Baby it’s Cold Outside is about Rape Culture – But Not Why You Think

The song Baby it’s Cold Outside has recently been banned, because, rightly, it has been identified as being an anthem about Rape Culture.

But they’re wrong for banning it, because it’s not about Rape Culture for the reasons they think.

The lyrics seem to be, on the surface and viewed through our modern lenses of toxic masculinity and rape culture, about a sexually aggressive man persuading an unwilling woman to stay, take alcohol (and possibly drugs) and submit to his desire.

Let’s not just flip that on it’s head; let’s roll that motherfucker over like the tractor trailer in The Dark Knight Rises.

I want you to think about when this song was written.  I want you to think about a time when, though they had the right to vote, women were certainly not considered intelligent, nor anything more as submissive little darlings to become marriage material, good little housewives and suburban mothers.

And yet, with no apparent issue with the contradiction, polite society also labeled single women as either prudes or sluts.  There was no middle ground for women, and no allowable social outlet for their sexuality.

Goddamn right it’s cold outside.

Now, let’s examine the lyrics, shall we?

I really can’t stay (Baby it’s cold outside)
I gotta go away (Baby it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (Been hoping that you’d dropped in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice)

Now, what’s this line about?  Yes, he wants her to stay a while…but doesn’t it seem like she does, too?  She’s not saying I WANT to leave…she’s saying I SHOULD leave; as it wouldn’t be acceptable for her to stay out late enough for “something to happen.”

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 (I’ll put some records on while I pour)

And the crux of it: She’s concerned of the CONSEQUENCES of being out late – and worse, unchaperoned at a man’s apartment – especially the inevitable shame and scorn her actions would bring on her family – and the retribution her slatternly behaviour would cost.

Until that last line…when she starts to assert herself.

The neighbors might think (Baby it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)

Now again, she’s having second thoughts; she clearly wants to stay, but she’s worried again about what Might Be Said About Her.  “Say, what’s in this drink?” is less her suspicion that she’s being drugged, than it is about her searching to excuse her loss of inhibitions.  It gives her a much-needed (though oft-ignored) “out” if she has to find a reason to explain WHY she “behaved like that.”

And while, admittedly, Ricardo Montalban makes anything creepy, he’s not trying so much to be persuasive as he’s trying to offer her even more reasons why she had to “stay over.”

I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell) (Why thank you)

I wish I knew how “to break this spell?”  How long has society denied women the right to even feel horny?  Again, I argue this is about a woman expressing her sexuality during an age where such things simply weren’t permitted – in spite of the fact that everyone goddamn knew it was going on – and as usual in such an age, the only crime is getting caught.

I’m not denying that there were sexually aggressive men back then, nor am I denying that men felt much more – and society accorded them as much – sexually entitled then than now.  And no, I’m not saying that such sexually entitled and / or aggressive men aren’t even now still a plague on our society.

But this song is clearly about a woman who wants to sleep with a desirable (if creepy) partner, struggling with the expectation that Good Girls Don’t Do That Sort of Thing.

And here’s the proof:

I ought to say no, no, no sir (Mind if move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (Baby don’t hold out)
Baby it’s cold outside

She OUGHT to protest…she knows what’s expected…and then, she tells him what she’ll say if she’s found out; at least I tried…not “I was forced”, not “I was raped”…because, sadly, even if she had been, such occurrences rarely had consequences for men…again, the burden has always been on the woman.  Her lover/duet partner’s response, What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride? is neither about what she plans on saying, or about being denied sex; she’s already decided they’re sleeping together.  His phrase is a direct correlation to hers: if the girl gave in, she was easy.  If she’s easy, she’s no prize.  Of COURSE he’s going to be asked about it…then, far worse than as now, was an era of “Locker Room Talk” between “men”.  Better she “objected” a little for both of them.

Let’s not forget, after all, that toxic masculinity hurts men, as well as women.

But this song is a duet.  And they both sing that last line.

Then comes the break; and the song’s two most controversial lines:

Ah, you’re very pushy you know?
I like to think of it as opportunistic!

But now that we’re looking back at this song through the lens of hindsight, doesn’t it seem more like the sort of irreverent small talk lovers make as they’re “breaking the ice?”

And once more, we return to her sudden sober second thoughts, and his coaxing, if not honest replies:

I simply must go (Baby it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (But baby it’s cold outside)
The welcome has been (How lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (Look out the window at that storm)

Again, I plosit she is demurring for the sake of REPUTATION, and not out of a fear of being sexually assaulted, and the next lines, her language in them, demonstrate that.

My sister will be suspicious (Gosh your lips look delicious!)
My brother will be there at the door (Waves upon a tropical shore)
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious (Gosh your lips are delicious!)

She’s clearly more worried about – if not afraid of – her family than she is her date for the evening.  Which is troubling for all kinds of reasons…

And then we get her penultimate decision on the subject, and her aside comment (Color emphasis mine.)

Well maybe just a cigarette more (Never such a blizzard before)
(And I don’t even smoke)

Here, I’ve colour coded the conversation two ways:

1-Where the male partner in this duet is said to be “Pressuring, guilting and otherwise aggressively pursuing” his female partner into staying.

2-Where the couple duet, Female and Male.

I’ve got to get home (Baby you’ll freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat? (It’s up to your knees out there!)
You’ve really been grand, (I feel when I touch your hand)
But don’t you see? (How can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (Think of 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)
Baby it’s cold
Baby it’s cold outside!
Okay fine, just another drink then!
That took a lot of convincing!

Now, let’s examine the red text, shall we?  His first three lines are about as irreverent as can be; he’s joking with her.  When she next says I really can’t stay he tells her to get over that old out; and that’s what it is, an out that we all use, in all sorts of occasions…and how many times have we said it in hopes that the other person will tell us that baby, it’s cold outside?

How many times have you been in a sexual situation where you, or the person with you has said “I’m not usually like this?”

We STILL expect to have to excuse our sexual behaviour, and women are expected to do so at a tenfold rate!  The final stanza of the song speaks for itself: at this point, the couple are trying to rationalize their decision to sleep together.

How many times has this happened to you, the first time you’ve slept with someone?

Is it so hard, then, to see this song in light of how it SHOULD be seen?  As a statement of female sexual empowerment against toxic masculinity and rape culture?

How about if it wasn’t a man and a woman singing it?  Would you hear it differently, then?