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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Is Your Air Conditioner Sexist? The Knowgetter Investigates.

The New York Times came out with an article last week examining the possibility that American's are over-air-conditioned. Later, Twitter went- well, all Twitter- after The Atlantic writer Talyor Lorentz provocatively quote retweeted the NYT article, calling AC "unhealthy, bad, miserable, and sexist."

And guess, what; I agree. Kind of. Well, I agree that air conditioner temperatures are not inclusive to all that work in a workspace.

recreation of my office attire in July

Also, please know that I am not advocating for banning AC. I don't like to sweat. Ever.

I'm just suggesting in this post that we try to compromise and make work environment temperatures a bit more accommodating to all.

But, first- let's take a look at the history of Air Conditioning! Fun!

Humans have been using some form of air cooling since, well, the beginning of boob/ball sweat. The ancient Egyptians hanged moistened reeds in their window, allowing the wind to evaporate the water to create a cooling effect.

In 8th century China, Emperor Xuangzong had a "Cool Room" built in his palace, which utilized water powered fans.

Can we address the term "Cool Room?" If you have to say it's cool, it's probably not; dork.

But the advent of modern air conditing didn't come along until July of 1902, brought to us by U.S. inventor, Willis Carrier. Name ring a bell? Yep, the Carrier HVAC company is the very same company he started. So, this guy Carrier is the one to blame.

OK, so far this AC story has been far from scandalous, let alone sexist.

Well, how's this for interesting? Since day one, AC units released toxic, flammable gas...much like what comes out of Mitch McConnell's turtle mouth. And like Mitch, the gas was incredibly dangerous to anyone who came into contact with it if it leaked.

Cut to a guy at DuPont who invented a "harmless" chlorofluorocarbon called freon. Yeah...the same freon that is tearing our ozone layer a new one. I think you see where we are going with this: Mitch McConnel is an asshole. Oh, and air conditioners aren't great for the environment, to say the least.

And, also- we as Americans use way too much of it.  And it's not just the chlorofluorocarbons released from AC units that are fucking with Ma Nature, it's the amount of electricity (and therefore the powerplants used to create the electricity) that's killing us, Smalls.  In fact, according to The Guardian, the U.S. uses as much electricity just to cool buildings as the entire continent of Africa uses for all of its electrical needs.

So, AC is definitely not helping the environment. But how is it considered sexist, you ask?

Cool your jets, I'm getting to that.

But first, I want to put forth the issue I have with the use of the term "sexist." All the studies done on the AC subject are only addressing cisgender individuals. The articles I looked at do not include ALL people, meaning it doesn't address trans, non-binary, and two-spirit individuals. This is unfortunate as it only looks at the physiology of cisgender men vs cisgender women. Please know that even though that I have to address the subject only using the info that I've been given; I see you, my trans, non-binary, non-conforming, and two-spirit friends. 

Now, I usually have no problem calling out something as sexist- I call my husband sexist every time he buys the wrong coffee creamer- but I'm not feeling it on this one, as it actually excludes a number of individuals, not just women. I will say though, that the history with air conditioning is extremely biased toward one portion of the population, to say the least.

It all started in the workplace. In the 1960s offices were fitted with thermal comfort formula that took into account things like air temperature, airspeed, vapor pressure, and clothing insulation. That last part is important; and so is this: the formula to get to the "appropriate" temperature was based on a 40-year-old man weighing 154 lbs...and wearing standard office attire at the time, a wool or flannel suit.

See the problem yet?

And at the time, it didn't seem like much of a problem because the ratio of women to men in the office workplace was a lot lower than it is now. Also, women didn't wear the same attire as men. While women's clothing at the time had its own set of problems (girdles, pointy bras, the WORST underwear), the attire was not as insulated as the men's. Thus, the lower office temperatures.

But guess what? Women now constitute half the workforce, but many office temps still haven't been adjusted to include the comfort of all employees. Because, of course.

Big deal, you say- women should just wear less clothing. Ok, no. Perv.

Also, there is a physiological aspect to all of this. Science (ever heard of it) says that in general, women have a lower resting metabolic rate which means they generate less heat. So, even if men were to strip completely down (gross; don't do it, Perv) women would still retain less heat fully clothed. In fact, a recent study (illustrated in this NYT article) claims that the current model may overestimate women's heat production by 35%. So basically, women are already running 35% colder than men before they blast the AC.

So, basically, we have Don Draper to blame for the reason that I had to bring a blanket to work in July.

Oh, and guess what? Studies show that when a body is too cold, it is less productive. People are evolutionarily derived to try to conserve heat for survival; so your body actually starts to go dormant when it feels too cold.

This is a problem for, you guessed it, women. We are already getting 30% less pay, and now we are less productive because we retain 35% less heat. Fuck that.
at least this smug bastard is comfortable.
But what can we do? Um, it's pretty simple. Change the formula. Include metabolic rates of all workers, and factor in modern work attire, not the wool suits of yore. Oh, and the formula should include a wide range of ages...because guess what? AC can also be hella ageist, as bodies lose the ability to retain as much heat as they age. Oh, and also- it should include a range of abilities- because temp control in either direction can be ableist. And obviously, temperatures should be adjusted for the type of work done in the workspace. A retail environment, for example, will probably require a lower temperature than an office where the workers are, in general, a bit more sedentary.

And, I do need to mention that heating and "AC standards" are regularly updated by The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning. However, they recommend that building temperatures range from 67 to 82 degrees, which is a pretty wide range.  A broad study found that men prefer a 70-degree work environment and women like it at 75 degrees, but many offices have an average temp of 68 degrees, which is even lower than what both prefer.

Now, before you jump on me for spreading my Liberal Air Conditioning agenda; listen to this- in an article written by Fox News Network (yep, that lefty rag) they explain that a Cornell study found that the optimum temperature for productivity is 77 degrees.

*mic drop*

So, let's recalibrate the "norm" to be more inclusive. There's a pretty strong chance that the average office temp might need to be raised a bit in the summer.  Oh, and guess what Corporate America? You would save money on cooling costs. See, I'm not just a pretty socialist face; I got your back shady fuck.
imagined footage from the first ever Office AC Accords talk.

So, is AC sexist? Well, yes. But in a more accurate sense- it's really non-inclusive and biased.

And just like a Joe Biden supporter, you can maintain that AC means no harm and that it was a different time when sweaty middle-aged men could roll 3 bourbons deep into the office and give an inappropriate hug, but that doesn't change the fact that you can't continue doing the same damn thing and expect everyone to be cool (see what I did there?) with it.

What are your thoughts? Is your workspace too hot, too cold, or just motherfucking right?

I will reuse this photo if I ever do a post on 90s Grunge.

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