It’s Not THAT Cold Outside

I know a lot of people look forward to the return of Christmas music, but I slightly dread it. Don’t get me wrong, I love dragging out my favorite holiday albums from Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Trisha Yearwood, Amy Grant, Celtic Woman, She & Him, Susan Boyle, and so many others, but at the same time, it means the return of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” For those who haven’t heard this problematic duet, here’s a table to get you caught up:

Lyrics

Implication

 

Man:

“I really hoped you’d drop in”

Woman:

“My mother will start to worry”

“My father will be pacing the floor”

“My sister will be suspicious”

“My brother will be there at the door”

 

The song is a duet between a man and a woman sung near the end of a friendly visit. The lyric does not imply that this was a pre-scheduled date, and I assume that the woman stopped by to visit her male friend who lives nearby to her parents’ home where she is staying presumably for the Holidays. The two individuals discuss drinking a lot, so I am assuming that they are legal drinking age and out on their own in general.

 

Woman:

“I really can’t stay” (sung 3x)

“I’ve got to go away”

“So really I’d better scurry”

“I simply must go”

 

The woman clearly wants to leave the man’s dwellings and is trying to end the visit and get out the door.

 

Man:

“but Baby, it's cold outside”

“Listen to the fireplace roar”

“Put some records on while I pour.”

“but Baby, you’d freeze out there”

“It’s up to your knees out there.”

“If you caught pneumonia and died”

 

The man pressures her to stay by stressing how cold it is outside, offering another drink, suggesting that they listen to a record, commenting on the niceness of the fireplace, and expressing his concern that she’ll get sick. These seem like good sentiments, but check out the new few rows of this chart.

Man:

“I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice”

“your eyes are like starlight now”

“I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell”

“what's the sense in hurtin' my pride?”

“gosh your lips look delicious”

“I thrill when you touch my hand.”

“How can you do this to me?”

“Think of my lifelong sorrow.”

 

The spontaneousness of the visit makes me believe that this song is about two friends seeing each other after a long hiatus. Of course, I am only considering this song as a stand-alone song, not as a part of a musical or film that would provide additional context. While it’s perfectly possible that two friends may both consent to consensual sex or “friends with benefits,” I do not get a sense from this song that the woman is interested in a sexual relationship. She makes no comments about wanting to engage sexually with the man or any comments on his sex appeal. Her comments are restricted to thanking him for a nice evening and expressing the desire to leave. In several instances, she does mention that she wishes she could stay later, but this may be out of politeness in order to avoid an ugly exchange with the man who is pressuring her. All such sexual statements come from the man, who in the course of the song seems to be begging for sex and takes her desire to leave as a hit against his character instead of respecting her autonomy to say “no.” The closest statement the man makes to understanding consent is asking “mind if I move in closer,” but that is quickly invalidated because after she responds “I ought to say no, no, no,” he responds “what’s the sense of hurting my pride?”

Woman:

“What’s in this drink?”

 

The man does not answer. It may be that he holds up a bottle to show her, which we don’t hear in the song. That said, there’s no way to know this by just listening, so it’s possible that anything from peppermint to Rohypnol. Giving the increasing pressure to engage with him as the song progresses, I am not willing to rule out the chance that the drink is laced, and the man may be trying to drug and rape the woman. This single line added to the increasing pressure makes this song feel extremely rapey.

 

As you can see, I’m not this song’s biggest fan. It’s never cold enough outside to justify rape. If the weather was truly that bad out, the man should have offered her a place to sleep, a pillow, and a blanket and then retreated to his own sleeping quarters. The woman could have also offered to call her parents to let them know that she was unable to return home due to the weather, if it actually was a concern. However, nothing indicates that it is THAT cold, snowy, or icey. Therefore, I’m left assuming that the woman’s health will actually not be harmed if she leaves and therefore, it is the man pressuring her to stay out for less altruistic purposes. Nothing in the song suggests that this woman is willing to consent to sex with this man, even if she does enjoy his company. Getting explicit consent is necessary, so the man needs to make sure he has an emphatic “Yes!” before any sexual contact. I’m not even sure that this woman wanted him touching her arm or hair in this song. Because it’s so vague, ambiguous, and gives off an awful feeling in its current form, I fully support removing this song and replacing it with a new Christmas duet that takes over the radio.

Look, I get that it’s one of very few Christmas duets, but it’s time to retire this song. I think 2017 is the perfect time to do it too. It’s the year of the #MeToo moment, and while we’re busy taking down those who have used their positions of power and privilege to harass and abuse others, I think we’d all win if we took down this song. It’s hard to call for sexual misconduct to be addressed while singing along loudly to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Everyone’s getting mixed messages when our news stories are trying to explain sexual misconduct, but a beloved Christmas song seems to imply that date rape is just sampling the Christmas spirits.

Advocates for not retiring this song suggest that because of the social implications of the 1940’s the song is actually a lot more innocent than interpreted by someone in the 21st Century, but I do not buy that argument as modern artists, aware of how the song’s lyrics can be interpreted, are still performing it. This song was originally written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, and it hasn’t aged well. Unlike his musicals Guys and Dolls and How to Exceed in Business Without Really Trying, which while they portray problematic representations of women can at least can be seen within the context of their individual periods, the stand-aloneness of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” means that it is judged based on the standards of period in which it’s performed. It’d be one thing if only older versions were being played by the radio, but it’s another since I have at least ten versions of this one in my Google Play Library from modern performers who have released Christmas albums in the last ten years including Kelly Clarkson, Idina Menzel and Michael Buble, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, and Darius Ruckers.

Last year, singer-songwriters Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski, rewrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with less problematic lyrics, and I encourage you to give it a listen. The man is now a-okay with the woman choosing to leave, and the drink is clearly something delicious. I applaud this duo for their efforts, but I’m honestly ready for this song to go away entirely unless every artist will promise that moving forward they’ll only use the reworked lyrics.

Call me Scrooge, but I firmly believe it’s time to retire this song and a few other Christmas songs. Let’s give new songwriters the chance to write new Christmas music, including new duets. Admit it: it’d be nice to have a whole new set of Christmas song because “Jingle Bells” and other public domain songs are getting a old, over-recorded, and over played. When radio stations switch to 24/7 Christmas music, I go a bit stir crazy because I can only take so many versions of the same song. Lots of singers have great voices, but those voices no longer stand out if they are saying the same words with the same message.

I’m sure there are new songwriters who’d love to have their Christmas tunes recorded, and these songs will likely be more representative of the current world. For example, another song that I’d really like to not have to hear again on the radio is the 1984 Band Aid song “Do They Know That It’s Christmas?” This colonial and condescending song tells the listener that they should celebrate this holiday season because at least they are not living is disparate Africa that is so impoverished that they may not have even heard about Christ… Not only does it promote a Christian worldview that is not applicable in all areas, but it also seems to imply that race is a reason for poverty.  For a charity-song asking for people to help others, it clearly doesn’t convey the message of getting to know a person or a place before judging it. This song, while I question why it was ever written, is certainly past its prime, just like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”  

Now I’m not saying that we have to get rid of all old songs. I love listening to Classic Rock, singing along with Frank Sinatra as he croons the standards, and analyzing old Broadway shows for their significance in history and cultural commentary. Nevertheless, I recognize that there are some songs that are simply too problematic to still exist in everyday rotation, similar to how some movies should be retired to their time and place. It’s time to say goodbye to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Do They Know That It’s Christmas?” and say hello to songs that promote consent and cultural understanding. Let’s spread holiday cheer and goodwill without harming someone else with ignorance.