Monthly Archives: December 2011

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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.”

Image Source: Starbucks CD

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.”

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Filed under Intimate Partner Violence, Pop Culture

Happy International Human Rights Day & Welcome to the Voices Against Violence Project

UNiTE Poster

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By Becky Owens Bullard

Today, December 10th, is International Human Rights Day and the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence between this anniversary and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th.  These 16 days mark an important opportunity for international, national and local actors, organizations and governments to come together to speak out against gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls.  

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was established as an official UN day of awareness in 1999, commemorating an unofficial day of awareness on violence against women in Latin American countries inspired by the anniversary of the assassination of the Mirabal Sisters by the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in 1960.  The story of the Mirabal Sisters is an inspirational example of women standing against violence and refusing to let their voices be silenced by tyranny in a time where female voices were commonly ignored or silenced.  Their story and the 16 Days of Activism bring into focus the current voices of the movement to end all types of violence against women – perpetrated by the state, by rebel forces, by intimate partners, by family members, by anyone, anytime, anywhere.  

Within the past few years, there has been a steady increase and diversification in the voices against violence and discrimination perpetrated on the basis of gender.  These voices include a new focus on campaigns to include men and boys as important partners and voices to stop violence against women and girls, as well as a new agency, UN Women, to unite the voices working on gender equality and empowerment within the UN.  Additionally, increasing awareness around issues facing women and girls related to discrimination and violence are steadily being incorporated into development work, peace and reconciliation efforts, and global health and education initiatives.  

While voices in the movement to end gender-based violence are obviously growing, their resonance throughout society is still fairly stagnant.  While working on issues of gender-based violence I have struggled with this frustrating reality when explaining why the prosecution of domestic violence crimes are important to family members of victims bent on “keeping it in the family”; when presenting information on the violent nature of sexual exploitation to individuals who still think pimps are cool and prostitutes are criminals; and even when taking a master’s course on global issues where asked to select the most important issues facing the world today – my class of graduate students put forth the important issues of non-proliferation, climate change and development; yet, not a single person proposed the issue of gender-based violence and I had to defend the issue on its merits as one necessitating global attention.  

Luckily, I won.  But this got me wondering why in this day and age (not in the ’90s when the stop violence against women movement was just getting its footing) are we still complacent about discrimination against half the world’s population?  Why aren’t people more outraged about this issue, which low estimates suggest affects 1 in 3 women globally with regard to gender violence (approximately more than 1 billion individuals – high estimates are up to 70% of women) and every single woman with regard to gender discrimination?  

And why aren’t the voices of survivors and those who advocate on their behalf heard more frequently in the media, through non-profits and in governments and inter-governmental agencies?  This is not to say that survivor and advocate voices are not present in the movement, but from my own experience working on these issues, the most empowering advocates and survivors I’ve met don’t necessarily have a way to express their opinions, tell their stories or call others to action to end violence against women and girls.  

This blog is meant to do just that – give a voice to the everyday advocates working in the trenches to end violence and to survivors of gender-based violence and discrimination.  This blog is also meant to provide a place to actively participate in the fight against gender-based violence through education and awareness-raising.  So, welcome to the Voices Against Violence Project and Happy International Human Rights Day!  As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously said at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, “women’s rights are human rights” and we can do more to make that message and the message to stop violence heard by bringing our voices together against violence.  

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Filed under Gender Equality, Violence Against Women