Air Conditioning: A Form of Gender Discrimination?
How might environmentalists try to hang their hats on ending gender discrimination?
- I call upon women to band together in a campaign for air conditioning equality.
- Men chuckle when we women plead with them to turn down the air conditioning.
- Men might acquiesce to our request more readily if they realized that increasing temperatures would expose more skin.
- Raising the room temperature is not a zero-sum game.
- The first campaign women launched upon entering the working world was the installation of women's restrooms.
- It is time for women to have the right to not be extremely uncomfortable.
When one looks back to America’s social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, two of the chief legacies are an emphasis on environmental protection and the promotion of gender equality.
Alas, a visit to any American suburb reveals that the former has had little effect on our daily lives. Homes abound in endlessly proliferating appliances and electronic devices, while SUVs fill the streets. Energy consumption per capita in the United States has increased by about a quarter since 1973.
However, in contrast to the conservation campaign, the women’s movement has transformed the American lifestyle. From the economy to family life, the belief that women deserve to be treated in the same way as men has been revolutionary.
When attempting to alter particular habits and achieve their goals, therefore, environmentalists might try to hang their hats on the goal of ending gender discrimination.
I therefore make this plea: Please turn down the air conditioner — because we ladies are freezing.
In office buildings, movie theaters and supermarkets across the United States, we women huddle, shivering, clutching woolen cardigans and shawls over our light frocks.
Summer is supposed to be our respite from the cold, but to those of us who spend the vast majority of our time indoors, warm weather merely brings a different sort of chill. That chill, of course, carries a greater sting than low winter temperatures because in the summer, the cold is somebody’s fault.
The reasons women find air conditioning more punishing than men do should be obvious, but for the sake of thoroughness: Men’s bodies are often thicker than women’s and have more padding, scientifically speaking, to warm them — and men generally are expected to wear more clothes than women in offices or other formal settings.
These two factors converge in a third — men sweat more than women. To protect their dress shirts from sweat stains, men then don an additional undershirt, making them even warmer and requiring yet more air conditioning.
While gallant men leap to spare women the joule of energy they would need to pull open a door, they chuckle teasingly when we plead with them to turn down the air conditioning. They delight in this evidence of our relative fragility and femininity.
Though men rush to pet us or attend to us in our weakness — and, if we caught a cold from the freezing conditions, they would anxiously inquire after us and convey their heartiest best wishes — they seem unwilling to fix the cause of our discomfort by returning the room to a normal temperature.
I therefore call upon women to band together in a campaign for air conditioning equality. Let’s call ourselves “The 76’ers,” (as in Fahrenheit, equals to a preferred room temperature of 24 degree celsius) This would properly highlight our place in a long American tradition of civic activism such as the student revolution of “68-ers.”
The dairy industry might also want to lobby on our behalf. In supermarkets, most women can’t venture near the arctic yogurt aisle between June and August. Nor can we enjoy ice cream or frozen yogurt, summer’s classic treats.
What about incentives?
Men might acquiesce to our request more readily if they realized that increasing temperatures would expose more skin.
To succeed, women would first need to conscript those women who defiantly soldier forward in sundresses, refusing to forfeit their summertime right to exhibit their tanned limbs, no matter how goose-pimpled.
Until the air conditioning is turned down to 76 degrees (24 degree celsius), they would have to indulge in warm sweaters like the rest of us to lend credence to the promised reward: more skin for higher room temperatures.
Raising the room temperature is not a zero-sum game. Men need not suffer to accommodate us. They would be more than welcome to imitate our summery dress.
Today’s men’s suit dates back to the 1666 edict Charles II issued regulating dress in his court — though it was updated in the 19th century to more closely resemble the modern leisure suit.
The average maximum July temperature in London is currently 69 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and was likely even lower before the globe began to warm. Those of us living 350 years later and 25 degrees hotter might finally conclude that the time has come to loosen up.
Western businessmen could also take a page from the Japanese government’s recent Hawaiian shirt campaign, which accompanies that enlightened nation’s mandatory 82-degree office temperatures.
Rather than driving us to obscure our summery costumes with bulky pullovers, wouldn’t men be happier to join us in flowery garments?
The first campaign women launched upon entering the working world was the installation of women’s restrooms. Next came maternity leave and lactation rooms, a fight in which women have gained significant victories, though the struggle is far from over.
After 30 years in the workplace, it is time for women to move beyond the right to perform essential bodily functions to the right to not be extremely uncomfortable. Oh, and 76 degrees might even save energy.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are solely those of Ms. Kupchan and do not represent those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she is an attorney.