Society deserves a pat on the back for its newly revisited controversy over Frank Loesser’s 1940s hit song, BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE. The concern lies in whether or not the song depicts a date rape scenario and I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled. How wonderful that this now ubiquitous holiday season musical selection has provoked contemporary public discourse on the subject of its potentially problematic lyrics. FEMINISTS on both sides of the debate are offering EXCELLENT POINTS to support their arguments and the word’s spreading like wildfire over the media with thoughtful pieces in the NEW YORK TIMES, ROLLING STONE and USA TODAY to name a few.
It’s beginning to look a lot like woke-ness.
However, let us note that the truly significant question here isn’t whether or not this particular song is rapey or not rapey. What matters more is how we address that question in the here and now. The fact that we’re addressing it at all and not letting yet another time-worn tradition carry on sans contemporary contextual consideration is progress unto itself. Yay us!
BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, made famous by its Academy-Award winning appearance in NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER, came out at a very problematic time in film history when screwball comedies—celebrating more balanced relationships between men and women who challenged each other in positive and playfully romantic ways—segued into Battle-of-the-Sexes-themed rom-coms in which repressed women (often played by DORIS DAY) defended their chastity at all costs in order to nab a husband, while the free-wheeling, wily men (often played by ROCK HUDSON) stopped at (almost) nothing to consume “the milk” sans buying “the cow.”
So, it’s understandable that a song of the same era would reflect the ambiguity of the seductee (usually sung by a woman). Is she hesitant to acquiesce to her suitor’s advances because she does not want to engage in sexual activity? Or is she more concerned about the inevitable judgments passed by their sexist friends and neighbors?
Given the playful, mutually flirtatious performance of the piece, it seems obvious that while the seductee’s lips are saying “no,” her (or his) eyes are likely saying “yes.” And there was a time when this equivocality was protocol for a proper lady. Remember, the KINSEY REPORT ON FEMALES didn’t come out until 1953. Before that, women weren’t supposed to be sexual and the appearance of propriety was essential.
Thankfully, we’ve made considerable progress since then, evidenced by this current debate. But the question remains: is Loesser’s song part of the problem? I’d argue, at present, it’s part of the solution. If we let it be. Perhaps it’s time to set a new protocol. I propose the following trajectory:
STEP 1: DISCUSS
Which is exactly what we’re doing. We can’t always determine the line until we cross it. Does this song cross an unacceptable line? Why or why not? Let’s speak, let’s listen, let’s figure this out together.
STEP 2: DETERMINE IF THE SUBJECT OF DEBATE IS PERPETUATING SOCIETAL HARM
At this juncture, I’d say the song does more good than harm. It inspires discussion without providing any concrete depictions of sexual assault that might traumatize a victim of date rape. It does not suggest the seductee is in any immediate danger. I suppose one could argue it potentially rewards a doggedly persistent suitor, but I’d argue we’re savvy enough in this day and age to recognize the tune’s anachronistic wordplay and wit and still enjoy this seasonal tradition without negative repercussions.
On the flip side, a Confederate monument that serves as a hurtful symbol to African Americans still plagued by the inequality and hate born of this terrible bane of our country’s history should not be endured. Nor should a musical like CAROUSEL — where both the wife and daughter of a physically abusive man defend him by declaring a hit can feel like a kiss if the man beating you truly loves you. Domestic violence must never be excused and this show goes so far as to lionize it. WTF?
Traditions like these and nameless others have helped to shape our troubled society, thus creating the need for movements like #MeToo. Until we address them openly, as we’re doing so beautifully with BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, we can’t expect to make positive change.
Thanks for indulging me this brief departure from my ALL THINGS BECHDEL TEST discourse, which I’ll resume in two weeks, but I’m trying to practice what I preach here and engage in the relevant topics as they touch as all. Have a fabulously feminist weekend!
© 2018 BeyondTheBechdel. All Rights Reserved.