Baby, It’s Cold Outside…
But Discussions Are Getting Heated!
A favorite part of the winter holiday season is hearing the annual sounds of beloved Christmas songs and other holiday melodies. This year, a new sound has emerged: discussions about Baby, It’s Cold Outside and whether it deserves to remain on the holiday playlist.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard people objecting to the song because it promotes rape culture, sexism, and patriarchy. Others object to the objections by saying people are too sensitive; the song is flirtatious, not predatory; and even calling it a feminist statement. Personally, I can understand all these viewpoints, but what troubles me is the way these opinions are expressed.
Often these strongly held views are argued on social media and begin with a meme that sets the tone. The meme is then followed by a long string of point, counter-point, point, counter-point until the discussion gets side-tracked to some unrelated issue that people are upset about. The series of opinions are expressed in very black and white terms, creating two opposing sides, missing the opportunity to think about the bigger issues raised by this song.
I’d like to propose that we play this song and then use it as a topic for meaningful discussion.
These are some of the topics I’m interested in exploring:
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside was written by Frank Loesser in 1944. The song was featured in the 1949 film, Neptune’s Daughter, and won the Oscar for best original song. Life was very different then. The norms for gender roles, relationships, and sexuality have evolved a lot since then. This is a different time. What was accepted as normal then may not be okay now. For example, here are some other things we view differently now than we used to: Confederate monuments and flags, separate but equal facilities, men-only clubs, smoking on airplanes, women wearing pants.
- Let’s admit it: we have sung, hummed and tapped along to plenty of songs without truly considering the lyrics. This happens because the lyrics aren’t clear, we think we hear something else, or we don’t care because the melody is so catchy. I suspect that if we stopped to think about all the lyrics to all the songs we love, we would be just as conflicted about those messages.
- Some people point out that we haven’t been objecting to the lyrics of “rap music,” so we shouldn’t make a big deal about this song. Comparing Baby, It’s Cold Outside to rap music is an inequivalent comparison. People who choose to listen to rap music or other song lyrics that include violence against women know that is what they are listening to. People who listen to this music think they are listening to an innocuous holiday song. While most adults can understand the subtleties in music lyrics and relationships, children and adolescents often don’t. Music is a great way to initiate important conversations with young people about relationships, healthy and unhealthy.
- The term “rape culture” prompts strong reactions. Putting aside that term, we can talk about all the subtle ways our culture reinforces images of men being aggressive toward women and framing that behavior as romantic. The lyric sung after the woman rebuffs the man’s advances—“How can you do this thing to me?”—is a great example of making the woman responsible for how the man feels when it’s actually his responsibility. Count how many times the woman says she “must go” and says “no” in the song. How many times does a woman need to refuse sexual advances before her boundary is respected? Watch the scene from the movie and observe how many times the man removes articles of the woman’s clothing and pulls or pushes her to try to get her to do what he wants. All of these are great examples of the ways we ignore aggressive male behavior and even view it as romantic.
The value of the debate about Baby, It’s Cold Outside is in the discussions we can have about the subtle and subversive ways these lyrics and the movie scenes reinforce harmful stereotypes about the behaviors of men and women. We have evolved since 1944. We can do better than that now. Let’s encourage discussions with our young people about ways to develop healthy relationships instead of looking the other way when we see signs of unhealthy relationships in action.
Listen to the song, read the lyrics, watch the movie scene; then, try some of these discussion questions:
- How many times does someone need to say “no” or “I really must go” before their words are honored?
- From the lyrics “I thrill when you touch my hand. … How can you do this thing to me?”… Who is doing something to whom? Who is responsible for their feelings? What does it mean when someone blames another person for their feelings?
- From the lyrics and the video…When is it okay to remove someone else’s clothing?
- From the video…When is it acceptable to pull someone’s arm or push them down in order to get them to do what you want?
- The movie scene where the man is the aggressor is framed as romantic. In contrast, the movie scene where the woman is the aggressor is framed as a comedy. Why?
- Lyrics to Baby, It’s Cold Outside (original)
- Lyrics to new Baby, It’s Cold Outside (updated)
- Watch an alternate version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside minus the troublesome lyrics.
- “Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Seen As Sexist, Frozen Out By Radio Stations”
- “Why Baby it’s Cold Outside is about Feminism, Not Rape Culture”