She really did want to stay, but had to have a reason
The beloved (and reviled) Christmas song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was written by Frank Loesser in 1944. Frank performed the cheeky call-and-response song for the first time with his wife Lynn Garland at a housewarming party. “We become instant parlor room stars. We got invited to all the best parties for years on the basis of ‘Baby.’ It was our ticket to caviar and truffles. Parties were built around our being the closing act,” she said of the song’s instant success.
The song has since been recorded by several artists, famous and regionally successful alike, over the past seven decades. It has endured mostly due to its sexually tense lyrics that listeners find intriguing, comedic, or even risqué. In this age of speaking out against sexual harassment and assault, some people have deemed the lyrics to be far more sinister. The song has been called out numerous times for being the prelude to a sexual assault.
But have we got it all wrong? This blogger seems to think so.
The printed score of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” refers to the female voice as the “mouse” and the male voice as the “wolf.” As the song plays, the listener hears the conversation between the pair as the mouse tries to the leave the wolf’s home, and he does everything to persuade her to stay. The wolf tells her that the weather is bad, she’s going to have a hard time getting taxi, and that he would be hurt if she left. She tries to say that she should leave because her parents will be worried, her siblings will be angry, and the neighbors will gossip.
The most suspicious of lines is when the mouse asks the wolf what’s in her drink as if she’s asking him whether he slipped something sinister into it without her knowledge. People have spoken out against the allegedly terrifying implications for years, though audiences still delight in hearing the ballad. Twitter user @SortaBad simply explained their aversion to it, writing, “’Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is like if Harvey Weinstein was a song.” User @Matt Doyle said, “Can we just…not play ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ this year? Let the girl go home?”
One blogger finally came to the song’s rescue to explain that the Christmas anthem is not about assault. If anything, it shows just how much women were once beholden to unrealistic and chauvinistic expectations about sexuality.
Tumblr blogger bigbutterandeggman wrote their take on the song using historical context which explains away the “rape culture” aspect of the lyrics. Their explanation shows the mouse as more of a victim of society rather than a victim of the wolf. The blogger explained that they’re a former English nerd/teacher and a big fan of jazz.
First, the blogger tackles what exactly was in her drink. They explained that asking what was in a drink was merely a “stock jock” in the ‘40s. It was often meant as a jibe that the drink was low in alcohol! (Don’t worry, we don’t get it either.)
The blogger then moves onto the bigger picture of the song and how, upon closer inspection, the woman seems to be finding excuses to stay and enjoy herself with the man. The writer says:
“See, this woman is staying late, unchaperoned, at a dude’s house. In the 1940’s, that’s the kind of thing Good Girls aren’t supposed to do.The woman in the song says outright, multiple times, that what other people will think of her staying is what she’s really concerned about.”
He points the lyrics about her worried parents, gossip-prone neighbors, and her “maiden aunt’s vicious mind.” The lyrics never really say anything about her wanting to leave.
“…[S]he’s having a really good time, and she wants to stay, and so she is excusing her uncharacteristically bold behavior by blaming it on the drink — unaware that the drink is actually really weak, maybe not even alcoholic at all. That’s the joke.”
The blogger said that bringing up the drink was for “plausible deniability” purposes because she’s living in an age where “where women aren’t supposed to have sexual agency.”
In the 1940s women were expected to marry, have kids at a fairly young age, and not work, letting their husbands make all of their decisions. If they didn’t marry, they became “old maids” who shouldn’t engage in drinking, partying, or sexual relationships. The mouse in the song can’t really say that she wants to stay there ― even though she wants to ― lest she be deemed a harlot or hussy.
The blogger continues:
“She states explicitly that she’s resisting because she’s supposed to, not because she wants to: ‘I ought to say no no no…’ She states explicitly that she’s just putting up a token resistance so she’ll be able to claim later that she did what’s expected of a decent woman in this situation: ‘at least I’m gonna say that I tried.’”
The song’s champion wraps up their defense by saying:
“At the end of the song they’re singing together, in harmony, because they’re both on the same page and they have been all along. It’s a song about a woman finding a way to exercise sexual agency in a patriarchal society.”
Women in that era couldn’t approve of a man’s advances without being condemned by others, yet they were even more condemned when they rejected men they didn’t want to be with. Golden Era film star Maureen O’Hara forged a successful career in Hollywood despite refusing to cater to the whims of the predatory producers, but if you’ve read her story, you know it wasn’t easy. Her experiences might just back up this interpretation of the classic song.
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