This week, working women have two men to be grateful to. Repeat after me: Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt. You’re going to want to remember their names to cite at your office.
These two researchers from the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, have figured out that women freeze in their office air conditioning because men, who are usually in control of the AC, make the office too cold for female metabolic rates.
Kingma and Lichtenbelt measured a group of women’s metabolic rates in office air conditioning and concluded that, since women have slower metabolic rates, they freeze at the usual office temperature, which tends to be suited to a 40-year-old man.
The “sexist AC”, as the media is calling it, drove me crazy during my corporate years. My first ever job, I sat at my interview with chattering teeth while my male interviewer laughed at me. And every summer I’d carry a sweater and socks to the office, as it seems a lot of female employees do.
My first job was at an office of well-behaved Pune women who would never fight with the men for warmth. I spent the better part of a year working with visibly erect nipples, resigned to any attention they might’ve gotten me.
But in my office in Bangalore the men would openly turn up the AC despite outraged female protest. And guess who made up the majority of team leaders, managers, and men in authority? The above mentioned 40-year-old man. You know who I mean, the one who our heroes Kingma and Lichtenbelt are pointing the finger at, the one with the metabolic rate that can handle colder temperatures.
Speaking of Kingma and Lichtenbelt (Let’s ‘Brangelina’ them: say, ‘Kingbelt’), their deadpan language has to be read to be believed:
Indoor climate regulations are based on an empirical thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s. Standard values for one of its primary variables – metabolic rate – are based on an average male, and may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35%. This may cause buildings to be intrinsically non-energy-efficient in providing comfort to females. Therefore, we make a case to use actual metabolic rates. Moreover, with a biophysical analysis we illustrate the effect of miscalculating metabolic rate on female thermal demand.
The haplessly ponderous European therefores and moreoevers apart, clearly the model to determine comfort in a building was designed in the 60s, when typing pools were filled with women. So let’s just go ahead and call air conditioning sexist.
But we’d be doing ourselves – and maybe dearest Kingbelt too – a disservice by not generalising. Kingbelt may have pointed their finger at the 40-year-old man, but where do we point the ladies’ finger? Bruce Lee famously quoted a Buddhist saying in this challenging scene from Enter the Dragon. To paraphrase: “Don’t look at my finger, look at the moon.”
Kingbelt is just a finger. So where’s the moon they’re pointing to? What other inanimate objects in our environment are sexist? I’m hoping this is just the beginning of Kingbelt-type studies. But to get started: do you feel colder than the men in your office? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.