Interchange at a Christmas Karaoke Party:
My friend: Hey! We should sing the rape-y song!
Me: Oh yeah! That would be fun.
I didn’t have to clarify which rape-y Christmas song she meant. She was talking about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which remains one of my favorite Christmas songs–though it’s not really a Christmas song, it’s about temperature*–despite some lines that are beyond questionable.
I’ve only noticed the discomfort with this song in the past few years, and I take the discomfort as a sign of progress in the slow trudge towards the dis-objectification of women. Though rape has been talked about openly at least since the early 90s, it’s only in the past few years the conversation has shifted from “steps women can take to avoid being raped” to the more proactive “dudes should probably stop raping, and also doing all the stuff that supports other dudes raping.”
One of the reasons I think the questionable lines flew under the radar for so long is that this song is fun to listen to. The woman has the main stage, while the guy burbles along under her sustained phrases. It’s playful, peppy and builds to that great “Baby it’s cooooooolllllllddddd ooooouuuuuttttt sssssiiiiiddddeeeee!” crescendo of an ending. If we, as individuals, are going to be transported into musical picture land and burst into song with someone we find cute and fun, this would be a great duet to burst into.
The other reason it flew under the radar is that unless you take time to listen to the burbling the man is doing, it’s hard to hear what he’s saying. There’s a clear indication that he wants her to stay, but it wasn’t until I was working out signing this as a duet with my friend that I noticed the increasing sketchiness of the gentleman’s entreaties which culminate in “get over that hold out”** which is a phrase that most women hear some form of as they move through life. It’s a phrase never well received, designed to frame a woman’s refusal to do anything as something silly, and so inconveniencing to the clearer-headed, far more intelligent man.
But the dude’s lyrics are quite sketchy. He goes from what could be construed as a concerned stance, “baby it’s cold outside” to all sorts of lines “your eyes are starlight now,” “mind if I move in closer,” “gosh your lips look delicious,” and including one of my favorite male-pressure phrases: “what’s the sense in hurting my pride?”
It doesn’t help that the emergence of GHB, which is used to roofie and rape women, means that women have added “always keep an eye on your drink, and always pour your own drinks” to their ever growing arsenal of tools to avoid rape. Which makes the woman’s question of “what’s in this drink” more worrisome.
In my opinion, to fit into our current culture of consent, the song would be much shorter:
“I really can’t stay”
“But baby, it’s cold outside”
“I’ve got to go ‘way”
“Okay. Can I drive you home?”
I’m fine with charting how society has changed through acceptance of song lyrics. I’m even fine with continuing to sing those songs, while also including a footnote as to why the lyrics don’t work today. I’m also fine with people rewriting songs to make them work better for current audiences. Irving Berlin lived long enough to revise some of his more racist lyrics.
Here is an original version with both the man and then the woman saying it’s cold outside:
And here’s an updated version which I enjoy because it keeps the woman’s endless calculations as to whether to stay or go–which are so familiar, even today–while also updating the guy’s role to be more supportive. I do miss the big ending though.
*Though played exclusively during the “holiday season” both this song and “Let it Snow” could be played though February in my town, or longer in some regions of the country.
**Google Play Music transcribes this line as “get over that old out” and I can’t figure out if it’s a bad transcription, or someone’s attempt to redeem the line.