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The Gender Temp Gap: Even Politicians Fight Over the Thermostat

Topics: Current Events
fight over the thermostat
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Primary election season is heating up, but unless you’re registered to vote in New York, you might’ve missed a recent news story about two politicians fighting over the temperature — literally.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and actor-turned-activist Cynthia Nixon are competing for the Democratic nomination in the upcoming New York gubernatorial primary. On August 29, they met for a debate at Hofstra University.

In preparation, the two candidates had to presumably agree on a date, a format, a moderator and the like. What made headlines, however, was a debate over how cold (or hot) the room should be.

The Nixon Frost Debates

“Nixon’s team requested that the temperature in the room where the debate is being held at Hofstra University be set at 76 degrees,” wrote Grace Segers for CBS News. “Cuomo is notorious for preferring an extremely cold environment during his public appearances.”

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At the time, the Cuomo spokespeople said that no temperature request had been made. But come the day of the debate, reporters were quick to comment on the frostiness of the room.

CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste reported that “it was only 69 degrees in the hall,” and that she “had the goosebumps to prove it.”

“Why is it that time again, women have to be the ones who are freezing cold at work?” asked Nixon’s senior adviser Rebecca Katz.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘Why is it that time again, women have to be the ones who are freezing cold at work?’ asked Cynthia Nixon’s senior adviser Rebecca Katz.” quote=”‘Why is it that time again, women have to be the ones who are freezing cold at work?’ asked Cynthia Nixon’s senior adviser Rebecca Katz.”]

Why You’re Cold (or Hot) at Work

Fighting over the temperature isn’t new — your mom has probably been yelling at you for years to put on a sweater. But in the workplace, it’s a real cause for contention. It’s a battle along gender lines.

The office thermostat (good luck finding that, BTW) is likely programmed and set using a positively ancient set of dress codes going all the way back to the 1960s.

Think Mad Men, season one. At that point, men rolled into the office wearing a heavy two- or three-piece suit, overcoat and hat. Women wore business attire, typically a demure skirt along with stockings and even gloves for the commute.

A study published in 2015 in the journal Nature Climate Change, “says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men,” wrote Pam Belluck in The New York Times. “The study concludes that buildings should ‘reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort’ because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.”

Why is This So Significant?

When women are cold at work, they’re often accused of not dressing warmly enough. But in fact, women’s resting metabolic rate isn’t taken into account.

Researchers found the “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,” wrote Belluck.

Women would need to biologically change how their body generates heat in order to be as comfortable as most men in the average chilly office. It’s the same for older workers, too, who might not run as warm as that 40-year-old male.

Now we’ve got age and gender bias going — all with one little thermostat dial.

The solution, of course, is compromise.

“Finding a point in the middle where both men and women can be happy would be the ideal situation,” said CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula.


Do you suffer from a freezing office? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

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