Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual assault in general and as a possibility between people in a song.
The Poet and the Activist and I were sitting in the pupusería. We’d finished eating our pupusas and were lingering over books and postcards to be written. Because it was December, holiday music was blasting through the dining room.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” started playing.
Do you know this song? It goes like this:
I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what’s your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (i’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (oh baby don’t hold out)
But baby, it’s cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)
Your welcome has been (how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)
But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I’ve gotta get home(but baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it’s up to your knees out there)
You’ve really been grand (I thrill when you touch my hand)
But don’t you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia [sic] and died)
I really can’t stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it’s cold
Baby, it’s cold outside
I hate this song! I said,
Me too! the Poet said. Let’s get out of here!
We gathered up our things and hurried out. The song chased us out of the building!
Wikipedia says “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written by Frank Loesser in 1944. Although it’s been around for over half a century, I don’t remember it from my childhood. We never sang it in music class. It was never part of any holiday production at school. Elvis didn’t sing it on the Christmas cassette which was a staple of my family’s holiday seasons growing up. Maybe it was just a little risque for children or Elvis. It seems to have grown more popular in the last few years, especially after Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett sang it in that Barnes & Noble commercial. Even with my limited Christmas celebrating, it’s difficult to get through the season without hearing it. In fact, on the same day the song chased us from the restaurant, we heard it again not two hours later as we strolled through a cactus garden decked out in lights and strange winter-themed inflatable decorations.
If you don’t know the song, here’s how the aforementioned Wikipedia article explains it:
The lyrics in this duet are designed to be heard as a conversation between two people, identified as “mouse” and “wolf” on the printed score; they have returned to the wolf’s home after a date, and the mouse decides it is time to go home, but the wolf flirtatiously invites the mouse to stay as it is late and “it’s cold outside.” The mouse wants to stay and enjoy herself, but feels obligated to return home, worried what family and neighbors will think if she stays. Every line in the song features a statement from the mouse followed by a response from the wolf, which is musically known as a call and response song.
I’m not sure where exactly the author of the Wikipedia article gets the idea “[t]he mouse wants to stay and enjoy herself…” Here’s what I notice the “mouse” saying: “I really can’t stay.” “[W]hat’s in this drink?” “I wish I knew how [t]o break this spell.” “I simply must go.” “The answer is no.” To me, those are not the things a person who wants to stay would be saying.
I didn’t know that people in the song are referred to as the “mouse” (usually the woman) and the “wolf” (usually the man) until I did some research for this post. The fact that wolves eat mice gives this song sinister connotations I hadn’t even considered when I originally took a dislike to this song.
I call this song “A Date Rape Christmas,” even though there are no actual references to December 25 or sexual assault. I don’t mean to make light of sexual assault or acquaintance rape. When I refer to the song as “A Date Rape Christmas, I’m trying to get people to think about what’s going on between the singers. The woman wants to leave. The man is trying to convince her to stay, ostensibly so they can have sex. (If he were only worried about her safety while traveling in inclement weather, he’d be singing about making up a bed for her on the couch.) He won’t take no–even multiple declarations of no–as an answer. He won’t accept no means no.
Ignoring no is at the root of sexual assault. Sure, the male singer hasn’t assaulted the female singer–yet. I shudder to think about what might happen later, if the woman decides to stay over after all, but decides she doesn’t want to engage in sexual activity. Will she be accused of asking for it because she doesn’t want to go out in bad weather?
Apparently, I’m not the first person to criticize this song. According to the previously quoted Wikipedia article,
Although some critical analyses of the song have highlighted parts of the lyrics such as “What’s in this drink?” and his unrelenting pressure to stay despite her repeated suggestions that she should go home, others noted that cultural expectations of the time period were such that women were not socially permitted to spend the night with a boyfriend or fiance, and that the female speaker states that she wants to stay, while “what’s in this drink” was a common idiom of the period used to rebuke social expectations by blaming one’s actions on the influence of alcohol.
Well, ok, maybe the cultural expectations for men and women in the 1940s (and 1950s and 1960s and 1970s) were different than they are today. But if the cultural expectations are different now than they once were, why are we still listening to a song that reinforces the outdated expectations?
The author of the Wikipedia article says ,”the female speaker states that she wants to stay.” but I can’t find such a statement anywhere in the song. The only really positive thing I can find the female singer saying is “This evening has been [s]o very nice,” but that’s hardly a strong statement of wanting to stay.
The song also sets the bad example of someone not standing up for her own needs and desires. Yes, the woman is saying no, but why doesn’t she stand up, put on her coat and leave? Why does she stick around while he tries to convince her?
Maybe she really does like the guy. Maybe she does want to stay over. Maybe she wants to have sex with the guy. Fine. Just own it! Just say yes! But stop with the games! And stop with the song that teaches girls to play games and boys to keep pushing the issue after the girl says, The answer is no!
Yes, the song reflects the attitudes about the relationship between men and women in the age it was written. Men pursue. Good girls have to be convinced. It’s dated and sexist and I don’t need to be bombarded with it while the holiday spirit is being forced on me.
I think we need a new winter song that goes something like this:
Person #1: Hey, baby, it’s cold outside. The weather’s terrible. Why don’t you stay over?
Person #2: That sound great! Can I sleep in your bed with you?
Person #1: Sure! And I was hoping we’d do more than sleep.
Person #2: Me too! Let’s go!
I think the plot makes for a sexier song.