Why “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Makes Me Cringe
Most of the time when I hear people talking about the creepiness factor of Frank Loesser’s 1944 song “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” the line that comes up is “What’s in this drink?”
But a little later in the song, we come to this exchange:
Her: I simply must go.
Him: Baby, it’s cold outside.
Her: The answer is no.
Him: Baby, it’s cold outside.
It’s pretty simple: If you’re interested in someone and trying to convince them to stay the night, and they tell you “the answer is no,” that’s the end of it. If you keep pressuring and coercing that person, you’ve chosen the role of the villain.
“But historical context!”
Yes, 1944 was a different time. For instance, in the U.S., it was legal for a man to rape his wife. Married women weren’t allowed to say no to their husbands. The couple in the song aren’t married, but you’re still dealing with the general cultural assumption that a woman’s “No” is empty and meaningless.
That…doesn’t actually work as an excuse. It doesn’t make the behavior okay. It doesn’t make the guy who ignores the woman’s “No” any less of a creep and a predator.
“She doesn’t mean it.”
I’ve heard the argument that this is all a game, and they’re just circling one another, moving closer and closer with each flirtatious verse.
Maybe you’re right. Maybe she doesn’t mean it.
It doesn’t matter. When someone says no, you stop. You act on what they said, not on your imaginary magical wish-fulfilling mind-reading powers.
“It’s just a song.”
Yep. Just a song about a man pressuring and coercing a woman. One of a near-infinite list of stories that normalize this kind of tactic, that say it’s okay to ignore “No.”
Will listening to this song magically turn someone into a rapist? I don’t think anyone’s arguing that.
Will growing up in a culture that bombards you with these messages, that reinforces again and again that “No” is just an obstacle to be overcome, that suggests men deserve access to women) — will that turn someone into a rapist? It sure as hell pushes a lot of people along that path…
It’s All About the Guy…
There’s another line toward the end where the man says:
I thrill when you touch my hand.
How can you do this thing to me?
That second line… Because her saying “No” is somehow all about him. About what he wants. Not only is this kind of guilt trip another form of coercion and manipulation, it’s also another layer of the presumption that he deserves access to her. That for her to even consider refusing him is some sort of cruel and unusual punishment.
It’s just a song. It’s a song that mirrors what we see happening again and again. We see boys and men who think “No” is a challenge to be overcome. We see the presumption that men are entitled to women. Again and again, we see boys and men lashing out at girls and women who dare to say no.
Is the woman in the song flirting? Or is she simply afraid that if she says “No” too firmly, the man’s “charming” coercion could turn violent? Is she worried about what people will think? Or is she worried because she knows all too well how quickly a “nice” man can turn vicious when a woman tells him no?
You have the right to say no, and to have that boundary be respected.
And if they say “no” and you keep pushing? You’re not charming or flirtatious. You’re a predator.
December 26, 2016 @ 1:38 pm
This. All the points you make have gotten discussed in my circle of friends for some time — we often refer to this as “the date rape song”. And this is _exactly_ how date rape happens. And then society responds, Well, she didn’t leave, so she must have wanted it.”
Power, control, and subtle coercion — how romantic.
December 26, 2016 @ 2:00 pm
I have a friend whose (now ex-) boyfriend delivered a “sleep with me or walk home” ultimatum. Home was several miles away through the snow and there were no taxis available because of the weather.
Every time I hear someone defend this song, I think about how that guy probably doesn’t think he’s a rapist.
December 26, 2016 @ 2:04 pm
Like #1, we also call this the date rape song. It’s not cute. Even with the voices reversed, which is sold as “empowering”. Nope, still rape.
Eleanor C Ray
December 26, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
It makes me cringe to hear it. But to hear it defended as “cute” or “funny” or worst of all “romantic”, makes me grind my teeth to powder.
