad as it has been. The only reason we got any water was the fact that we flood if someone empties their pool.

        • I’m glad you guys are relatively okay! I’ve got a whole bunch of people in similar levels of trouble from my blog circle, and Donna from here was saying she was having issues…I hope she’s all right too…

    • Chingona says:

      John actually has a halfway decent point cloaked in all that whinging male resentment: CiF is not kind to women and is especially hostile to feminists, which is why such posts are so heavily moderated. It’s been a long while since the Grauniad folk have been even remotely left-wing. I suspect they commission a few feminist pieces now and again to rile up the resident anti-feminist commentariat (and fellow editors).

    • EG says:

      Jill actually lives in NYC, so don’t go lecturing her about the awfulness of it all.

      And unless by “whinge” you mean “feminist analysis of pop culture,” you are mistaken as to what this article is. I’m sad for you that think that analysis is incompatible with sympathy with those who have lost people they love, as it makes you a rather shallow person, but that’s not Jill’s responsibility.

    • JJ says:

      Y’know, the “They are still pulling bodies put of the water in Staten island, others have had their lives wrecked” outrage argument would work a LOT better if you followed it with “and people are making jokes comparing this natural disaster to a -blowjob-?!”

  5. Heather says:

    Sandy isn’t even gender neutral name. When I think of the name ‘Sandy’ I think of a female bodied person or SpongeBob’s squirrel friend. But the name doesn’t sanction calling the storm a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore’ or a ‘bitch’ sexism. Jeez, same shit different storm.

  6. Heather says:

    “Sandy” is an abbreviation of the man’s name Alexander in Scotland.

    You are your own worst enemies sometimes.

    How does anyone know this?
    ‘Alex’ or ‘Xander’ is an abbreviation of Alexander.

    • Odin says:

      Er, I know that “Sandy” is sometimes an abbreviation of Alexander by reading books (eg, The Westing Game) where such nicknames occur. Not that it in any way undermines Jill’s point.

      To make my comment more useful, here is a link to a humanist group that is collecting donations for both a US and a Carribean-based hurricaine relief/aid group:
      http://foundationbeyondbelief.org/crisis

    • DouglasG says:

      Sandy Lyle won the Masters in, if memory serves, 1987.

      The first trio of female Sandys that springs to my mind keeps confusing people – Denny/Dennis/Duncan.

      It would be interesting to see a list of the most evenly split names at various times. I recall the brief period of time when Jamie was on the bubble, though momentum was clearly on the brink of pulling it over to the female side, at least in the US.

      • DouglasG says:

        No, sorry, I think it was 1988, right before Nick Faldo won two years running.

        It’s because I keep mixing up the year of Hurricane Gloria, which I think was before they started alternating names.

      • Past my expiration date says:

        According to the Social Security Popular Baby Names site (I love that site), the name Sandy last ranked in the top 1,000 baby names for boys born in the US in 1981 and peaked in popularity at #444 in 1954. For girls, the name Sandy last ranked in the top 1,000 baby names for girls born in the US in 2005 and peaked in popularity at #126 in 1960.

        Of course this doesn’t include either the Sandys who are Sandras or the Sandys who are Alexanders, or Sanfords, or whatever.

        All of this being, again, neither here nor there.

    • thinksnake says:

      For the record, my father (full name Alexander) has been going by Sandy since he was about 5. So I’m much more used to thinking of Sandy as a ‘male’ name than female. But that’s completely by-the-by of the article itself.

  7. Felicity says:

    What struck me about the comments over at the Guardian was how people focused in on why Hurricane Sandy has a woman’s name, not the actual point, ‘why does something having a woman’s name mean we have to have sexualized jokes and sexualized violent ideations about it?’ Great way to completely (and very deliberately) miss Jill’s point.

  8. Schmorgluck says:

    There’s one I read that made me chuckle:

    Now we just need Bill Clinton to stand on the edge of the eastern coast with his trousers around his ankles going “Hey Sandy, Blow this!”

    But I perceived it more as a joke about Bill Clinton than a sexist joke. I see how it can be problematic, but it still makes me chuckle.

    • Amelia the lurker says:

      I think it only works as a Clinton joke if he says, “Blow this…don’t worry, it doesn’t count as sexual intercourse!” or something.

