By: Online Editor Alex Montgomery
Just hours ago, I read an article on this very publication by fellow writer Jake Riggs. In his writing, he tries to claim that one of the greatest examples of sexism in society today is not really a ploy of the patriarchy. Let me set the record straight.
At this very moment, in most every building in America, there exists a scourge of the most egregious sort – a reminder, at every turn, of the enduring patriarchy of the twenty-first century, which continues to deprive women of their atmospheric rights and their climactic dignity. It often goes unnoticed, not just because of its invisible constitution, but also because it tends, like so much of modern life, to follow that well-worn path of subconscious microaggression: It is deafening in its silent oppression, and deadly in its implicitness.
Of course, to many people, air conditioning comes across as innocuous and comforting in its cooling effect. After all, it doesn’t seem to harm anyone, and as technological innovation goes, the ability to keep interior temperatures lower than exterior temperatures during scorching summer months might seem useful. Nobody wants to sweat in the office; we all smile when we think of that refreshing chillness which greets us when we cross the threshold of any well air-conditioned building, knowing that we won’t have to constantly fan ourselves as if we were tourists stuck on the African Serengeti. To say it simply and sweetly, there’s a certain joy in always having that trusty thermostat around.
But that’s just your privilege talking – your dirty, rotten, chauvinistic, heteronormative, cissexist, patriarchal, xenophobic, misogynistic privilege.
In short, air-conditioning is sexist because its control generally falls to men, who, in turn, always consciously tailor its use to fit their preferences. Even though, for example, they know full well that the particular space in which they work is shared with women, they tend to arrogantly ramp up the flow of cool air in order to make their female coworkers uncomfortable. They do this because they wish to disadvantage women from rising the corporate latter, and, in simpler terms, because they are at heart cruel and discriminatory monsters who draw sadistic pleasure from the shivering of others. At the end of the day, the effect of their barbarity is enough to make the fair-minded weep at the male-dominated superstructure over which they have little control. While men sit back in their chilled offices, protected by their well-knit, long-sleeved suits as they sip their brandies and smoke their cigars, women must type away in misery, risking hypothermia though unable to violate professional-dress protocol.
If this situation were merely an occasional occurrence, then perhaps progress could be made without much disruption; we could grab a few reporters from The Nation and send them along with a couple of lawyers from the ACLU to eradicate the rabid office-place sexism. But I am afraid that the challenge is far more widespread than that, and has metastasized into a pervasive air-conditioning bias that is common to almost every place of employment and that has become institutionalized in the way in which we carry out business in this nation.
Indeed, the last part of that sentence – “this nation” – is actually one of the most interesting aspects of our air-conditioning tyranny: In general terms, it has asphyxiated itself in a particularly American context while places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia have managed to swear it off altogether. As citizens of these United States, we have to ask ourselves the difficult question: Can’t we, in our dealings with the thermostat, be a little bit more like the Middle East we’ve so selfishly ravaged?
There is, however, an even more disturbing corollary to the development of misogyny among coworkers that we can describe as a direct result of air-conditioning controversies. While women should never have to experience the sorts of temperatures during work hours that men expect them to, the larger issue is not those cool drafts of air, themselves, but rather the sexist cultural and social expectations that they spuriously represent. After all, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would recognize the straightforward truism that the female body is no more biologically susceptible to colder temperatures than is the male body. Instead, the realities women often experience when they go to work are the inextricable result of media-induced conditioning that has goaded them into thinking that they cannot deal with a climate men can handle. In other words, it is all the propagandistic work of a culture fueled by chauvinism and perpetrated by male money-changers: They constantly bombard women with the notion of female inferiority, all whilst channeling their hatred through the most immediate means possible.
As such, air-conditioning is an elaborately-created ruse meant both to keep women cold and uncomfortable and to foist upon them a particular stereotype about the effect temperature has on their well-being. But if we are to combat it, we must do more than operate on sexist culture from the inside as enlightened members of society; we must work day-in and day-out to remove air-conditioners from all the office buildings whose male managers use them as weapons.
As progressive champions of the future, we must progress to a time past which we will not have to progress any further because we will have progressed to such a fine point of progressiveness.
And those male reactionaries will be sweating in their suits once we’re finished.