There’s a really great word in Spanish that doesn’t have an easy English translation: friolenta. It means, literally, a woman who gets cold easily. I think about this word every time my girlfriend and I do something like go to a temperature-controlled movie theater. Or when we have to spend more than a minute in the frozen foods section looking for her vegetarian chicken nuggets. She’s a friolenta.
Luckily our good friends at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands have some science about why so many women are seemingly always cold. According to recent research: Women’s metabolic rate—which regulates thermal body temperature—differs from men’s by as much as 35 percent.
The idea that women need to ‘toughen up’ or ‘dress for the weather’ is maybe none of your business.
Most office temperatures were developed in the Mad Men era, specifically for men around the age of 40 who weigh 154 pounds. But still we cling to the idea that the only temperature for an office or home should be somewhere south of 72 degrees.
This is a seemingly fine thermostat setting for men—for both heat and AC. But according to science, it is a frigid hell for women.
In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt found that Japanese women have a “neutral temperature” of about 77.4 degrees Fahrenheit. When a room is this temp they are neither hot (sweating) or cold (shivering). For men in Europe and North America, that neutral temp was about 71.8 degrees. Not even five degrees of difference, but for doing light office work it can be the difference between shivering and sweating.
It should be said that in this environment, most women’s office attire—open-toed shoes, sleeveless dresses, plunging necklines—only make it worse. While the men in most offices are comfortable in literally any collared shirt, the thermostat leaves many women shivering at their desks and wondering if their nipples will be poking through their office cardigans at their next meeting.
So what is the right temperature?
If there is a single lesson of 2016 it is that men need to practice validation over disagreement. If a woman next to you says she’s cold and you are not, that doesn’t make her wrong.
Now that you have the science of it, exclaiming “You’re cold??” every time you see your officemate with a scarf on and two hands wrapped around a mug of tea is a little closer to gas-lighting than you think. Women—particularly women who are listened to, validated and involved in decision-making—keep us from doing really dumb things.
The idea that women need to “toughen up” or “dress for the weather” is maybe none of your business. Also, if we’re being honest, most men would conk out at their desks if you raised the temperature to 79 degrees. So who’s the tough guy now, Sleepy Smurf?
“Men tend to be a little bit more muscular than women (which ties to that faster metabolism), and the majority of body heat is generated by muscle tissue,” says Jennifer Wright, author of the forthcoming Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them. “Certain societal norms come into play as well—for instance, women are more likely than men to shave off their body hair, which leaves them less insulated. “
Given these truths, is it any wonder that Ugg boots still exist?
The consequences of this reach much further than just a dumb office debate. Chilling our offices in the summer and then reheating them inadequately in the winter for an outdated notion of the office population—from the ’60s, a time when heating oil was damn near free—is bad for the planet.
“Energy consumption of residential buildings and offices adds up to about 30 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions,” Nature states. “And occupant behavior contributes to 80 percent of the variation in energy consumption.”
The reality is that, in the future, we will have smart offices that can regulate temperature by zones. The idea that we selected one temperature for a building full of thick men in suits, young interns and menopausal women will seem silly—just as we now laugh at the friend in that prewar apartment building where the top floors are blazing hot and the windows are wide open in January.
We’re human beings. If everything from our phone cases to our Spotify favorites are just slightly suited to our needs, can office temperature be that far behind?
In the meantime, I have found solace in a few items and actions that balance out temperature in our relationship.
1. “The Marnie hat.” This is the female beanie made popular by the character Marnie in the HBO original series Girls. I bought it for her on the way to a movie once and it made me feel woke AF.
2. Ginger tea with honey. It’s made of sliced ginger root from the grocery store, a spoonful of honey and hot water from the tea kettle. Ginger is great for cold season, alleviates sore throat and boosts the immune system. It’s also a wonderful, caffeine-free way to settle the stomach when you get home after a cold day out.
3. Massages. Get the blood flowing with a nice massage. Full instructions here.
4. Avoiding cotton next to your skin. No one likes stepping in a puddle, but it’s going to ruin your day if you’re in cotton socks, which can hold 25 times their weight in water.
5. Soft wool on her pulse points. We talk a lot about women’s pulse points in terms of perfume, but this is where she’s losing the most heat at her wrists, collar bones and ankles. Icebreaker makes a great line of T-shirt thin shirts, scarves and gloves that insulate well on both wet and dry days.
6. Body heat. It’s the simplest one. Also, if you have that extra five degrees of comfort and you can live life without your scarf, why not pass it off all nice and warm? There’s a reason that a woman will try on nine dresses and then leave the store wearing your old hoodie. The best way to keep a woman warm and comfortable is to wrap your big, dumb arms around her when you get home.
7. Space heaters. Yes, I am the New Englander who finds the act of shoveling snow to be all the jacket I need for the activity. But I also keep on hand a Dyson Hot and Cool. Yes, it’s a $500 space heater, but it’s a really cool $500 space heater. Its prime function in my mind is that you turn it on and it works. We’re talking instant heat here. There’s a remote and even an iPhone app that can turn it off if you forget to when you leave for work. It has something called Jet Focus, which is great when only one person feels the shivers.
And when she goes to bed I can use the fan function to cool off after shoveling snow.
Last week it came out at a BBQ in my backyard and held up even outdoors. Sorry about the planet, grandkids! You know how Gramma can be such a friolenta.