‘Tis the season for mild sexism

I love pretty much everything about Christmas: the music, the movies, the gift-giving (and receiving), the cookies and candy, the decorations, the spirit of giving…every bit of it.  The whole month of December is chock-full of warm fuzzies.

But the radio has been playing one particular song fairly frequently, and it makes my inner feminista come rumbling out of hibernation, warm-fuzzies be damned.

Can you guess?

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”  It’s a little astonishing how many times this song has been covered.  Yes, it was written in the 40s, and yes, it was intended as a love song between a man and his wife, but…have you really listened to it?

(For those who haven’t heard it before, it’s a duet, and the man’s lines are in parentheses.)

I really can’t stay
(but baby it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away
(but 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 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)
But maybe just a half a drink more
(put some records on while I pour)

The neighbors might faint
(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 in closer)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried
(what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride)
I really can’t stay
(oh baby don’t hold out)

both: Baby it’s cold out side

I simply must go
(but baby it’s cold outside)
The answer is no
(but baby it’s cold outside)
Your welcome has been
(how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm
(look out the window at that storm)
My sister will be suspicious
(gosh your lips look delcious)
My brother will be there at the door
(waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
(gosh your lips are delicous)
But maybe just a cigarette more
(never such a blizzard before)

I’ve gotta get home
(but baby you’d freeze out there)
Say, lend me a coat
(it’s up to your knees out there)
you’ve really been grand
(I thrill when you touch my hand)
But don’t you see?
(how can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
(think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied
(if you got pneumonia and died)
I really can’t stay
(get over that old out)

both: Baby it’s cold
baby it’s cold outside

All right.

Every time this comes on I try to tell myself not to overreact.  It’s a love song!  It’s sweet!  It’s so romantic…how he tries to get her drunk and keep her in his house against her will for the sake of his “pride” what?

Agh.  I know, I need to just let it go.  It’s an old song that pops up for only a few weeks a year.  It’s not a huge deal.

But then there’s the Rudolph special, and goodness knows I love the Rudolph special (Yukon Cornelius!), but that whole thing about having to get the women safely home while the men go fight a monster? I mean, come on! Can’t the spunky girl reindeer get in on the fun?

And then we get this on the radio?  This musical equivalent of a sex scene from a James Bond movie?  (sex scenes that tended to celebrate, and I quote from the book “Casino Royale,” “the sweet tang of rape.”)  Do we really need these nostalgic little references to the days when a woman’s place was in the kitchen and she’d better please her man, or else?

Auuughh.  All right.  I’ll let it go.  I’m gonna go listen to some nice Josh Groban covers for a while and try to forget everything that happened before the 1970s.

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5 thoughts on “‘Tis the season for mild sexism

  1. I used to have the same reaction to the song, then I read an essay that’s given me another perspective on the lyrics. Here’s the gist:

    At the time the song was written, the excuses that the “mouse” gives the “wolf” (as the parts were originally labeled), e.g. mother will worry, father will be pacing, maiden aunt’s vicious mind and there’s bound to be talk tomorrow, were, for many women, legitimate excuses. There was a network of people invested in what happens to the mouse, and those excuses carried social weight. And the social weight part is important: psychologically, people are more willing to stop trying to get someone to do something if they know it will make someone else mad. It’s not enough for just the mouse to want to leave, she needs reasons. So you could claim that your brother would be waiting at the door as a reason to leave and have it be a reason that most people would respect. If the mouse wants to stay, she can. But if, after the song’s over, she wants to leave, she has something back up her feelings.

    Of course, none of this excuses the Rod Steward/Dolly Parton version of the song, but, really, what would?

    • If anything, I think that essay adds to the sleazy factor for that song! If the “wolf” keeps pushing even while the “mouse” gives all these excuses that should make him back down, that makes him a real creep.

      Never mind the fact that the only thing that should matter is that the woman doesn’t want to, but aaaaanyway, I am very grateful to have never heard the Dolly Parton version. The radio station likes to play a super-cheesy 80s R&B version that sounds like it should be used in an adult video, if ya catch my drift. Sleaze factor x1000.

      • As with so many things in life, context matters so much. Just like in text messages, the context and subtext is lost in the song because we don’t know what proceeds or follows it. Are the excuses the woman’s way of playing coy (a social issue in of itself)? How does it end? Does she stay? Does she go? Why don’t they provide the backstory in the liner notes?

        What really struck me about the essay on excuses wasn’t so much that she was giving them, but realizing how little weight those same reasons would have today. Who cares what your maiden aunt thinks now? And that saddens, and worries, me a little. In an age where there are so many instances of abuse where “no” was not taken to mean “no,” what else do people have to back up their assertions? Certainly not the fainting neighbors…

  2. I have also always felt this way about this song. I can even remember in middle school thinking the song was about getting a woman drunk so he could get her to sleep over. Oh the things society considers charming and nostalgic!

    • Yeah, isn’t it sweet?

      Oh, but they have updated it to make it the tiniest bit more PC – some versions say “half a drink more” instead of “cigarette” in the 3rd verse. Because that makes it ALL better.

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