“Baby, it’s cold outside” is a romantic, winter-themed duet written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, which he performed at Hollywood house parties with his wife, Lynn Garland. In 1949, it featured in the romantic comedy Neptune’s Daughter, and won that year’s Academy Award for best original song. Here is an early recording by Loesser and Garland:
It has since been covered numerous times, by artists as varied as Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton, Henry Mancini, Bette Midler and James Caan, Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, Rita Coolidge, Miss Piggy and Rudolf Nureyev, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, and Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The song’s Wikipedia page lists 66 different cover versions.
It’s been an extremely popular song for a very long time, and has widely become associated with the year-end holiday season because northern hemisphere bigots think that’s when winter happens.
Yet this seemingly lovely (and refreshingly secular) ditty has become controversial, thanks to the stupidity of the self-appointed guardians of political correctness. Radio stations are banning it left, right and centre.
The reason? According to some joyless prat named Stephen Deusner, writing for Salon.com in 2012, it is a “date rape anthem” which is “icky at best, at worst reprehensible”. Another one, Kevin Fallon, writing for The Daily Beast in 2014 also calls it “icky”, and declares it to be “everyone’s favorite date-rape holiday classic”. Yet a third, Emily Crockett, writing for Vox in 2016, calls the song “a little rapey”, and says it’s “totally fair if the song makes you uncomfortable”.
Let’s have a look at those awful, rapey lyrics, then. The slashes separate the two voices in the duet.
I really can’t stay / Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away / Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been / Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice / I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry / Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor / Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry / Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well maybe just a half a drink more / Put some records on while I pour
The neighbors might think / Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink / No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how / Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell / I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir / Mind if I move a little closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried / What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I really can’t stay / Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside
I simply must go / Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no / Ooh baby, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been / I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm / Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious / Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door / Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious / Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just a cigarette more / Never such a blizzard before
I’ve got to get home / Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb / It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand / Your eyes are like starlight now
But don’t you see / How can you do this thing to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow / Making my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied / If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay / Get over that old out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside
Baby it’s cold outside
Brr it’s cold…
It’s cold out there
Can’t you stay awhile longer baby
Well… I really shouldn’t… Alright
Make it worth your while baby
Ahh, do that again…
The critics believe that the song depicts a situation in which a woman – the victim, naturally – says “no” to a predatory man who pressures her into sex and probably laced her drink, too.
But that’s a hopelessly false reading of the song. In 1944, public morals were largely dictated by religious fundamentalists. Women weren’t permitted sexual agency. It was scandalous for an unmarried woman to spend the night, unchaperoned, with a man. It was unheard of for a woman to propose sex, too. A woman’s role was passive, and the man was required to be an active suitor.
A woman who said yes instead of coyly playing hard-to-get risked being branded a harlot and condemned by society as immoral. The entire ritual of seduction and consent involved the woman being able to blame her circumstances, or the man, or the drink, or “this spell”, rather than admitting that she was actually free to consent to sex.
Although we have come a long way since, much of this ritual still exists. Society still frowns upon promiscuous women. Many women do not practice what the politically-correct vanguard preaches, that of giving “enthusiastic consent”. Ideas about sexual consent have evolved from “a coy no means yes” to “no means no” to today’s “only an enthusiastic yes means yes”. Yet this runs quite counter to the way consensual seduction and sex is commonly practised. Coyness and token resistance remain, for many men and women, a thrilling and sexy aspect of the ritual of seduction.
That’s not to say there aren’t good arguments to be made about being aware and conscious about consent. Date rape does happen, and women do get pressured into sexual situations against their will. Doing so is obviously wrong. But that’s not what this song is about.
This song is about a woman trying to reclaim her right to have sex from a society that condemns her for it. She’s worried about what her parents, neighbours, family and town gossips might say. She says she shouldn’t stay, and must go, but never says she does not want to stay, or wants to go. And after protesting to protect her virtue, as society expects of her, she does give affirmative consent in the end.
The idea that the song is about a male predator pressuring a female victim into sex is dramatically underlined in Neptune’s Daughter, the 1949 movie in which it appears. In the film, the song is first performed by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, in the usual male-female roles, but later also by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, in which the roles are reversed, and the man protests that he has to go. This video shows both versions:
And as true as it is that women can also be sexual predators, preying on hapless men, that’s still not what the song is about.
Karen North is a professor at the University of Southern California, whose great-uncle worked closely with Frank Loesser. “In the movie, it was about a man pursuing a woman and a woman pursuing a man. It was sung in both directions. It was not about a male predator,” North told US news channel ABC7.
“At one point the woman asks, ‘Say, what’s in this drink?’ – which is pretty alarming to a modern audience that understands how roofies work,” writes Crockett.
Roofies is a nickname for flunitrazepam, also known by the trade name Rohypnol. It was first marketed in 1974, three decades after the song was written. Its use as a date-rape drug was first reported in the media in 1993. Today, however, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that “forensic toxicology shows that only a very small number of [drug-facilitated] assaults actually involve the use of flunitrazepam”.
So that line does not refer to roofies, and should not be at all alarming to a modern audience.
North, according to the ABC7 report, “specifically addressed the ‘What’s in this drink?’ line, saying it’s not about a date rape drug being put in a drink, it’s about a woman’s excuse because she’s had too much to drink and is referring to alcohol.”
And even that’s a stretch. There is no evidence in the film that the woman is significantly impaired by drink, and placing the blame on the drink, which might not have been alcoholic at all, can be read as a disingenuous excuse, on a par with being under a magic spell. That would be no different from a man who stumbles, or misses a throw at darts, or gives in to a suggestion by his friends, and demonstratively wonders how strong his drink is.
Those who defend the song are not just unreconstructed paragons of patriarchy, or witless victims of patriarchal brainwashing. They include third-wave feminists, and women who believe the song is a feminist anthem.
Still, some recording artists have chosen to modify the lyrics, to be more politically correct and in tune with the #MeToo generation. As one might expect, the results are pretty soulless. Here are Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski:
This is not a parody. The romance and sexual tension have gone entirely. In the end, the woman did not get to stay, as she clearly wanted to in the original. This is just as the repressive guardians of social mores would have wanted it in 1944. Instead, of the joy of sex, she has to settle for a text message and a half-hearted promise of a date at the Cheesecake Factory. Isn’t that thrilling?
The modern political correctness movement has all the hallmarks of a repressive morality imposed upon people by high-minded casuists, which is exactly the sort of narrow-mindedness that the protesting protagonist of the original song is trying to escape. Morality used to be policed by religious fundamentalists; now it is being policed by radical feminists and critical race theorists.
In the past, every word, every action, and every social relation was minutely inspected for any sign of lewdness or promiscuity. Today, by minutely inspecting every word, every action, and every social relation for traces of sexism, racism, or homophobia, these new guardians of public morals find grave crimes where none exist. Along with valid accusations of prejudice or consent violations, come many invalid accusations, which unjustly demonises innocent people.
Acting just like citizen informers under communist dictatorships, where an allegation was enough to get someone imprisoned, tortured or shot, today’s thought police are ever-present, always watchful, making people fearful not only to raise difficult questions or air controversial opinions, but even to engage in perfectly innocent conversations. Pursuing a romantic interest has become a minefield in which the parties are terrified of each other and of society. This is the antithesis of liberation, whether for women or anyone else.
A different version with altered lyrics exposes the absurdity of the backlash against “Baby, it’s cold outside”. This time, it really is a parody.
On that amusing note, I bid you a jolly festive season. Avoid the politically correct insanity that threatens to suck all the thrill and happiness out of life. I hope 2019 brings you more freedom, prosperity, and joy than 2018 did. DM