A recent New York Times article freshened up my thinking on gender discrimination. It seems that women have a brand new enemy to worry about at work. As if we didn’t have enough on our plates, now the HVAC system is after us.
In this case, results of a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change point to a bias in summer thermostats. Office buildings, according to two environmental scientists, set temps with a moldy old formula that centers on men. Meanwhile, women poke their heads into the office, freeze into a block of ice, and immediately go to stand outside, melting like the Looney Toons abominable snowman.
Or, we wrap up in blankets. Because it’s cuter that way.
In short it seems that — hold onto your hats, friends — men and women differ from one another. Who knew? Men, for the most part, remain unaffected by an indoor summer chill. Meanwhile, women walk the frozen work wonderland with trepidation, often stepping out to recover, and stepping back in to do three more tasks before freezing again. It’s worthy of note here that this is not just Ginger spouting off. Yes, I spout off frequently, so if that’s what you were thinking, congrats on being right; but there is some well-funded science behind this rant.
According to climatologists Dr. Kingma and his colleague, Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, the formula for summer comfort is based on the metabolic rate of a 154 lb. man. We guess the man is wearing a suit and tie to the office even in the summer. Another sidebar here: I have not met this person in my 20+ year career inside of Texas office buildings, but I will take it as a “given” that he is out there. He must be, or perhaps must have been, or 20th Century building managers wouldn’t have bothered with his comfort in the first place.
(I’m guessing this is the same guy who is supposed to be sitting in the middle seat of every coach class airline row. But I digress.)
Back on track: someone, somewhere, somewhen decided that office temps need to hang out around 70 degrees Farenheit. The result? Freezing people, especially in the hot summer. The study is aimed at a difference between men / women, but I remember my scientific methodology, and I have another wrinkle to add into the mix. What if the thermo-calculation was originally crafted around . . . not just some guy, but some American guy? And what if it was never controlled for race?
All right – we have officially entered the spout-off-by-Ginger zone, but I have some distinct memories rushing back to me now. Summertime brings us the office meat locker, sure. Also, it brings some chunky software guy hanging around in shorts and river sandals while the women in the same space wear fur coats. But down the street from that office, I remember a black man from Haiti who sat directly under the A/C vent. He nearly fainted from hypothermia before he blocked the cold with printer paper and scotch tape. I watched that, it was epic: almost fell off of his desk just trying to warm up. Then there was the guy from Mexico, where the indoors must not be as cool as they are in the United States. I remember him from when I used to pop outside for warmth, because he was always there with me.
If these are guys, they should be super-comfortable with summer chill, so what’s up? The answer, for me, is another question: who, exactly, are we trying to keep comfortable? Here, let me stab at it: I suspect the model for ancient thermo-comfort was written around one guy. Which one? Don’t know, a Congressman? Whoever it was, he must have been the type who wore three piece suits daily, even if he officed on the sun. Also, I’m guessing he funded the original HVAC temp calculation study. Except for this, I can’t explain who benefits from 70 degrees indoors in the summer.
Meantime, follow the money around the new study, and it leads to climatology. Everyone loves to come to the rescue of a cute young woman, freezing in the cold. In this case, she’s a poster girl for conservation. Environmentalists are trying to convince building managers to unlearn the white American male’s metabolism and plug in a constant that is a tad more egalitarian. I am pleased (?) but not convinced. I have to wonder: are there any good reasons to keep guys from overheating? I’m a mother of two boys, and if I think about it, I can remember what really does happen to males when the A/C runs down.
The best visual comes from my husband, a middle school teacher. One day he stood outside a classroom full of teenage boys. “The air conditioner’s out again.” He pointed in the door, looking stricken, “Everything in there . . . it’s already spoiled!”
Flip this around, ladies: it’s possible that super-cool summertimes are also aimed at our comfort: you know, less of the thermal kind and more of the olfactory kind. Look, even if hot flashes weren’t such great equalizers in the cold, male embarrassment is still worthy of our consideration. As a mother of two boys, I see guys trying to please girls relentlessly. Like every mom, I teach my sons to drench their own stench at an early age. When they grow old enough to care, I’m told they will even listen to me. The time comes when men understand that smell matters, and they are unusually sensitive to their own. Change the ambient temp, and you might be setting someone up for failure. Women, don’t kid yourselves, most men really do care what we think; and they tend to hate it when we reject them.
There might be something more to the old gender-based formula than I originally guessed. Do I want to warm up, just to find the expiration date of my colleague? Hmmmm. I’ve changed my mind, Mr. Building Manager, the temp is fine by me. Some things in this world are better with a little refrigeration.
If anyone needs me, I will be under my blanket.