You can spot them. The frozen ones who come outside at lunch like sun-seeking turtles, cardigans balled up next to them, bare shoulders defrosting in the noon sunlight, no matter how wilting it is outdoors.
Every single woman I talked to in downtown Washington on a hot, humid July afternoon was thawing out.
“I. Am. Fuh-reezing. Feel my hand — I’m still cold,” said Ruth Marshall, 64, who was seated on a park bench, face to the sky. And, yes, her hand felt like a cold steak.
“I have to come out here for 30 minutes at a time just to warm up,” said Marshall, the director of administration at a construction firm where the air conditioning is set to Arctic.
It’s the time of year desperate women rely on cardigans, pashminas and space heaters to make it through the workweek in their frigid offices. And their male colleagues barely notice.
[These two men control the thermostat in 9,000 federal buildings]
“Is your office too cold?” I asked a clutch of men — pinstripes, charcoal pants, crisp shirts with the faint outline of undershirts beneath.
They looked at me as if I spoke in Finnish, confident faces contorted in puzzlement.
“Nah, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
So I asked another guy in a navy suit eating a taco.
[Europe to America: Your love of air-conditioning is stupid]
“No. It’s fine.”
Two dudes in matching blue shirts and red ties?
“Fine.” “No.” Zippity happity do da fine.
Hmm. A pattern?
Let’s be scientific about this, then. How about a female-centric office? At Emily’s List, which raises money for women running for office, the temperature setting must be female-friendly, right?
[Are menopausal women to blame for why it’s so cold in your office?]
“It’s freezing — here’s my sweater,” said one of the outdoor she-turtles who works at the woman-powered firm.
“But we don’t have control over the temperature on our floor,” she clarified. “It’s set for the whole building.”
By a man, perhaps?
How about men and women who work in the same office? (Because we’re doing top-notch investigative work here.)
I found a trio, two women — shoulders bare — and a man, in handsome navy twill pants and a smart, checkered, button-down shirt, eating lunch together.
They all work together at a company that deals with international education issues. How’s the weather inside while they’re working on educating the globe?
You know I don’t have to tell you who said what.
[Take our poll: Is your office too cold?]
So there you have it: the gender divide, thermostat edition. All these women who actually dress for the season — linens, sundresses, flowy silk shirts, short-sleeve tops — changing their wardrobes to fit the sweltering temperatures around them.
And then there are the men, stalwart in their business armor, manipulating their environment for their own comfort, heaven forbid they make any adjustments in what they wear.
That’s right, my friends. Air conditioning is another big, sexist plot.
“It’s been going on for years, every building I’ve been in. It’s awful,” said Marshall, who has worked in Washington since 1973. “Everything is set at 70 degrees for those testosterone-toting people.”
Marshall explained how frustrating it is to put on a pretty summer outfit and then get hit with that blast of cold. “And you have to put on some jacked-up sweater you left at your desk.”
Okay. I think Marshall was finally heated up.
[From the archives: A/C setting can push couples to the boiling point]
Setting the temperature to suit men is wrong in ways that go far beyond summer fashion.
Frozen workers make more errors and are less productive, according to Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, who studied office temperatures about a decade ago.
Researchers had their hands on the controls at an insurance office for a month. And when they warmed the place from 68 to 77 degrees, typos went down by 44 percent and productivity went up by 150 percent.
Plus, the U.S. Energy Department estimates that you can save about 11 percent on power bills by raising the thermostat from 72 to 77 degrees.
And the men can just switch to more reasonable fashion choices for warmer offices. I see plenty of tan, summer suits around town. And even some linen or seersucker from the Southern delegations to D.C.
But come on, men, be bold.
I’m talking short suits. They’re adorable! Plus, we’d all love to see your knees, guys.