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August 7 2015

Annals of Victimology: Sexist Air-Conditioning

Ladies, here's a brand-new way to feel like a victim: Sexist air-conditioning.

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.”

And, since the name of that journal is Nature Climate Change, and not, say, HVAC Enthusiast, the Dutch scientists recommend setting summer thermostats at slightly higher levels. That would kill two bad birds wtih one stone: sexism and global warming.

Actually, I like that idea, which would definitely be the law in the Realm of Queen Charlotte. For men: Bring back the tropical suit!

But it's never occurred that I could call my goose-bumped summer self a victim of sex-discrimination. How convenient.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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