Is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” offensive?
The latest hoo-haw in the “cultural wars” is whether the holiday song is offensive. The question is being framed in the light of the #MeToo movement. I don’t have the answer, but I think that discussion is being framed the wrong way.
It appears that a radio station in Cleveland was the first to remove the song from its holiday rotation. In San Francisco, a city seen as the bastion of “political correctness” (which is actually a good thing when you translate that phrase into what it actually means: “treating people with dignity and respect”), a local station that transforms its programming into holiday music 24/7 during the month of December followed suit.
But in what might not be seen as a surprise, there was a backlash. And in the grand tradition of executives everywhere turning their principles to mush, the station decided to put the question to a vote.
Here’s the article on SFGate.
I have a real issue with the wording of the poll, but let’s first take a look at the lyrics.
Now some will argue that these lyrics were written in a “different time.” Certainly that’s true. The song was written in 1944.
But before we take a look at those lyrics, I’d like to assert one thing: It’s never been appropriate or acceptable in decent society to force yourself on another person. That’s not to say that certain subcultures have found it perfectly OK, and that we have too often turned the other cheek rather than taking a stand. The latter is uncomfortable; in some scenarios, even dangerous.
Let’s be clear though: “No” has always meant no. And it really says something about you, something quite the opposite of flattering, if you muster up any excuse for justifying any scenario where it means anything else or you act as if it means anything else.
Some of the lyrics do come of as rather innocuous. I mean, a man is trying to persuade a women to be with him. What could be more normal?
Well, let’s start with asking this simple question: If it was a guy friend he wanted to hang out with, rather than a woman he (presumably) wanted more from, would he really be so insistent that the weather is too bad? I mean, the unsaid assumption here is that women can’t handle the cold. I think that’s pretty presumptuous, if not downright offensive.
There there are these three lines:
(Well, maybe just half a drink more) Put some records on while I pour
(The neighbors might think) Baby, it’s bad out there
(Say what’s in this drink) No cabs to be had out there
Now I’ve heard this song many, many times. And I’ve never thought twice about them until now. (What does that say about me? Good question.) Reading them in the context of this larger story and in today’s context, all of a sudden it jumps out at me: roofie!
Read it again:
(Say what’s in this drink)
What do you think now?
And then there are these lines:
(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 of hurting my pride
She says no. He does not want to accept it.
And then, a man’s pride? What does a man’s “pride” have to do with manipulating a woman to stay with you, maybe even drugging her to capitulate. That’s something to be proud of? And really, how does it hurt a man’s pride if a woman is not interested in him? That’s one massive — and twisted — ego right there.
But wait, there’s more in that vein:
(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
How can she do that to him? Life-long sorrow if he does not spend one night with her? That’s a one-two punch of blaming her for his feelings and taking one night way, way too seriously.
If you watch the video of the movie that the song was in, you can see him chasing her all over, getting in her way every time she tries to leave. It’s like he wants to kidnap her, not care for her.
While I think “offensive” is a trigger word more than a useful word, it’s clear that the scenario described in these lyrics is one where a man must be a protector of women, and if she says “no,” he is not supposed to accept that answer and cajole and manipulate her into getting his way.
And this in a holiday song.
Which brings me to the KOIT poll, a master class in manipulation. The question text is clearly designed to skew toward a desired answer. Here is the poll:
Should 96.5 KOIT place “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” back into rotation?
- Yes, please place it back, I want to hear it.
- No, it offends me. Do not play it.
Here’s the thing: If it doesn’t “offend” you personally, but you understand the issues about the lyrics and you believe that they don’t have a place in a decent society, especially at holiday time, choosing “No” is not really honest. But the only other choice, “Yes…I want to hear it,” is not the antithesis of the “No” response. The text of the questions were clearly designed to generate “Yes” responses.
It’s another example of life not being black-and-white. Issues have nuance. Sure, there are people who might truly be offended by the lyrics. And there are people who don’t care what the lyrics really mean. And I think there was a better way that KOIT could have framed the issue, something like this:
- Yes, place it back, I don’t see the problem.
- Yes, place it back. I understand the issues with the lyrics, but we should not hide from our past.
- No, I think it sends the wrong message, especially during the holidays.
- No, it offends me.
Me? I get it. I think that we have become more aware, more enlightened, about how men treat women, how men have treated women, and how we as a society want to do better. Obviously, especially in the past two years, we have societal subsets who don’t want to treat women better or who just plain don’t care. But I think that looking at what we’ve done in the past, and using what we learn to make a better future, is what a society must do to stay healthy.
And while I’m not personally offended, I think the song’s lyrics send a message that is toxic to a healthy society. There are many, many holiday songs, so one toxic one won’t be missed.