  9. Schmorgluck says:

    By the way, since I’m a sucker for silly puns, here’s my proposition for an answer to people who call Sandy a bitch:

    English lesson:
    Don’t say “Sandy is a bitch.”
    Say “The beach is sandy.”

  10. Emma says:

    I remember hearing these same jokes with Hurricane Katrina (lived in New Orleans at the time). But I don’t remember hearing people personalize Hurricane Ike (lived in Houston at the time). Interesting.

  11. PeggyLuWho says:

    Jill, I’m glad you’re okay. A little bit offended that you referred to San Francisco as the wilds. Just a little bit.

    Lots of love to the folks of the northeast.

    • Jill says:

      Jill, I’m glad you’re okay. A little bit offended that you referred to San Francisco as the wilds. Just a little bit.

      Ha. I was also in Napa and Sonoma, so just trying to be inclusive :-)

  12. anna says:

    Hurricanes used to have only female names, at least in America, and there was a feminist campaign to change that. There were lots of sexist crap jokes about how hurricanes are named for women because they take a man’s house like an ex-wife supposedly does.

  13. anna says:

    Hurricanes were given all-female names in America until the 1970s, and there were all sorts of sexist jokes about them. I’m not surprised this has continued when the hurricane has a female name. Think it’s hateful garbage, but I’m not surprised.

  14. Omar says:

    Throughout this devastation, your biggest concern is the name of the hurricane?

    Really?

    We really need to bring the draft back.

    • Nahida says:

      Fuck off, jackass.

    • Anon21 says:

      Lines other than “We really need to bring the draft back” that would have made just as much sense in relation to what came before:

      “We really need to raise OSHA workplace safety standards for exposure to airborne particulates.”

      “We really need to stop minting coins that cost more to produce than their face value.”

      “We really need to grab a case of beer for the party tonight.”

    • PrettyAmiable says:

      See, this is why liberals are scared of you. You completely lack reading comprehension skills, and dumb people are fucking terrifying.

    • EG says:

      Yes, that is, in fact, Jill’s biggest concern. As is well known, women are incapable of holding more than one thought in their heads at a time, so if Jill is concerned about misogyny in pop culture, that is not only her biggest concern, it is her only concern. Well spotted.

    • Jill says:

      Throughout this devastation, your biggest concern is one article someone wrote? Really?

      No, it is not my biggest concern. But, shockingly, editors at the Guardian do not want 50 opinion pieces on the exact same topic (global warming, hurricane devastation, etc etc). And so I wrote about something that no one else was covering.

      Also: I can care about multiple things at once. Impressive, I know.

      • AND HERE I THOUGHT YOU NEEDED MORE THAN ONE BRAIN TO CARE ABOUT MORE THAN ONE THING. I have been sadly deceived by the patriarchy, Jill. Horribly, tragically deceived.

        *flings self onto couch; weeps*

        • Unless, of course, you’re a feminist because you’re secretly stealing others’ brains and using them for Extra Social Justice Investment.

          …this is disturbingly plausible.

          *side-eyeing you so hard right now*

      • DonnaL says:

        Jill has a room in her basement that looks like the room at the end of the most recent episode of The Walking Dead.

  15. bleh says:

    Never knew that hurricanes brought out so many trolls. What is the connection?

    Re: the actual article, it is frightening but apt that natural disasters become excuses to fantasize about doing violence to women mostly because stressful situations like being without power and having your home destroyed can incite actual domestic abuse. http://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_VAWnet/AR_EconomicStress.pdf

  16. Fat Steve says:

    So wait a minute…was John Travolta Sandy?..and does that mean Olivia Newton-John was called Dani?

    #confused

  17. tillzen says:

    I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads “The Only Bitches I Know Are Men”. As a male I see it as my job to redefine this word as it labels women far too easily, often simply because they have refused to behave in the way the patriarchy demands. Men may be unsure of their roles in a more enlightened society but we need to “man up” and realize that the empowerment of others does not mean we have lost value. It only means that if others can seize power, own it and hold it then they are entitled to more.:

  18. Pingback: Call me Sandy | Don’t call me bitch | Publishit Magazine

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