Jezebel has an article right now with a headline that asks “is office air conditioning a sexist conspiracy?” The answer to this question (despite the response I saw on Twitter) is clearly “no.” Nor does the article actually make any claim to there being a conspiracy, sexist or otherwise. It supports an article from the Washington Post that posits the status qui in office AC use is another tentacle of the patriarchy. In fact the article makes a perfectly reasonable argument, backed up by statistics, that the tendency by particularly male managers to keep the air conditioning at frigid (65!) temperatures during the summer a) disproportionately discomforts women and b) has a negative impact on the quality of work. The article uses an anecdote to point at male managers and while it might be appropriate to bleat “not all men” or “not all women,” I won’t fight the lack of nuance this point. I also have a problem with the misuse of air conditioning, and with heating systems during the winter, which tend to overcompensate and stifle the occupants (despite the parallel, this is also not a sexist conspiracy). The author is a bit glib for my tastes concerning how men dress during the summer, but the big problem is sweating up a storm outside on the way to work, anyway, rather than in the office, when 75 or so is not more than the office is heated to in the winter.
One might wonder where the insulation has gone and perhaps question the blind decisions of bureaucracy that also seem to miss the points about perceived temperature being relative, that one of the great virtues of AC is to, you know, condition the humidity away, and that heating and cooling are both things the company has to pay for. The author makes valid points and men, both as the larger proportion of managers and as the people who are less affected by the cooler temperatures, ought to bear the brunt of the blame for this situation. So is this status quo of the patriarchy? Is it stupid? “Yes,” to both questions. Is it a conspiracy? Well, that is something else.
If the headline claimed that office air conditioning is sexist, that is one thing, but it claimed a conspiracy, which is, by definition, is a secret plot concocted by a group of people working in tandem. As someone who has been compared to a polar bear and has embraced the resemblance on account of love for the cold (and for being bundled up in sweaters and the like), I would like to think I’d have been invited, even though I am never in a position to rule the thermostat. So a conspiracy is a hyperbolic. How about in the spirit of reconciliation, we all stop overcompensating for the weather at all times of year and reject the tyranny of the thermostat in all its forms. While we are at it, we can keep from getting carried away with the headlines.