Frank Loesser wrote Baby It’s Cold Outside to perform with his wife at parties. The first recording, by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban, was released in 1949. Since then, the beloved favorite has been covered hundreds of times, including a scene from Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003), where Will Ferrell enters a women’s locker room to duet with cute, and naked, Zooey Deschanel.
A friend posted the Elf shower scene this morning, asking if anybody else found it creepy. The replies are pretty representative of the national mood, with some agreeing the scene/song is cringeworthy, while others refuse to see a problem. One commenter wrote, “What does a society look like once it’s been scrubbed of anything offensive?”
Taken at face value, Baby It’s Cold Outside is about a woman who keeps saying she has to leave, and a guy who not only can’t take no for an answer, but even tries a beverage that may or may not be spiked. (“I simply must go.” “But…” “The answer is no.” “But…” And the line, “Say, what’s in this drink?”)
Alyssa Edes, reporting for NPR, writes that music historian Thomas Riis says the “drink” lyric came across differently in its original context – back then, it was simply about having a drink. Riis further argues that in the 1940s, an unmarried woman could be judged for being alone with a man, and for drinking with him. In Riis’ view, the song is about a woman debating her options, wondering whether she should risk her reputation by staying the night. He considers that empowering.
I won’t argue against Riis, that the woman in Baby It’s Cold Outside is considering and might even want to stay with the man. Let’s also set aside that Loesser’s original score called the male voice “Wolf,” and the female voice “Mouse.” Here’s my problem with the song: I have a sixteen year-old daughter, Sarah. I teach her that No means No, but our culture bombards us with messages that No really means “try harder.”
David Wong wrote a great piece for Cracked, 7 Reasons So Many Guys Don’t Understand Sexual Consent (http://www.cracked.com/blog/how-men-are-trained-to-think-sexual-assault-no-big-deal/). Among his points, Wong highlighted the scene from The Empire Strikes Back, where Han Solo kisses Princess Leia against her will. It’s a great example – like Baby It’s Cold Outside, once the creep factor is pointed out, you can’t unsee it. And plenty will resist seeing it, because they love Star Wars and they don’t want to stop loving it. (See also Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Casey Affleck, among others.)
Sarah and I had a discussion this year, specifically about Baby It’s Cold Outside. My library contained 17 versions, and we agreed to delete them all. It wasn’t because we were offended – it’s exactly the opposite. The song is so catchy, it makes you root for the guy who won’t take no for an answer. Our cultural norm, constantly reinforced in music and movies, is that a little resistance is good, but real men are persistent and get what they want in the end; furthermore, women like it that way.
Songwriters Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski have reimagined the lyrics to Baby It’s Cold Outside, and released the song as a benefit for the Sexual Violence Center and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amK4U4pCTB8. I found it charming, and added their version to my library.
Less charming are many of the comments under the link above, which gets back to the “national mood” conversation. “What does a society look like once it’s been scrubbed of anything offensive?” I’m not entirely sure, but I’ll bet it doesn’t elect an unrepentant pussy grabber as president.