By Becky Owens Bullard
While getting into the holiday spirit this year, I have been listening to some classic Christmas tunes on my Bing Crosby Pandora radio station, humming along and doing the usual gift-wrapping or card-writing tasks of the holidays. But amid all of this holiday cheer, the radio station kept playing a song that, no matter what version, made me uncomfortable. What song about the holidays could make me feel kind of ill to my stomach or tempt me to give the infamous “thumbs down” on Pandora? Well, some may have guessed it and others may be surprised, it’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Now, please don’t label me a grinch just yet and give me a chance to elaborate before shrugging me off as a classic “Debbie-downer” trying to ruin a perfectly good holiday song. Believe me, I would prefer never to mix the holidays with gender inequality or violence against women, but this song isn’t your usual “Frosty the Snowman” innocent and cheerful tune.
It was a few years ago when someone first brought the lyrics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to my attention as “creepy” and I thought they must be mistaken about this cute and quirky tune that had most recently been in the holiday film “Elf” with Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell (granted, they sing the tune while Deschanel’s character is showering without knowledge that Ferrell’s character is in the bathroom with her singing along – but he is an elf that doesn’t know any better! Right?). So I decided to read the lyrics and when I did, I felt confused as to how this song was a holiday classic.
While the tune seems sweet and harmless, the lyrics communicate something else. Apparently, the song’s two parts were originally written as a “mouse” and a “wolf”, with the male part obviously having the intention of devouring the female in some shape or form. This is apparent from the lyrics and may seem innocuous until you pull out some phrases.
For example, at one point the female part asks the male, “say, what’s in this drink?” giving the image of a spiked drink and some type of dishonesty about what is in it. Then, after much wavering, the female part states explicitly “the answer is no” and even asks the male to “lend [her] a coat.” However, the male part appears to ignore her inquietude completely, slyly responding with gems such as “how can you do this thing to me?” and “what’s the sense in hurting my pride?” to get her to stay. Throughout the song he characterizes her leaving as harming him and even at one point guilts her by stating, “think of my lifelong sorrow if you got pneumonia and died” – right, but you won’t give the girl your coat?
So maybe not the type of classic tune you would want to play at family time during the holidays, right? But with 1 in 3 adolescents experiencing dating violence, 2/3 of rapes perpetrated by someone known to the victim and 1 in 4 women abused in their lifetimes, this song communicates a deeper form of predatory male on female dating violence that I would just as soon be completely absent from holiday celebrations. And with the female as the “mouse” or the prey of an obviously devious male “wolf” character bent on getting what he wants from her in this song, I do not feel warm fuzzies or holiday cheer – I feel, well, creeped out.
Nonetheless, in the end the song resolves with both male and female (wolf and mouse) agreeing that it really is cold outside and one can only imagine, the wolf has caught its prey. While the resolution appears fairly consensual, is this really how we should continue to characterize dating and intimate partner relationships? As some game of cat and mouse (read: predator and prey) that give cause for men to get what they want (no matter how they get it) after wearing women down from their original resolve? Or maybe when the female part says “the answer is no” that should be the end of the night, with the man respectfully stating “I’ll lend you my coat.”