I know a man who argues that “you know that is not what the song means” and that I don’t properly understand the man’s reaction. He is responding in the way men “are supposed to”, and it doesn’t mean that men would actually get violent. But men want to feel they have overcome a little resistance, because it strokes their ego, or something. He seems to feel I am reading something into the song, to find it offensive, because “that is not what the song is really about”.
So I shut up. He loves to argue his positions, I do not. He was not listening. He is not a MRA or anything, and he is not an idiot. He is an insecure man who feels women don’t understand men, but doesn’t think the opposite is true.
Personally, I think men and women can understand each other quite well if they *listen and try*. I *don’t* understand man’s perspective on women from the inside, nor does *he* understand woman’s perspective on men. But we can all, *all* pay attention and listen to our counterparts, and fewer hurt feelings can result.
Actually, I think the best thing is to compare *my* perspective (I do not speak for all women) with *his* (he does not speak for all men), but it is hard not to escalate to generalizations when the other person habitually does.
It makes me damn sad to talk to him about this sort of thing. And it is hard to get him to take me seriously when he generalizes from his experience to talk about “men”, assuming, I guess that men pretty much all feel this way because he does. I try to speak for myself, not my entire gender, so I end up sounding irrelevant to his more broad “perspective”.
So, part of why I bring this all up is to thank you for speaking for individuals, and for people, not about “what men feel” or “what women feel”.
December 26, 2016 @ 2:22 pm
You may or may not have seen this, but I figured I’d link to it. Now that’s what I call cute!
(I hope that link works; Facebook is such a mess. If not, you should be able to find the song under “Videos” on The Current‘s Facebook page. I hope that link works.)
December 26, 2016 @ 4:30 pm
Don’t forget this winning couplet, “at least I’m gonna say that I tried/what’s the point of hurting my pride?”
December 26, 2016 @ 5:46 pm
We were riding the “Christmas trolley” here in my folks’ small town on Christmas Eve, and it was full of happy, redneck-ish-looking folks, and the songs were loud and very joyful, and this song came on, and one of the redneck-ish-looking fellows said, “You know, this song is pretty inappropriate.” And we all agreed, yes, it really is. And wished each other merry Christmas and went on our ways.
December 26, 2016 @ 9:58 pm
So what do you make of the fact that before the song was used in a movie and published, Loesser and his wife Lynn were famous in New York theatrical circles for doing it as a duet at parties?
They performed it as two consenting adults engaging in a playful mutual seduction, using the weather as a mock “excuse” for something they’d already decided on. Yes, literalizing it turns the situation creepy, but that’s what happens when you ignore the broad winks the two protagonists are giving each other.
The “date rape” interpretation was certainly not Loesser’s intent, nor was it how Lynn heard it, considering that she was later annoyed at Frank for selling what she’d considered “their” song.
Diana Pharaoh Francis
December 26, 2016 @ 10:41 pm
According to Scalzi, it was written for a musical about cannibalism and sung in a minor key. The idea was that the husband was trying to keep the wife inside so she wouldn’t go into the storm and die, or get eaten. http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/12/24/8-things-you-didnt-know-you-didnt-know-about-your-favorite-holiday-music/ That history makes me feel a little better about the song, but the way it’s sung now–totally creepy.
December 26, 2016 @ 10:44 pm
Moshe – Your interpretation of the song is, I think, historically accurate and is, at least to me, satisfactory evidence that Loesser had no intention of promoting date rape.
That said, it doesn’t do much to rescue the song today, especially as the marshmallow fluff it was intended to be… light popular music really shouldn’t need unpacking. Sometimes an old classic needs to be translated into contemporary thought patterns before people can enjoy it today as it was intended, in the same way as a popular song written in French may need translation before an English-speaking audience can enjoy it properly. Again, I’m particularly thinking of popular art, designed to be understood without special study. I make no apology for applying different standards to the _Ballade des Pendus_ and _Les Trois Cloches_.
