We know from numerous eyewitness accounts that the interpretation of any event can swing wildly from person to person, even when they are there to watch it unfold. So it’s of little wonder why in 2018, some 70 years after the origin of a popular Christmas song, the scene it describes raises some eyebrows and is definitely stirring controversy.
No one was there to watch, but a lot of people have commentary and opinions on how events unfolded based on the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
In a bold move, a Cleveland, OH radio station ( WKOD) has banned the song from their airwaves citing the implicit message that it sends in support of rape culture.
“Now, I do realize that when the song was written in 1944, it was a different time, but now while reading it, it seems very manipulative and wrong. The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place. “—Radio host Glenn Anderson
Of course, this has sparked outrage by those that claim that song is a harmless, catchy tune that was completely appropriate for the time in which it was written. I have to admit, I’ve been swayed by a lot of these articles that give solid foundations for some of the lyrics that sound extra questionable to my modern ears (i.e “What’s in this drink?”)
It is not a joke about how she’s drunk and about to be raped. It’s a joke about how she’s perfectly sober and about to have awesome consensual sex and use the drink for plausible deniability because she’s living in a society where women aren’t supposed to have sexual agency. That’s the main theme of the man’s lines in the song, suggesting excuses she can use when people ask later why she spent the night at his house: it was so cold out, there were no cabs available, he simply insisted because he was concerned about my safety in such awful weather, it was perfectly innocent and definitely not about sex at all!. —Source: matchingvnecks
Okay, I could buy this and it allows me to continue to enjoy what is arguably the most catchy Christmas tune of all time (I literally have not stopped singing it for the whole week as I’ve been writing this post!). But there’s something more that bothers me. We aren’t giving this context every time the song is played on the radio. What message does it send to our kids who don’t have this extensive background for historical reference? For that matter, what message does it send to adults who haven’t bought into the fact that “no” does, in fact, mean “no!” If the old interpretation of the song doesn’t jive with a modern understanding it can easily send the wrong message and sometimes it’s these subtle undertones that are the most insidious.
Imagine the outcry of the masses if we played a song that glorified the removal of Jews from their homes, or one that glorified slave ownership. These are things from our past that historically would have been celebrated by masses but in the modern light are obviously atrocious. I don’t want to minimize the progression of our culture by ignoring history or rejecting nuance. I’m not suggesting full on censorship. But to that end, there is also a reason we don’t hand copies of Mein Kampf to every 12-year-old history student to read without context. And why we’ve changed the original words of the popular kid’s rhyme, "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" to a non-racist version.
Heard by the modern ear Baby it’s Cold Outside is not a song about a woman exercising her sexual agency to spend time with a man she likes. This is a song that emphasizes rape culture by promoting the idea that women can be “wore down” because they are raised to be “nice.”
The first time a woman (or man!) hesitates, the person making the advance needs to hear this as discomfort, not as a playful game.
To resolve this controversy the question that really needs to be answered in my opinion is this:
Who’s perception matters?
And my resounding response is that we always need to take first, the perspective of the person who is not in power (or who has the potential to not be).
For those of us who have found ourselves in positions where we have felt like the woman in this song, attempting to leave “nicely” the lyrics might sound very different. There have been plenty of great remakes of the song lyrics that emphasize consent but none to my knowledge that demonstrate the perspective of a person who feels threatened. I humbly did my best to write out my own version of how that might feel. I’m not asking that we all set fire to this classic but I hope that this might provide context for those that haven’t had this perspective. Here is what I hear when I listen to Baby it’s Cold Outside. Perhaps after you read them, you too might find yourself singing a different tune about this Christmas "classic."
Baby It’s Cold Outside (Abuse of power remix)
I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, that’s what they all say)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
nice to this point (come on now nice girls don’t disappoint)
Okay now I am starting to worry (you’re going nowhere don’t hurry)
I’ve tried to say “no” nice before (I’m not listening ‘til I get more)
So now I’m stuck trying again (you need to learn how to treat men)
But you don’t seem to be hearing me say when (I’ll wear you down like a record again)
The neighbors might help (baby, no one can see you)
If I gave a loud yelp (no one is going to believe you)
I wish I knew how (your stuck here with me right now)
To get away (I’ll take what I want, you’ll never tell)
Listen as I say, no, no, no dude (you know you’re just being prude)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense it’s your word verse mine)
I really can’t stay (oh baby don’t hold out)
But baby, I’m frozen inside.
I simply must go (but baby, I’m not done with you)
The answer is no (but baby, you’ll not leave til I’m through)
Why don’t you take the hint? (I’ll leave my imprint)
I don’t want to give in (your excuses are wearing thin)
You really should listen to what I’m saying (masculinity’s the price I’d be paying)
I have every right to walk out that door (if your words I didn’t ignore)
This isn’t some game I’m playing (the bro code I’d be betraying)
I’m more than just a way to score (your words I can safely ignore)
Cause when I get home (you’ll blame yourself for this)
my efforts dismissed (state of depressive abyss)
You’ve really hurt me (this is how it will always be)
why can’t you see? (this really isn’t a problem for me)
(There’s bound to be talk tomorrow) think of my lifelong sorrow
(At least there will be plenty implied) I wish you got pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay
But baby I can’t get away.
Yeah cause baby it’s always been this way.