Chilly or not?
Revisiting baby, it’s cold Outside in the #meToo era
The cbc and canada’s two largest commercial radio operators, bell media and rogers, have said this week they are pulling baby, it’s cold Outside from their playlists, calling the 1944 Frank loesser song “controversial.”
so what to make of a decadesold duet — covered by duos as various as ella Fitzgerald and louis Jordan, al hirt and ann-margret, bette midler and James caan, James Taylor and Natalie cole, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones and idina menzel and michael bublé — suddenly considered politically incorrect despite remaining one of the world’s most popular christmas songs? is it a rape anthem or a song of women’s empowerment? There are arguments for each side.
To modern ears, the song indeed checks most of the boxes for sexual misconduct.
The lyrics may not have aged well. it’s essentially a woman seeming to give reasons for why she should leave a man’s home while he repeatedly counters them. The song even includes the cardinal sin of 21st-century sexual consent: a woman saying “no” (“i ought to say no, no, no sir”) while the man ignores her (“mind if move in closer?”).
Loesser wasn’t a sexual predator
loesser wrote baby it’s cold Outside as a fun duet to perform with his wife at parties.
“it was never anything other than a sweet couple’s number for him and his spouse,” the couple’s son, John loesser, told Vanity Fair, adding his father would be mortified by its modern association with sexual assault.
The woman holds her own and sexual norms were changing
in 2014, the Washington Post’s marya hannun wrote that baby, it’s cold Outside was once seen as an “anthem for progressive women.”
it was written in the very earliest years of the sexual revolution, when the social upheaval of the second World War had opened up an entire generation of young people to sexual experimentation.
“after 15 years of depression and war, there was a desire on the part of americans to live in the moment and enjoy life, and they were accordingly less likely to defer to traditional restraints on their behaviour,” university of Florida researcher alan Petigny said in 2005 after publishing a study showing higher-thanexpected rates of wartime premarital sex.
defenders of baby, it’s cold Outside say it is a cheeky ballad of a couple wanting to get cozy, but who must work their way around those “traditional restraints.”
“The lyrics make it obvious the couple is colluding to create a cover story,” wrote shannon rupp for the Tyee in 2014. “his arguments and her protests are a ritual.”
rupp notes that the ambiguity of this era would end up having dire consequences for women and would ultimately usher in a much clearer picture of “no means no” sexual consent in the 1960s. “but that wasn’t true when the song was written in 1944,” she wrote.
‘What’s in this drink?’ may not be so damning
This is easily the most uncomfortable line for anybody currently of dating age who happens to overhear the song on a mall loudspeaker.
comedian bill cosby is currently in jail for raping women he drugged with spiked alcoholic drinks. a 2016 study of u.s. university students found that as many as one in 13 reported having been drugged.
sung references to drink control just don’t have the same whimsy they once did.
it’s probably safe to assume loesser didn’t write a song extolling alcohol or illicit pharmaceuticals to drug his wife into unconsciousness in order to rape her.
The counter theory is that the line is actually the woman attempting to excuse her own desire to spend the night in defiance of social conventions.
slay belle wrote that some variant of the line “What’s in this drink?” was a common gag in movies of the era, and was primarily used by characters looking to excuse their own behaviour, writing: “The drink is the shield someone gets to hold up in front of them to protect from criticism.”
The classic Christmas song Baby, It’s Cold Outside has been covered by duos as various as Ella Fitzgerald (above left) and Louis Jordan, Al Hirt and AnnMargret, Bette Midler and James Caan, James Taylor and Natalie Cole, Willie Nelson (right) and Norah Jones (above, right) and Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé.