On Being Cold

This is me.

So, I’m always cold.

This is just a fact of my life. My mother is always cold. My sister is always cold. My German Shepard likes to come in from outside during the winter and lay for hours with her head mere inches from the woodstove. And she’s German, for Christ’s sake. Christmas gifts from my mother-in-law always consist of at least one “warm and fuzzy,” as she terms them, whether it’s a blanket, or scarf, or slanket, or…really, she’s run out of different types of women’s fashionwear to buy me that will keep me warm. A coworker once told me that I looked like a homeless person, wearing my winter jacket in the office with gloves and a blanket over my legs. I find this as hilarious as it is insulting. Honestly, the comments bother me more than the cold does. It’s hard not to get bitter from that.

Bear with me here.

I have a young coworker who is similarly cursed with this inability to stay warm. You will often see her wandering the office in her parka, or approach her at her desk huddled over a steaming mug of who cares, because she’s using it as a hand warmer not a drink. I feel her pain, I really do. But on top of the constant misery of the cold and its pull of your focus away from your work, the men in the surrounding cubicles seem to be unable to keep from commenting on it. (Some background, I work in one of the interior offices, which are only slightly less frigid than the cubicle farm that sits outside the offices.) Like, really? Is it actually necessary to verbally note every time this poor woman has to put her coat back on? Repeatedly? Is it not enough that she has to suffer through an 8+ hour work day feeling mildly uncomfortable at best and at worst unable to work productively?

Setting aside the fact that I can hear all of these exchanges from my office which is close but not that close which is another thing that really bothers me, I’m going through the same thing and listening to men essentially asking this woman what is wrong with her that she isn’t warm like they are. And I wish I could scream from my office why they get to be warm. Do you want to know? Because I know, and this is why I’m bitter.

Generally speaking, men have faster metabolisms than women. It’s biology. Men are always going to run hotter than women do. But the part that really steams my clams is the fact that they (men) get to set the temperature. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change examined indoor climates as they relate to energy consumption. (B. Kingma and W. V. M. Lichtenbelt, “Energy consumption in buildings and female thermal demand,” Nature Climate Change, vol. 5, no. 12, pp. 1054–1056, Aug. 2015.) One of the critical findings that was widely, and probably overly considering the study was focused on climate change, publicized by the lay-media was the fact that the standards for temperature settings in office buildings are based on comfort models established in the 1960s, and essentially assume the metabolic rate of a 40-year old man of average weight. And we are still using it today, yes in 2019, where nearly half the workforce is female with a metabolic rate less than two-thirds that of their male coworkers. We will literally always be, on average, 35% colder than they are. They made it that way! Meanwhile, other studies show that warmer workers are more productive.

[Sidebar, how badass does “female thermal demand” sound? It sounds like Starfleet Academy put too many female ensigns on one starship. “The female thermal demand is too great, Captain! We are losing structural integrity!” Sidebar within a sidebar, yeah, I’m a huge dork. I’m aware.]

So, to sum up: we are cold; we are made fun of; we are discriminated against (only as related to HVAC concerns, of course); and we don’t work as well as our male coworkers. And now I’m bitter. Men made the working world this way and now women have to suffer four different ways for their (men’s) ignorance. Listening to those who benefit from this archaic practice ridicule others who just want to make it through the work day without shivering constantly makes me want to shake those jesters until their teeth chatter too.

Don’t get me wrong, I am completely aware that no one really wins the fight over the thermostat. Someone will always be a little uncomfortable. But is it too much to ask for a little compassion (and silence) when it comes to wearing my parka in the office? Is it too much to ask to bump up the temperature just a degree or two so I don’t have to wear knits in July? I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll even finish that report I owe you.

Quietly Seething

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