I hope to hear, some day, a version that works without translating it through now-obsolete social conventions . There’s been one try already at updating the lyrics that doesn’t quite capture the spirit of the original for me, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Jim C. Hines
December 26, 2016 @ 10:47 pm
I think “it wasn’t Loessner’s intent” is a non-starter. We’re not talking about intentions; we’re talking about the results.
Beyond that, I think there’s a big difference between something you perform at a party with (presumably) your friends and peers, and something published and broadcast throughout the world without any sort of context or explanation. Show me where in the lyrics or the song the characters make it clear that they’ve already decided to spend the night together. Maybe Frank and Lynn made that clear at their parties; but we’re not talking about those parties.
I’m not sure what you mean by “literalizing” it. I’m thinking it means assuming the characters mean what they’re saying? That when the woman says “My answer is no,” she means no. As opposed to assuming no means yes? But again, this isn’t a performance at a party; it’s a song on the radio. There are no winks. You can focus on the relatively playful tone in most versions … but then, being friendly is also a survival mechanism sometimes, because it’s the moment you stop being friendly that the abusive creep goes from charming to violent just like that.
D. D. Webb
December 26, 2016 @ 11:46 pm
This thing has a particular meaning for me, because I loved that song ever since I discovered it in my teens. I thought it was just the most charming thing. Then, as I grew older and began increasingly thinking about stuff that did not directly affect me as a white male, and having things explained by others, the inherent creepiness grew in my awareness until I just couldn’t ignore it any longer.
To this day, whenever it plays, I feel an immediate surge of fondness for the tune, instantly followed by a multi-layered cringe.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? So much of privilege is invisible to the people who have it. Makes me wonder what other creepy-crawly crap I’m blind to, and complicit in.
December 27, 2016 @ 12:41 am
So this isn’t my party but there has been a great discussion about how the song is very coded 1940s language for “I want to stay but society gives me no sexual freedom”. Like I get people who are uncomfortable with the song but if you are familiar with the language of the times and the slang of the time period. I’m not explaining it well but you can check out the write up here on I think the original tumblr users official blog space.
December 27, 2016 @ 1:01 am
If possible, “Embraceable You” is even worse. There used to be a San Francisco car dealership that used Sinatra’s version with their radio ad. The more I heard it, the creepier it got. “Don’t be a naughty baby. Come to papa, do!” the words exhort.
December 27, 2016 @ 1:30 am
Eleanor Stevens, thanks for that link to the article on Persephone. I think Slay Belle there “gets” the song perfectly, and she analyzes it to show why far better than I could.
December 27, 2016 @ 2:19 am
Moshe: I think it’s irrelevant for the context of this discussion.
Ogden Nash wrote viciously racist propaganda poetry during WWII. Does that mean we can’t look at those poems now and say they were viciously racist? Even though they were written in a time and place where the attitudes expressed in them were normal and acceptable?
Times change. Society and people change. We now recognize that without 5 paragraphs of historical rationalization, this song is a date rape song. What it was or wasn’t half a century ago doesn’t matter.
December 27, 2016 @ 1:46 pm
The history of the song is interesting, as is the other historical contexts. There are a lot of embedded messages and assumptions in much of our literature and entertainment. As people of the 21st century, we find our appreciation of those thing considerably lessened or abolished as our awareness increases. One of my favorite musicals, The Fantastistiks, has two parents arranging an abuduction and rescue for their starcrossed lover children. The man they hire says, the proper word is rape” and sings a very cleverly worded song. When I heard it in high school in the early (ahem) 70s it was risqué and funny. A few short years later at my university there was a series of abuductions and rapes, and the content of that song became terrifying. I still love every other song in the musical but not that one. Like Stardreamer, the historical context no longer makes a difference. It might even be thought that selling “their song” without her consent is another violation.
Below is another blog post on the same Christmas song.
