Chilly or not?

Re­vis­it­ing Baby, It’s Cold Out­side in the #MeToo era

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - ENTERTAINMENT - TRISTIN HOP­PER

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.

DAR­REN BROWN/PosT­media neT­woRk

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