I know that Baby, It’s Cold Outside sounds creepy. The coy, soprano woman asking to leave? The warbling baritone man urging her to stay? The roofie wink wink?! It sounds terrible, I know. And every December, a lot of people on the internet (hi) recall their distaste for the holiday classic. A quick Twitter sampling:
Your annual reminder that the story portrayed in “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is coercion, not consent.
— Holiday Troymeister (@Torypls) December 4, 2016
[Baby it’s Cold Outside 2016]
her: I really can’t stay
him: I’ll walk you to your car
her: thank you
— paperwash© (@PaperWash) December 13, 2016
All due respect to Dino, but ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is pretty much the rapiest of all Christmas songs.
— Timothy Omundson (@Omundson) December 10, 2016
Baby it’s Cold Outside is my favorite Christmas song about getting roofied during a blizzard.
— Lurkin’ Mom (@LurkAtHomeMom) December 7, 2016
I knew America was a scam when ppl tried to tell me “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a jolly Christmas carol and not a fuckboy anthem.
— Dani (@dhowE_) December 7, 2016
“Baby it’s cold outside [REVISED]”:
“I really can’t stay /
Okay baby I respect that, call me when you get home”
— andrea (@andrea_h1ckey) December 6, 2016
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” is such a creepy ass song ??? like can he let the gal just leave ??? I’m just sayin
— liv (@aliviiiia) December 4, 2016
Then, last week, a couple rewrote the lyrics to the song “to emphasize the importance of consent” and it went viral. “I’ve always had a big problem with the song,” the boyfriend told CNN. “It’s so aggressive and inappropriate.”
The girlfriend: “You never figure out if she gets to go home. You never figure out if there was something in her drink. It just leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.”
Here they are performing it live:
But the other day I saw a counterpoint that convinced me we were all wrong about this. I’ve been unfairly self-righteous about it ever since (it’s 2016 and it’s never been easier to become an expert). I’ll warn you, the inflection point is random, but I corroborated it! It was written by a self-proclaimed “former English nerd/teacher” (AKA an anonymous person on Tumblr) and it was seemingly whipped up as a quick response to this tweet by Andrew Rannells (love Andrew Rannells):
I don’t think any more people need to record Baby It’s Cold Outside. I think we’re good there.
— Andrew Rannells (@AndrewRannells) December 10, 2014
She (the blogger) started by pointing out that “What’s in this drink?“ was a common joke in the ’30s and ’40s that meant there was nothing in the drink whatsoever, but the jokester was going to blame his or her behavior on it anyway. Kind of like tripping and performing a dramatic look back to blame something nonexistent in your path. And in the sexually oppressive environment of the early-to-mid-century, women used it as an excuse to do what they wanted while simultaneously escaping the judgement of others.
“It is not a joke about how she’s drunk and about to be raped,” she (the blogger!) writes. “It’s a joke about how she’s perfectly sober and about to have awesome consensual sex and use the drink for plausible deniability because she’s living in a society where women aren’t supposed to have sexual agency.”
She goes on to break down the rest of the lyrics; you can read it here. I was rapt, swear. After some internet digging I discovered more Baby defenders (consequently the name of my new rock band).
“The tension in the song comes from her own desire to stay and society’s expectations that she’ll go,” writes Slay Belle of Persephone Magazine. “We see this in the organization of the song — from stopping by for a visit, to deciding to push the line by staying longer, to wanting to spend the entire night, which is really pushing the bounds of acceptability.”
So there you have it. Baby, It’s Cold Outside is about an oppressed woman finding a way to claim sexual agency in a small-minded society! Isn’t that a good 180? I love it.
The counterpoint, of course, is that the historical context doesn’t matter. That perception is reality. That the song propagates the blurring of the word “no,” regardless of its original intention. Fair points, thought it seems like a stretch to me. Plus, I like having this new piece of trivia and am not ready to give it up yet. What do you think?
Photo by Krista Anna Lewis.