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Sexist air-conditioning! Women who shiver in the office in the summer now get to blame men

August 10, 2015

My latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

“My metabolism is misogynistic!”

Yup, according to a brand-new scientific study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, it’s “gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort.” And it must end! Now!

As every woman knows, especially me, summer is the season for freezing to death: in offices, restaurants, movie theaters, supermarkets, automobiles, and sometimes even the homes of your friends and relatives. Thanks, industrial-strength air-conditioning that can turn every enclosed space into a meat-locker. The Library of Congress, where I sometimes do research? Brrrr! During July and August, the most sweltering months of the year, I never leave home without a sweater in my purse. I’ve been known for sneakily cracking open a window (mmm, hice hot air!)  when spending a sultry summer night inside the glacial Mississippi home of a portly–and hence air-conditioning fanatic–uncle.

But it never occurred to me, until I read about the study a few days ago, that I could actually blame sexism for my shivery plight. But now, according to the New York Times and the duo of Dutch scientists who did the study, I can!

“’In a lot of buildings, you see energy consumption is a lot higher because the standard is calibrated for men’s body heat production,’ said Boris Kingma, a co-author of the study and a biophysicist at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands. ‘If you have a more accurate view of the thermal demand of the people inside, then you can design the building so that you are wasting a lot less energy, and that means the carbon dioxide emission is less.’

“The study says most building thermostats follow a ‘thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s,’ which considers factors like air temperature, air speed, vapor pressure and clothing insulation….

“But Dr. Kingma and his colleague, Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, write that one variable in the formula, resting metabolic rate (how fast we generate heat), is based on a 40-year-old man weighing about 154 pounds.

“Maybe that man once represented most people in offices. But women now constitute half of the work force and usually have slower metabolic rates than men, mostly because they are smaller and have more body fat, which has lower metabolic rates than muscle. Indeed, the study says, the current model ‘may overestimate resting heat production of women by up to 35 percent.’”

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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One Comment
  1. I don’t think metabolic rates are the problem. If the men in an office are wearing suits and shirts and neckties and socks and shoes, while the women are wearing sleeveless dresses and sandals, then there is no possibility of setting the indoor temperature to a level that feels good to everyone, and whoever sets the thermostat is going to make some people unhappy.

    Anyway, when those women hit menopause and start having hot flashes, they’ll be happy to have the air conditioning cranked up nice and high.

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