December 23

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Baby It’s Cold Outside: A Feminist Anthem?

Every year in recent memory, I’ve seen a plethora of articles, parodies, and hashtags calling out the Frank Loesser song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” for being a prime example of rape culture. The first time I paid attention the lyrics of the song, I too became disgusted by it. Even years later, I’m still thumbs-downing version after version of the song on my Pandora Christmas station. It’s like a splinter that won’t come out.

 

I’m always surprised when I see feminist writers defending the song. Some say that, considering the time in which it was written, the song is progressive, but often quickly backpedal to suggest that it has taken on a new meaning now and should be taken off Christmas playlists. Some say that if the gender roles were reversed, it could fix the song’s rapey vibe (note: this is an ignorant suggestion).  Others overtly defend the song as an empowering anthem for women who don’t follow society’s expectations of them.

 

Even I jumped on that last article in a fit of Facebook comment outrage:

Well that sure is an interesting take on the song. “As she’s talking about leaving, she never says she doesn’t want to stay. The song ends with the woman doing what she wants to do, not what she’s expected to do, and there’s something very encouraging about that message.”

 

So because she doesn’t say no, it’s alright to keep pressuring until you get the answer you want to hear? er, I mean the answer you know she really feels deep down inside if it wasn’t for society’s expectations for her to be a good girl. That assumption is one of the most basic problems we have with consent today.

 

The differences in societal expectations at the time when this song was written actually aren’t as big as the article suggests–women are still often raised to believe that their sexual purity is a measure of their worth as a person. Many women still decline sexual encounters, even if they really want to do it, because of what their church/family/roommates/God will think, but it’s still not the man’s (or anyone’s) place to offer “her the excuses she needs to stay without guilt. ” Like he’s really doing her a favor. Gimme a break. It’s entirely the woman’s responsibility to break from outside expectations and act on her own free will, and until then, her suitors are just out of luck. If they really want to help her think for herself and not worry about what other people think, there are other ways to have those conversations that don’t involve trying to get in her pants at that moment.

 

This article says criticisms of the song only focus on the “what’s in this drink?” line and gives an alternative meaning to said line. But the lines where the man says “what’s the sense in hurting my pride? Baby don’t hold out” and “Think of my life long sorrow if you caught pneumonia and died, get over that hold out” are the most problematic, in my opinion. It’s not her responsibility to stay with him to protect his pride and prevent his sorrow if she DIES because she leaves.

 

And the fact the song was written for the parts of “wolf” and “mouse” is pretty predatory.

 

But this year, a Salon article claimed that Frank Loesser was actually a feminist—that his lyrics are actually a parody of patriarchy. These lyrics from his Broadway hit, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” do seem rather satirical:

 

“I’ll be so happy to keep his dinner warm
As he goes onward, and upward
Happy to keep his dinner warm
As he comes wearily home from downtown
I’ll be there wearing the wifely uniform

As he looks through me, right through me
Waiting to say good evening dear,
I’m pregnant. What’s new with you, from downtown?
Oh, to be loved by a man I respect
To bask in the glow
Of his perfectly understandable neglect.”

 

He looks right through me. His perfectly understandable neglect. Honestly, if these were lyrics from a Regina Spektor song, I’d be drinking up the oozing sarcasm as my own down-with-the-patriarchy anthem.

 

Other lyrics from the show include what could be one of the first jabs at “princess culture:”

 

We want to see his Highness
Married to your lowness
On you, Cinderella, sits the onus
You’re the fable, the symbol, of glorified unemployment…”

 

I mean, how could that not be satirical? I think it’s rather brilliant. The author then challenges us to look past Loesser’s lyrics and learn more about the man. The lead dancer in “How to Succeed in Business” was prepared to drop everything to move across the country to marry a man who “maybe wasn’t the greatest guy,” and Loesser encouraged her to keep writing and dancing and to follow her own dreams instead of chasing after marriage—not exactly the supportive of the time’s social norms when women went to college to get an “M.R.S.”

 

So what does this mean for “Baby It’s Cold Outside?” For me, I’ll still be giving it all the thumbs-downs I can muster, but I do appreciate how this one little song has driven a huge conversation about consent. And maybe that’s exactly what Frank Loesser intended.

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