Every December, the air fills with Holiday music from religious ballads to upbeat homages to Santa. One song comes carrying controversy each year: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The classic flirtatious duet features a couple trying to find an excuse to stay the night together … or does it?
In the midst of dozens of high-profile assault cases filling the news, the world becomes more aware of sexual assault. It’s hard to hear this Christmas classic in the same way. In a modern context, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” sounds a lot like coercion or potentially date rape. Can we forget the lyrics “Hey, what’s in this drink?” Should we leave this classic winter song out in the snow?
Defenders of the song raise many fair points. In 1944, when Frank Loesser wrote the lyrics, women were not at a liberty to embrace their sexuality, and it was basically a social requirement to refuse intimacy on the first offer. People would gossip otherwise. The woman in the song knows this, mentioning a maiden aunt and sister who will be full of prying questions.
In that way, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is about a woman throwing caution to the cold winds outside, doing what she wants and taking her relationship by the reigns. Moreover, at the time, the phrase “Hey, what’s in this drink?” was a common joke used by women who knew they were going to, by choice, do something taboo.
Defenders also argue that the male voice continually raising points about the terrible weather and suggesting the female voice stay is simply returning her flirtatious banter.
Still, it’s uncomfortable to hear the lyrics in a modern context. The woman resists the man’s advances throughout the entire song. Yet since the piece alludes to a “happy” ending for the couple, it may be that she resisted past the song’s conclusion and was forced into something she didn’t want. We live in a time where consent is important, as it must be, and we don’t hear a consentual relationship in this song.
Does it matter that this song is on the radio? To answer that question, we need to consider the context. To separate “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from its historical context will prove fatal to the piece. However, we are forced to pass judgement on the song every time we hear it, and if it makes listeners uncomfortable, maybe it is time to retire this classic.