December 27, 2016 @ 8:31 pm
I hate it when snowflakes show both their bigotry and intolerance of the past. Yes, you can interpret anything in vile and disgusting ways. You don’t have the right to make that interpretation truth. At it’s worst, the song is about seduction, a game the sexes have enjoyed for generations. If men quit on the first “No”, most of you wouldn’t be here. Not that that would be a bad thing…
Jim C. Hines
December 27, 2016 @ 8:39 pm
Walter – I hate it when snowflakes are so sensitive and fragile that the mere existence of a stranger’s blog post expressing an opinion they dislike is grounds for them to come storming in with insults and nastiness.
Also, your insistence on trying to defend men who don’t take “No” for an answer? That’s disturbing as hell, and suggests some very ugly things about you as a person.
December 27, 2016 @ 11:18 pm
Context is everything. From the movie Neptune’s Daughter………
December 28, 2016 @ 2:29 am
Gail, the most recent revival of The Fantastiks rewrote the song for that reason.
December 28, 2016 @ 4:49 pm
Oh good Lord. Perhaps you are overthinking this. Yes, it is a song that has a lot more going on then its catchy little melody. But the girl is playing along. Seduction and rape are two different things. “No” is indeed “no” once one party is becoming physically assertive or authoritatively manipulative…but asking repeatedly, and seductively countering objections, to woman who is clearly being coy…which is the point of the female part…is just seduction. Not to mention, Gloria Steinem would have probably argued that if the woman had the same sexual freedom as the man, she would have gladly stayed. Nobody got raped in the song. No one got forced to do anything at all. Persuasion/seduction and rape are two different things.
Eleanor C Ray
December 28, 2016 @ 11:39 pm
“Seduction” is a really weird thing to me, and very damned tangled. Commenters have made reference to “what it really means is…” and to sexual-freedom-versus-liking-to-pursue/be-pursued, and how the first “no” should or should not be interpreted. It is tied up in societal expectation, and sexual power, and who is willing to push what how far in order to settle the question of what sexual activity to engage in. It encourages putting on a false front, making ploys, being manipulative to (at least) the edge of coercion, and trying to talk oneself and the other into an activity against opposition.
I do not believe I have ever had a seduction experience that did not scream “danger!” to me. What I *have* had is a number of partners who I have asked, and a number who have asked me. That is quite a different matter. “Seduction” is often a socially acceptable term for manipulating another person into a corner, male or female.
Mutual respect can be pretty damned sexy, and it allows people to say what they mean and ensure they can understand their partner’s meaning, too. It involves knowing what you mean, knowing what you want, it involves knowing what the other person means and what they want. It allows both people to know that their partner is doing this activity because they want to, because they are genuinely turned on by the other. It is sexy to be wanted, and sexier yet if you know the other person *means it* because you haven’t pressured them.
Seduction is about pushing and pulling on the other, using societal expectations as levers to move the other around. Asking is about one person, turned on by another, finding out if the other person feels the same. No leveraging, no dancing around what you say, no trying to guess the other person’s real preference or interest, and no coercion of anyone into doing something they do not wish to do.
Asking is sexy as hell.
December 29, 2016 @ 1:38 pm
Gods above and below, I’m glad I’m not the only one these days who finds this song to be borderline creepy. Yes, I didn’t find it so creepy when I was a kid, but as an adult… yep. And the line about the drinks makes me wince, what with all the date rape drugs out there today… Set in proper historical context is one thing, but … not today, with no context. And back then, if you said ‘no’ to a guy you were dating, and he forced the issue, it was assumed to be your fault for leading him on (“no means yes and yes means yes” was pretty much the attitude back then) and … nope. I tend to wince when this one comes on the radio today.
December 29, 2016 @ 9:20 pm
It may have 40s coded languge….but currently, it’s being sung in the 21st Century. By people and to people who don’t have the code. As such, we have the language as interpreted by folks right now—and it’s CREEEEEEPY after all the stuff about date rape and rape drugs in the past thirty years.