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Cynthia Nixon Combats Systemic Sexism By Asking for 76-Degree Room

Cynthia Nixon

The challenger to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the institutionalized, proven issue of office temps set for men and social media roundly mocked her.

Out activist and actress Cynthia Nixon announced she would challenge Andrew Cuomo for governor of New York earlier this year. Now she's thrown down a gauntlet over his predilection for rooms set to the temperature of a "meat locker," and the larger systemic issue of freezing women out of office spaces in summer, by demanding they face off for their debate on Wednesday in a 76-degree room, according to The Washington Post.

Nixon's senior campaign adviser Rebecca Katz requested that WCBS TV, the station hosting the debate, ensure that the room at Hofstra University is set to 76 degrees. In an email The New York Times obtained, she added that work environments are "notoriously sexist when it comes to temperature, so we just want to make sure we're all on the same page here."

The email to WCBS came after Nixon's team accused the station of catering to Cuomo's whims.

"CBS management has acknowledged that the only way to get Governor Cuomo to show up is by giving him everything he wants," Katz wrote in a statement on Nixon's campaign website. "We weren't even given a seat at the table."

But Nixon's call for a warmer room in which to debate the governor hearkens to the institutionalized, well-documented issue of setting office temperatures to benefit male bodies. A few years ago, College Humor skewered the issue in a video titled "Why Summer Is Women's Winter," in which women in an office are clad in wool blankets, huddled and shivering around space heaters, while the men, dressed in short sleeves, are completely oblivious and content. But College Humor was on to something.

In 2015, a pair of male scientists proved that office temperature settings were devised for workplaces that consisted primarily of men during the mid-20th century, finding that office temperature that was designed specifically for 154-pound, 40-year-old men has not changed in half a century. The researchers concluded that women may prefer a 75-degree room, while 70 degrees could suit men. So Nixon's demand for 76 degrees is in line with what's comfortable for women. The research took into consideration factors like clothing. But most importantly, it studied metabolic rate, which varies for men and women.

"Current indoor climate standards may intrinsically misrepresent thermal demand of the female," the scientists concluded.

One senior adviser to the Nixon campaign implied on Twitter that the request for 76 degrees is really the starting point in negotiations for a room set to a reasonable temp.

"Maybe you say 76 degrees and get 65 degrees instead of freezing at 50," L. Joy Williams wrote.

Whatever the temperature, Nixon is prepared to take on Cuomo.

"I'll debate the governor in a parka if I have to because the people of New York deserve a debate, and insurgent, female candidates have a right to make their voices heard," Nixon told The Washington Post.

Despite Nixon's call for a room temperature in which women would be most comfortable being backed by research, many social media users fed into the inherent sexism in setting the temperature at a low degree and mocked her mercilessly. But some spoke out about freezing office temperatures.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist