Baby, It’s Bad Out There
Can I just say: It’s not even a fucking Christmas song.
I kind of hate all Christmas music anyway. 99% of it is drivel that we would never be caught dead listening to at any other time of year. At best it has a lovely melody (O Holy Night comes to mind) but (atheist POV here) creepy or ridiculous lyrics that leave me conflicted; at worst, it’s trite, clichéd, and annoying AF. By December 25th, honestly, the thing I am most looking forward to is that the fucking music is gonna stop by the end of the day.
But there’s a song out there which has spawned controversy waaaay over and above that of a non-believer singing about the Messiah arriving via improbable virgin birth. And you know which one I’m talking about.
To those who continue to fuel the annual culture skirmish around the airing of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a festive season staple, brace yourselves, because I’m taking the snowflake side.
And yes, I know. I know. It’s been blogged to death already and I should really just learn not to feed the trolls. I’ve waded in a couple of times on social media already and gotten bitch-slapped for it, but something in me just won’t let it go. At least here on my blog, almost no-one comments, so perhaps I can have the last word. (But hey, feel free to prove me wrong here. Go ahead. Comment.)
In the unlikely event that you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the short version: a radio station in Ohio announced in early December that, out of respect for those who found the lyrics of Baby, It’s Cold Outside to be date-rapey, it was removing the song from its Christmas playlist. Shortly thereafter, several Canadian media outlets, including the venerable CBC, announced they were following suit.
And the proverbial shit hit the fan.
I will be blunt (yeah, when am I not?) when I say that personally, I find the song extremely date-rapey. Every single time I hear it, it creeps me the hell out.
And I will also be blunt in telling you that I, personally, have never been raped. That puts me in the minority among women, according to a 2018 American study on sexual harassment and sexual assault. Have I come close? Yup. Very close. Have I been harassed, intimidated, threatened with violence, made to feel afraid of a man in my life? Yup, big time. Many times.
I am part of the 80% in that article above (if you haven’t clicked on it … do). And I suspect the other 20% are lying. (Women have many reasons to lie about it, by the way.)
Given that this is such a universal experience for women (which means it must be pretty universal behaviour for men, too, unfortunately), I don’t consider myself any more or less mentally healthy in the wake of those experiences, than my sistas. What I’m clumsily trying to say is that my visceral reaction to the song isn’t linked to any particular incident. It is not triggering for me to the extent that it brings on flashbacks or anything.
But I personally know more than one woman who has been raped. So do you. (And you don’t need to have been actually raped, to be triggered.)
I don’t need to actually reproduce the lyrics here, do I? You know which lines are problematic. (Most of them, really.) There’s the one suggesting the use of roofies (“Say, what’s in this drink?”). There’s all the ‘her mouth says no, no, but there’s yes, yes in her eyes’ bullshit, there’s the guy whining, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride?” and “How could you do this thing to me?” (it’s all about you, dude), and that’s to say nothing of the fact that half of her protests are about her mom and dad fretting at home, which leads me to ask — just how old is the female in this song? Do we have to add being a non-consenting minor to its extensive list of Extreme Squickiness??
So I am uncomfortably aware that if I feel squicky and unclean every time I hear this song, then I can easily imagine how it feels to someone whose mental health, in the wake of a horrifying experience, might be considerably more fragile than mine.
I just don’t find that thought particularly festive.
Even the luckiest of females has been in the position of having to gracefully extricate herself from a situation with some dude, which has turned threatening, uncomfortable, fucking creepy, or otherwise potentially unsafe. We’ve been trained to do it by the generations of women before us, by being conciliatory and non-confrontational rather than firm and no-nonsense. We try to escape with our dignity intact, and leave the door
open to further interactions (I can’t help but think about this with a shiver of discomfort for the women who had the misfortune to interact with Jian Ghomeshi and then got strafed at his trial) while we’re getting the hell outta Dodge.
Now, before you say it. Yes, I am aware of the arguments that the song is a product of its time, when women couldn’t just simply say yes to sexual advances, when they had to be coy and play ‘hard to get’. And I understand that the lyrics can be interpreted as flirtation on both sides. I get it. I really, really do. But.
I’ve watched the two scenes in which the song is used, in the 1949 movie, Neptune’s Daughter. And I find it pretty squicky regardless of whether it’s Esther Williams fending off Ricardo Montalban, or the gender-bending version with Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. It’s serious dub-con (dubious consent) territory either way.
Is this me reacting with a set of 21st century, feminist attitudes towards gender interactions, sexual politics, and consent, heightened perhaps by the #MeToo movement? Undoubtedly. But then how would we know if anyone in the audience in 1949 was squirming uncomfortably? It’s not like women had the means or opportunity to voice that discomfort in any way, shape or form at the time.
In 2018, people have leapt to the defence of the song with such vehemence that I wonder what they’re hearing when they call the song ‘cute’ and ‘charming’. They’ve even explained away the roofies stuff by erroneously claiming it was written during Prohibition (it wasn’t) or that it was a prevailing joke of the time to say, “What’s in this drink?” to excuse any sort of naughty behaviour. Not terribly convincing, IMHO.
I find it really irritating when people deflect from the problematic lyrics of Baby, It’s Cold Outside by pointing out other songs which are equally, or more ‘offensive’. The typical Facebook post in this vein runs along the lines of, “But what about (every rap song ever written)?” Yes, (every rap song ever written) is a misogynist dumpster fire. That’s irrelevant. I’m not forced to listen to any of it during the holiday season.
What’s worse than the deflecting, though, is the accusation that I have jumped on the bandwagon of People Who are Offended by Everything. How in hell could I possibly object to this delightful holiday classic? Why would I want to spoil (interesting word, that) a cherished holiday tradition? I must be a humourless, snowflake, femiNazi bitch to even bring it up. Can’t I see the woman in the song wants it?
Here’s the thing: there is a huge, huge gulf between being offended, and being triggered. I am not offended by Baby, It’s Cold Outside. (Those who know me, and those who have read this blog, know that there’s plenty of stuff I get pissed off about, but actually precious little that I’m offended by.) But I am triggered, and I know that many, many women are far more triggered than I am (holy shit, I have never used so many italics in one blog post before). To the point of being traumatized.
And on behalf of those women (and maybe some men too, who knows), I personally would like not to have to hear Baby, It’s Cold Outside on the radio every December, and I applaud the media outlets who have responded to that with sensitivity. I’m also happy to heap scorn upon the cowards who reversed that decision (I’m looking at you, CBC).
Those who have taken offense by my (supposedly) being offended have also argued that it’s ludicrous that the song was banned by humourless-femiNazi-bitches like me (it wasn’t banned — in every case, the media outlets chose voluntarily to withdraw the song from their playlists), and that if I don’t like it, I can always just change the station (I do, actually). My counter-argument: if so many people find the song anything but festive (and here I have to emphasize once again: it’s not even a Christmas song — it only mentions snow, not the holiday at all!), then why not spare them the squickiness and, if you enjoy the song, just play it for yourself in the comfort of your own home or car? Seems like a win-win to me.
There’s a now somewhat famous Tumblr post about Baby, It’s Cold Outside written by someone named teachingwithcoffee, which sums up the sexual politics of the song like this:
“So it’s not actually a song about rape – in fact it’s a song about a woman finding a way to exercise sexual agency in a patriarchal society designed to stop her from doing so. But it’s also, at the same time, one of the best illustrations of rape culture that pop culture has ever produced. It’s a song about a society where women aren’t allowed to say yes…which happens to mean it’s also a society where women don’t have a clear and unambiguous way to say no.”
The rage I feel at our lack of agency — both in the 1940s, when the song was written, and right now — is a bit inarticulate, frankly. The idea that women still cannot make straightforward choices about our sexuality without being hoist by our own petards is frankly ridiculous — and yet, here we are, still being judged as either frigid or sluts, depending on our answer to a proposition. If we say yes, without a whole bunch of token protests à la the song, then we’re nymphos, but if we say no we don’t really mean it and we’ll inevitably cave under pressure? Oh, wait, and then after we cave under pressure, men don’t respect us anymore. There’s just something utterly unpalatable about all of that patriarchal shit, and it makes me see red because, apparently, there’s a huge segment of the population which never wants to see that change.
Which means that, on some level, we still have very little understanding of consent, and very little willingness to give up the structure of male privilege.
I don’t know how much longer it’s going to take us to get to ‘no can actually mean no’. But the vigour with which people have defended this song seems to be matched only by the energy with which they have utterly dismissed anyone’s sensitivity to the lyrics as being politically correct “snowflake” behaviour. All of which frankly flabbergasts me given the reaction in the past year or two to the Harvey Weinsteins, the Bill Cosbys, the Kevin Spaceys of this world. When it comes to this song, the lack of consideration for actual rape victims has been staggering in its callousness.
So to all the people who have attacked me because I spoke up to say I think there’s less harm in not playing the song, than in playing it, well, fuck you. It is apparently still Bad Out There.
This is not a non sequitur: In 1946, Disney put out a movie called Song of the South. It was chock full of catchy tunes, an innovative mix of live-action and animation … and some of the most egregious and blatant racism that ever came out of that studio. What was perfectly acceptable to a 1946 audience is now not even remotely so, and Disney, recognizing a lost cause when it sees one, hasn’t even tried to resurrect, recycle, or otherwise make more millions out of this movie, unlike everything else in its vaults. It’s basically a hard nope, and they know it.
That’s what needs to happen to Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Look at it in the context of the time, then acknowledge that our perspective has finally, finally changed for the better and that in today’s world, the attitudes and behaviour expressed by the lyrics of this song just aren’t appropriate anymore. Zip-a-dee-do-dah, say bye-bye, Felicia.