On “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

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With December comes an onslaught of Christmas music. To the exception of intentionally political Christmas songs—like Billy Joel’s “Christmas in Fallujah” or John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”—holiday music tends to be uncontroversial. Because most Christmas songs explore agreeable topics (wintery weather, romance, and Santa, to name a few), they have largely avoided conflict.

Christmas music’s immunity to controversy lasted until early December, when radio stations elected to stop airing Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” during the holiday season. Although some claim that debates about the song sprang up a few years ago, the #MeToo movement—which has encouraged reflection about the true meaning of consent—has thrust the controversy into the mainstream.

The song and its accompanying video feature a man coaxing a woman to spend the night with him, telling her that she shouldn’t go home because “baby, it’s cold outside.” The woman comes up with excuses to leave, asserting that her neighbors and parents would worry if she did not return home. As the male suitor becomes more persistent, she finally declares that “the answer is no.” Unmoved (and ostensibly offended) by her rejection, he comes up with his own excuses—beyond reminding her that it’s cold—for her to stay. Most notably, he tries to woo her by posing as a victim, accusing the woman of trying to “hurt [his] pride” and claiming that her rejection would cause “lifelong sorrow.”

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has generally patriarchal undertones. By repeating that “it’s cold outside,” the suitor juxtaposes his “warm” house with the cold outside, suggesting that the woman needs a man to keep her safe. Moreover the overall narrative of the song reinforces the antiquated notion that men are to be the pursuers and that women are to be the pursued.

However, the song’s prevailing controversy is its trivialization of consent because the suitor refuses to take no for an answer. If “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” portrayed the him as an antagonist (Thelma and Louise-style?), it would be far less problematic. Unfortunately, the song glorifies the tradition of “wearing down” a romantic interest to transform a no into a yes. It paints the man as a hero of romance, and it implies that, facing a reluctant romantic interest, one must pressure them (although them usually equals her) into saying yes. Lastly, having to refuse catcalls and persistent sexual advances can be distressing—but “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” suggests that it’s a flattering experience for women.

After the shooting in Toronto in April, many Americans condemned the “incel” (short for involuntary celibate) movement for encouraging violence against women. Incels blame their celibacy on the women’s rights movement, arguing that the empowerment of women has eroded the tradition of men courting women without ever having to fear rejection. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” echoes the sentiments of incels—the man believes he is entitled to the woman. And the potential reference to date rape (“what’s in this drink?”) opens a can of worms that would require another thinkpiece.

Many like to claim that the 21st century has brought about a new “wokeness” about social justice issues, but the public’s new appreciation for consent is a new trend. In NBC’s Parks and Recreation a few years ago, Tom Haverford—portrayed by #MeToo supporter Aziz Ansari—claimed that “you wore me down” were the “four sweetest words in the English language.” And Idina Menzel, who has voiced support for #MeToo as well, sang a cover of the song with Michael Buble in 2014. Countless 21st century sitcoms (including children’s sitcoms) also extol men who pursue women despite an initial rejection.

If the silencing of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” constitutes a War on Christmas, so be it. 

About the author

Matt Walsh is a VI Form day student from Southborough, Massachusetts. He leads Openly Secular, plays trumpet and French horn, and leads the young Democrats club. His academic interests include public policy, political science, and chemistry, and he plays baseball and runs cross country. In his free time, he curates Spotify playlists and pets his dog, Portia. Matt hopes that The Parkman Post can be a hub for intellectual thought, ideological diversity and meaningful debate.

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