Social progress has made the lives of many people safer and better, but it has also brought traditions like the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” under scrutiny unfairly. One radio station in Cleveland, Ohio actually took the song off the air this season in response to listener feedback. This backlash surfaces around this time every year because of the song’s massive popularity. Year after year, the lyrics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” are condemned as being predatory and sexist. At a surface level this appears to be true, but in context, the lyrics tell a different story.
Frank Loesser wrote Baby It’s Cold Outside in 1944 as a duet for him and his wife to perform at the end of parties. The lyrics are supposed to be the flirty banter of a man and his wife in 1944, but the passage of time has totally warped the meaning. The song consists of the man asking the woman to stay while she insists that she cannot. As a modern listener, I completely understand why this scenario comes off as offensive, but I also recognize that the song has a lot of history and isn’t intended to offend.
The song’s lyrics do indicate that the woman isn’t interested, but they mostly focus on public rapport, which is something that was a lot more important in 1944. One line of the woman’s part is “The neighbors might think” and in another, she says that “There’s bound to be talk tomorrow” which is followed by “At least there will be plenty implied.” These lines all center around what other people would think if she stayed, as opposed to how she feels about the situation. In other lines, there is even more support for this. One of the lyrics intended for the woman’s role is “I ought to say no no no sir.” The key word here being ought, implying society says she should say no, even though she may want to say yes. Then later, another line for the female part goes “At least I’m gonna say I tried” to which the man responds “What’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride.”
I think these lyrics are less about a man ignoring consent and more indicative of detrimental societal standards. The line for the woman that goes “At least I’m gonna say I tried” reflects the feelings of someone who might want to stay the night but can’t because of societal pressure. Based on my reading of the lyrics, this song is about a man and a woman who want to spend the evening together but cannot because of what people will think. I think the song is most offensive in that the woman is clearly held back from acting how she wants to because of societal repercussions, not that she is being unwillingly seduced.
Another reason why this song is such a big issue is that so many people love it. I myself associate hearing this song with being a kid on Christmas, but I know that my nostalgia isn’t a valid argument. I think this song should remain uncensored and appreciated by listeners, but I also recognize that there are sensitive issues within the lyrics. This article isn’t meant to invalidate anyone’s feelings, but rather to show that while the song is a relic from an older time that may not have aged well, it is not supportive of sexual violence or predatory behavior.
‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside” will probably continue to be played for many Christmases to come, so if nothing else, it can be held up as an example of how the passage of time can change the meaning of media. It is important as a society to be conscious of the impact we can have on normalizing sexual assault and predatory behavior, but we must also be careful not to vilify things without first trying to fully understand them.