Emma Teitel: Why do men think it's cool to be cold in winter?
After weeks of wondering why the males in my midst refused to bundle up, I decided to ask one: What the hell is wrong with you? Aren’t you cold?
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This is my first winter as a dog owner, meaning it’s my first winter since childhood where I go outside just to go outside — instead of going outside to get inside again as fast as I can, shoulders hunched, eyes fixed to the salted cement. My dog, Homer, enjoys bounding through deep snow, which means I do a lot of standing around in sub-zero temperatures watching him. And the truth is, it’s not that bad if you bundle up. Long underwear, two pairs of socks, a decent pair of gloves; these things have changed my life.
But I’ve noticed something odd lately standing out in the minuses, particularly during the recent Ontario cold snap. While the women around me, myself included, appear to dress sensibly for the weather, the men do not. On the contrary, everywhere I look men are profoundly underdressed for the cold. I’m not talking about men of limited means who can’t afford warm winter attire, but men of obviously sufficient means who step out in a blizzard sans jacket, rocking a brand new pair of Stan Smiths. Men who can afford an insulated coat but who choose to brave the cold in nothing but a light sweater and a toque. Men who forego a parka for a fleece vest. Or worse, men like 29-year-old Toronto resident, Scott Young, who shovel their walkways in shorts and a T-shirt. After weeks of wondering why the males in my midst refused to bundle up, I decided to ask one: What the hell is wrong with you? Aren’t you cold?
Apparently nothing, and no he is not. Young, a veteran of shovelling snow in shorts (as a teen he did so in flip-flops, to his mother’s displeasure), says he runs hot and does not like to feel “swaddled.” When he shovels his Little Italy walkway in shorts he says some passersby look “bemused” but others, mostly men, give him a nod of acknowledgment as if to say, “yup, I know what you’re doing.” Young underdresses in frigid temperatures, he says, “not because I’m a masochist. It’s just because I like feeling a bit cool. When I get too warm and cosy all I want to do is curl up next to a fire and have a nap. If I want to be productive I need to be in an environment that isn’t too warm. I’m not alone among men for preferring coolness.”
He certainly isn’t.
The gender debate about indoor office temperatures has raged for years. The story goes that during the summer months, suit-clad men crank up the AC in their office buildings leaving their female colleagues to freeze in skirts and dresses and warm their knees by desk-side space heaters. But a definitive answer to the question “Do men run hotter than women in the cold?” remains a mystery, says Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor at the University of Manitoba who studies how cold interacts with the human body. “I’ve not been able to find a consistent explanation,” he says, for the popular theory that men fare better in cool temperatures than women; a theory that doesn’t ring true in his own experience. “All I know is that at my house I’m always freezing and my wife is warm.”
Of course women dress impractically for the weather too. Take a walk through any Canadian nightclub district during winter and you’ll see dozens of women shivering in miniskirts. But when women underdress, we tend to do so only when we know we won’t be outside long. The girl shivering her barely concealed butt off outside a club on Saturday night is a) probably tipsy and thus numb to the full extent of the pain and b) having a cigarette or running from the bar into an Uber. She isn’t shovelling a driveway for 30 minutes or taking her dog to the park. Men appear to underdress stark sober when they know they will be outside for a long time.
Take for example, 28-year-old Tynan Dunfield, a Halifax musician who refused to wear a winter jacket as a teen, an act he refers to now as “a tame form of rebellion.” Dunfield says growing up in small town New Brunswick, he wanted to be seen as a “weird guy” who didn’t need to bundle up in freezing weather. “It was an attention grabber,” he says.
However, a person whose attention he did not want to grab was his mother’s. She insisted he wear a coat. In order to avoid getting in trouble, Dunfield says, “I’d wear my coat out of the house and throw it in this bush outside our house, and then pick it up on the way home. And put it back on so she wouldn’t know.”
Remarkably his scheme was foiled when his mother saw him on a TV broadcast of a local hockey game, sitting in the stands wearing a T-shirt. She was not pleased. But Dunfield, who wears a coat today, claims he was never very cold without a jacket. He doesn’t recall shivering. He was comfortable.
Maybe that’s the point. According to Dr. David Feinberg, a professor of evolutionary psychology at McMaster University, some men may subconsciously underdress in cold weather to exhibit risky behaviour, toughness and strength, in order to attract a mate. Says Feinberg:
“What we know is that men tend to do risky things to kind of show off for women or to show off for other men, to show their dominance or prowess. That’s something really involved in mate attraction in evolution.”
However, Feinberg says to take this theory with a grain of salt as there is no official study he is aware of linking impractical winter apparel to evolutionary mating practices.
Scott Young is skeptical too. “I can say definitively that shovelling snow in my shorts has had no measurable benefits in my dating life.”