First, a look at what causes us to divide along gender lines where glacial office spaces are concerned. The New York Times's Phyllis Korkki notes that if the tables were turned, "the workers who are required to wear suits and socks or nylons would probably be miserable — especially the active, well-muscled ones." (That's because muscle generates about a third of the body's heat.) "And even with a relaxed dress code, there is a limit to how much you can take off, whereas you can always add layers of clothing."
As it is now, women have devised all sorts of odd outfit add-ons, cardigans around their knees, snuggies around their bodies, fingerless gloves on their hands. That's pretty annoying. But if the tables were turned, where would a besuited man turn? How could he customize his outfit to beat the heat? Imagine arriving to a meeting in an 80 degree office sporting an undershirt, boxers, and the flip-flops you along in a bag. This kind of outfit customization is beyond impractical. It's forbidden. Maybe the expectations we place on women and men for office-appropriate garb are unreasonable or sexist, but that's a cocktail crossfire for another day. For as long as offices allow us to add on but don't allow us to take off, we should err on the side of cooler work spaces.
Finally, I often find my colleagues at the Wire complaining about the frigid temperature at moments where I remain quite comfortable. (Let's just attribute that to all my muscle mass, you know, because of science.) Yet even on the days when I do feel the chill, I'm not sure I mind. There are studies that suggest productivity improves as the temperature gets warmer, but I actually find that heat makes me sleepy. Maybe it's that I drink more hot coffee on cold days, but I definitely sit up a little straighter and type a little faster.
Down with the Tyranny of Wool!
There are thousands of reasons why the air conditioning situation in millions of American cubicles is an abhorrent and disgusting problem, one that we've gotten ourselves into via inertia, waste, intellectual laziness. But here are three of the most important.
Human rights. "The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror," then-President George W. Bush said in March of 2008. "So today I vetoed it." What was that valuable tool? Enhanced interrogation techniques -- including the most infamous method, waterboarding, but also "exposure to extreme cold." That's right: America's employers use a method of torture on their own employees. Further, that very same method was deemed ineffective by many interrogation experts and officials, because detainees will say anything to make the pain stop. So not only are America's bosses torturing their employees, they're torturing them in a highly unproductive way.