Music throwback: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

“The tension in the song comes from her own desire to stay and society’s expectations that she’ll go.”

Somehow I missed the controversy over the song Baby, It’s Cold Outside that was apparently raging on social media last Advent. It’s back in full force this year, having shown up in at least two Facebook threads, and I wasn’t even looking.

More than one person I’ve seen refer to it as the “Christmas rape song.” First off, it’s not about Christmas at all. The weather is obviously unpleasant, but it has no more to do with the holiday than “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

The song was written by Frank Loesser in 1944 and performed in the 1949 movie Neptune’s Daughter by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, with the guy in pursuit, two people who are IN LOVE, not contending for dominance. In the same film, Betty Garrett is wooing Red Skelton.

Some of the defenders of the song suggest considering the time period. Is it about sex? Possibly, but not necessarily. Perhaps he was being a gentleman by offering his place for her to stay warm into the morning. Her concerns may have been about what people would think about a single woman staying at his place.

But if the original is sweet and consenting, can the many cover versions be seen in the same light?

The specific lyric “what’s in this drink” is also a current concern, given the fact that there have been numerous cases of men (usually) lacing the drinks of women (most often), for the purposes of sex. Many women have reported that Bill Cosby was notorious for doing that sort of thing. But the phrase was, and arguably is, a common joke, justifying one’s goofy behavior, even when one is consuming nothing stronger than grape juice.

In the 2010 Listening While Feminist post, In Defense of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “The tension in the song comes from her own desire to stay and society’s expectations that she’ll go.”

As for the drink: “The phrase generally referred to someone saying or doing something they thought they wouldn’t in normal circumstances; it’s a nod to the idea that alcohol is ‘making’ them do something unusual. But the joke is almost always that there is nothing in the drink. The drink is the excuse. The drink is the shield someone gets to hold up in front of them to protect from criticism.”

See also the 2016 Vox article: Why “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” became an annual controversy about date rape and consent.

Listen to Baby, It’s Cold Outside, from Neptune’s Daughter.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “Music throwback: Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

  1. There is a line in a comedic song by Tom Lehrer about the 1960s debate over pornography vs. free speech that says “If properly viewed, EVERYTHING is lewd.” In no way minimizing the genuine concerns expressed in the #MeToo movement, there is a tendency of purists to paint everything with a wide brush, remove symbols (and lyrics) from context, and seek to “sanitize” anything that can POSSIBLY be viewed offensive. I felt this way about the efforts to “ban” the reruns of “The Dukes of Hazzard” because they drove a car emblazoned with a Confederate flag called the Robert E. Lee. This position, IMO, turned a serious debate toward the the absurd. To assign equal weight to all offenses, considering a “wolf-whistle” as no different than attempted rape, is a formula that will make a serious issue start to look silly and dilute its importance. Again, IMO.

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