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Harmless holiday lyrics? Hardly…

Posted by: In: Uncategorized 23 Dec 2016 Comments: 0

A familiar tune of the holiday season, it’s nearly impossible to make it through December without hearing it.

Written in 1944, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, is still one of the most popular winter songs, covered by artists across almost every musical genre. Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones have all recorded this duet – a groundbreaking same-gender performance was even featured on Glee.

But every winter, a divided reaction to the song arises along with other holiday debates, like that over the deliciousness of eggnog (which leaves me with the same queasiness as this song) or to raisin or not to raisin in holiday baking (I ask why raisins when there could be chocolate chips?).

But the issue of sexual consent isn’t as trivial as a personal preference for eggnog or chocolate chips.

The problem with songs like this is that it’s another example of how a social culture of non-consent (read: rape) permeates the mainstream. Now there are opposing opinions. In Persephone Magazine, author Slay Belle writes “In Defense of Baby, It’s Cold Outside”:

“At the time period the song was written (1944) ‘good girls’ especially young, unmarried girls, did not spend the night at a man’s house unsupervised. The tension in the song comes from her own desire to stay and society’s expectations that she’ll go. We see this in the organization of the song – from stopping by for a visit, to deciding to push the line by staying longer, to wanting to spend the entire night, which is really pushing the bounds of acceptability.   Her beau in his repeated refrain ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ is offering her the excuses she needs to stay without guilt.”

In 1944, subversive innuendo may have been the only acceptable way to acknowledge female sexual desire in the mainstream. But this is 2016; today there is no excuse for a song that undermines the importance of consent to get as much air play as it does. Please. Let’s just stop with the re-recordings and constant playlists. We can do better.

There are thousands of other holiday songs that don’t perpetuate the song’s dangerous messages -neither the obvious one that it’s okay to ply potential sexual partners with booze (or whatever is in that drink) to coerce them into having sex, or the implied one that, in a society that slut-shames women for embracing their sexual desires, they really mean “yes” or “maybe, keep trying” when they say “no” to sexual invitations.

Both of these messages are pretty terrible. Neither allows women the sexual agency required to have healthy, safe – and yes, even enjoyable! – sex lives on their own terms. Maybe the woman in the song does want to get her holiday groove on, and that’s okay. Maybe it’s time for a holiday song that celebrates consent to some nutmeg-fueled nookie without all the badgering and games.

After all, without consent you can’t make beautiful music together.

Want to win a one of WHC’s coveted FEMINIST t-shirts? Post a feminist revision of any holiday song using the hashtag #feministxmassongs and tag @WHCwpg on social media. Contest closes December 26th.

Here are some examples from Gemma Correll @gemmacorrell to get you started:

You better watch out
Better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling u why
Patriarchy discourages men from displaying emotions #FeministXmasSongs
Last Xmas
I gave you my Heart
but the very next day
You gave it away
and that’s fine cuz I respect your decisions #FeministXmasSongs 

Here are songwriters Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski with their revision of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on CBC’s The Current. Buy the song anywhere online via Rock the Cause Inc. and a portion of net proceeds will benefit the Sexual Violence Center and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

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