Baby, it’s sexist outside

Another song ruined by actually listening to the words.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how the critical thinking engendered in higher education can be a curse. Being trained to read deeply into texts — as we English profs are — is a variation on that same curse, and one that I noticed recently as I listened to a holiday standard playing on a TV music station.

Most of you are probably familiar with “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” In case, you aren’t, here is a recent version by Lady Antebellum.

A quick trip to Wikipedia (hey, they should call it “Quick-a-pedia”!) tells me that the song was penned in 1944 and became a huge hit (for numerous artists!)  in 1949. The first time I remember hearing it was in the 2003 movie Elf, and its enduring popularity was shown (or perhaps guaranteed) by the fact that it was recently featured in the Christmas episode of Glee.

I’m the first to admit that this little ditty is as clever as they come with its elegantly overlapping melodies. Plus, I love duets. But I really have a problem with the values implied in the lyrics. In case you haven’t heard it (didn’t you click on the link provided? Sheesh…), the premise of the song is that a woman wants to go home but her male date wants her to stay — presumably to have sex — and makes the excuse that the weather outside is too frightful for her to leave. So why not stay (and, again, presumably do it while she’s there)? No matter how many times she insists that she has to go — she refuses sixteen times by my count of the Dean Martin version, but the exact number is a matter of interpretation — he insists that she stay. That her whole family is waiting for her at home is of no consequence, nor is her reputation, nor, for that matter, her own choice. Come on, baby, it’s cold outside!

The more you listen, the harder it is to believe what you’re hearing. Whether she is interested in his advances or not, he keeps after her, plying her with alcohol, moving “in closer,” insisting that she not “hold out” because it will hurt his male ego: “what’s the point in hurtin’ my pride? he asks, and “how can you do this thing to me?”  He won’t even lend her a coat!

Even if we set aside the possibility that the man has slipped her a mickey (“what’s in this drink?” she asks and then claims to be under a “spell”), the whole song is based on an out-dated and very sexist notion that if a woman refuses a man’s sexual advances, she cannot possibly mean it. To be sure, her part in the song indicates that she may be willing to be persuaded, but that’s just the point: no really means yes. The sexism might be excused by the period in which the song was written, but the song is not quite old enough to seem like a period piece, and the never-ending parade of modern versions (see above and add James Taylor, Jessica Simpson, Vanessa Williams…) only increases the feeling that this is a modern song.

Of course, songs are just songs, and people can listen to what they want. I just wish these date rape carols weren’t so catchy.




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Baby, it’s sexist outside

  1. The song was written by Frank Loesser, he and his wife sang it together as a joke for party guests. I can’t find a ‘date rape’ verse in any of my copies.

    You’re must be university trained as you can only see the dark side of something fun.

    Macleans was so much better when Mark Steyn used to write for it.

  2. If your looking at this song through the lens of finding sexism, I think you’ve picked the wrong target.

    The woman’s main concern seems to be what other people will think of her:

    -her Mother will worry,
    -her Father will be pacing,
    -the neighbors might think…,
    -her Sister will be suspicious,
    -her Brother will be waiting,
    -he Maiden Aunt’s mind is vicious,
    -there would be talk tomorrow,
    -or at least plenty implied.

    If there is someone being sexist it is those relations to her that wouldn’t respect her decision whatever it may be. It is for those people’s sakes that she feels that she “aught to say no”, or at least “say that she tried”.

    But I’m not sure how the characters in the songs talking about other peoples sexism make the song itself sexist.

  3. Isn’t the point of the song that she wants to stay but has been raised such that “good girls don’t” so she want him to talk her into it? He’s not physically restraining her from leaving. She had a coat when she came there and if she felt her life was in danger she’d leave – coat or no coat.
    I think this is what come of listening to a 1940s song with 2010 ears. Of course in today’s day and age a man and a woman can’t be in a room alone without having sex.

  4. It’s totally a date rape song. The “what did you put in this drink?” line is horrifying. She obviously wants to leave, she is even saying “no, no, no, no” at one point (in the version I heard, at least), but the male keeps trying to break her down.

    Remember that when it was written, women were also considered “helpless” and “fragile.” She may need him to give her a ride, or escort her home (if driving distance, she probably didn’t have her own car, maybe not even a license, and a woman walking alone at night would be unheard of–especially in a snowstorm). The “helplessness” of femininity wouldn’t have permitted her to travel alone. And he obviously has no intention of honorably getting her there.

  5. Yeah, she’s in a pretty impossible situation. Probably can’t drive herself home, may not even have the right shoes for walking in the snow, and no cell phone to call a cab – really depending on him entirely and he’s getting her drunk and not listening to her needs.

    And yeah, they’re 1940s lyrics, but if you apply the same critical thinking to most rock songs from the sixties until yesterday you hear echos of the same crap. Obsessive, “you-are-my-everything” “I-want-you-to-be-mine” (who owns anyone?) statements that reflect dysfunction and hegemonic roles with their roots in the 1940s.

    When it comes to “no” it is important, of course, to remember that “no” always means “no”. But isn’t it time for people to consider that “yes” can mean “yes”? Why do women always get put in the defensive position? All the assumptions of helplessness are perpetuated by this. Unless a woman says, “YES”, she means “no”.

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