We’ve heard the song countless times. A duet between a suave, seemingly caring, and emotionally persuasive male and a reticent female torn between going out in the cold night, her sense that it would not be right to stay for that drink, and the seemingly caring overtures of her male host. The renditions all seem to be “in good fun” with a “wink and a nod”.
The song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has been covered by some of the most famous in the music business. According to Wikipedia, the song was first sung in the movie Neptune’s Daughter by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams. In the same movie, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett also sing this “with the roles of wolf and mouse reversed” (telling language!). Since then, among others, it has been sung by Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis and Carmen McRae, Dean Martin and a female chorus, Ray Charles and Betty Carter (later also with Dionne Warwick), and more recently by James Taylor and Natalie Cole, and Seth MacFarlane and Sara Bareilles.
When you get past the performers and listen to the lyrics, the song is truly disturbing. It is a song about unwelcomed seduction. The female singer says the following at different points in the song, “I really can’t stay”, “I’ve got to go away”, “I ought to say no, no, no, sir”, “I simply must go”, “The answer is no” (notice the intensification of the “No” as the song progresses). But “no” is not accepted as “no” in this song. The man doesn’t lend his coat and escort the woman on a cold night back to her parents. He continues to pressure in these phrases that intensify from “listen to the fireplace roar” to “what’s the sense in hurting my pride” to “Gosh your lips look so delicious” to “how can you do this thing to me?” Even more insidious is the use of alcohol and perhaps a doctored drink (“Say what’s in this drink?”) to break down the woman’s resistance.
All this seems like it is just in “good fun” except that it isn’t. It is the script that is replayed in the acquaintance rape scenarios that occur over and over not only in our society but in many parts of the world. It is a script that doesn’t respect “no”, that doesn’t flinch at using alcohol to impair judgment, and tells a story that has an ending that says, “she really consented after all” as the singers in unison sing “Baby it’s cold outside.”
Another question that occurs to me is, what does this have to do with Christmas? What does a song that celebrates seduction and, implicitly, rape have to do with the Son of God who became the Savior of the world, other than by illustrating what needs redeeming? Even if Christmas is just a secular holiday for you, what does this have to do with any kind of “spirit of giving” other than the fact that “she gives in and he takes” (to put it bluntly)?
What can be done? Well to start, we could ask radio stations to remove any version of this song from their playlists. We could refuse to buy any selection of Christmas music that includes this song. And we could send a message to performers to find some other material for duets. Whatever we think Christmas means, I think we can all agree that it is not a celebration of rape. Let’s retire this song.