“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser in 1944, is a Christmas classic. There’s not a radio station in America that doesn’t air renditions from Dolly Parton to Lady Gaga to Will Ferrell and Zoey Deschanel in Elf. And until a few months ago it was a fun duet to be sung at holiday parties. Now it’s a cautionary tale.
Nothing is simple anymore. In light of today’s politically charged atmosphere, we are being forced to view everything through a new lense. What used to be a football game is now a discussion of patriotism and police brutality. What used to be a relatively easy vote for a president became a choice of which person’s lies can you tolerate the most. Saying hello with a hug and kiss on the cheek has caused many to pause in fear of accusations of harassment. And singing a song about convincing a girl to spend the night makes some of us cringe instead of smile.
It’s certainly been an historical year. As history judges 2017, I believe it will look back and see the year women truly took a stand and rewrote their roles in society. As a woman I’m thrilled. And hopeful. As a mother of boys I’m nervous. We are playing a game without a rule book and there are no winners and losers. Only confusion.
As I contemplated the lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” I felt as if I was truly listening to them for the first time. Prior to 2017, I’d sing along with my husband to the fun melody and playful lyrics. I didn’t hear harassment. I heard one of the oldest conversations in human history — a man trying to woo a woman. Which made me stop to think about why that dynamic of romantic cat-and-mouse existed in the first place.
Throughout history women have rarely had real power. Sure, there were powerful women but they were still in a man’s world and thereby limited in what they could accomplish. In order to circumnavigate the bindings placed on them, women learned to use the tools they had at their disposal — their sexuality. If there’s one thing women have always known about men it’s that they are easily distracted when it comes to sex. You can take the most accomplished man in the world and show him a picture of a beautiful naked woman and he instantly becomes a puddle of goo. It’s not a bad thing. Men were designed that way in order to continue the survival of our species. As study after study has shown us, men are more sexual in nature than women. (There’s a reason women aren’t the ones going down in this recent series of scandals. It’s not that we’re perfect. Just motivated by different things. Give us time to catch up and we’ll be causing the scandals!)
In the song the man plays the role he’s always played by choice, that of aggressor. The woman plays the role she’s always been forced to play, that of the weaker-minded sex. In a world where women were never given control they learned how to use their sexuality to control men. In the song the woman deliberately plays coy. She leads the man in this dance of back and forth banter that gets them both to the place they want to be eventually. (I’ll leave that “place” up to your imagination!) Through her reticence she makes the man desire her all the more. She controls the outcome through clever machinations. We used to call this flirtation.
One line of the song really stood out to me when I was listening to it for the first time this season. “I simply must go, the answer is no.” How many times have men heard “no” but decided that the woman really didn’t mean it? How many times have women said “no” and didn’t really mean it?
The game has changed and all the players need to learn the new rules.
Men, if a woman says “no” step away. Don’t try to coax her. Don’t tell her she doesn’t know her own mind. And certainly don’t pull out your penis and show it to her! Your powers of seduction may be legendary but if the object of your desire doesn’t return your advances then you MUST accept defeat and move on.
Conversely, women, be prepared to say what you mean. If you really mean “no” then be firm. Don’t send confusing signals. Be prepared for the man to walk away if you’ve firmly stated your position. If your desired outcome is for the man to pursue relations then be clear about that also. There is no room for coyness and guessing games in today’s world.
Another line that made me absolutely cringe was “Say, what’s in this drink?” What? Come again?? Has he slipped her a date drug???
As much as this sounds horrible in today’s atmosphere we have to remember that this song was released in the 40’s. Our country was in a completely different place. If you read this line through the lense of historical context you realize the guy didn’t slip her anything. It was frowned upon for women to stay at a man’s place unchaperoned. Often times women would jokingly ask about what they were drinking since they were potentially making a disastrous decision in the eyes of society. It was fear of others’ condemnation that made her ask that question, not fear of the man she was with.
Historical context is ALWAYS important to consider. Dustin Hoffman was recently accused of inappropriate behavior by production assistant Anna Graham Hunter during the filming of 1985’s Death of a Salesman. In an interview with John Oliver, Hoffman explains that the environment on set was different thirty years ago. That doesn’t make what Hoffman did right but it certainly makes me pause long enough to think that this incredibly talented actor is being painted in a way that isn’t truthful. It makes me ask myself, “What do I do today that will be seen as socially unacceptable thirty years from now? Will I lose my career, livelihood, family, friendships, respect because I did something I didn’t recognize as wrong?”
So, do we stop playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”? Should every celebrity who’s ever sang this song and made money from it have to donate the proceeds? Should they lose their careers for being insensitive to the ever present plight of women wanting to be taken seriously?
This discussion will continue to go on. I can’t wait to see how little girls today are given a future where they won’t be dismissed because of their gender and won’t have to fear predatory behavior from male colleagues. I’m also curious as to how the courting ritual will change. How do I teach my boys to navigate in today’s sensitive environment?
We live in exciting and scary times. To survive we must all be slow to judge, swift to defend the innocent, and cautious of each move we make because the rules are changing and if we’re not careful it might just be us in the crosshairs next.