Monday, December 03, 2007

The Season's Creepiest, Sexually Coercive Song

I'm not a big fan of fluffy, secular shopping mall Christmas music. Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Reindeer annoy the living heck out of me. Sure, I love a good "Carol of the Bells" and "I'll be home for Christmas," but for the most part, give me "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Silent Night" any day of the (winter) week.

With that said, I would rather be surrounded by an entire singing cast of animated winter critters and a cartoon jolly old St. Nicholas than hear "Baby, It's Cold Outside" one more time. Oh yeah, I know what you're thinking- "I love that song! It has such a catchy tune! The singers harmonize so well!" I'll grant you that it's catchy and the music pleasant-sounding. But listen to the lyrics. What? All you can remember is "Baby, It's cold outside?" Then allow me to help you. The woman's lines are first- followed by the man's responses.

I really can't stay - Baby it's cold outside
I've got to go away - Baby it's cold outside
This evening has been - Been hoping that you'd drop in
So very nice - I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice
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 - Put some music on while I pour

I simply must go - Baby, it's cold outside

The answer is no - Ooh baby, it's cold outside
This welcome has been - I'm lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm -- Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious - Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door - Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious - Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just a half a drink more - Never such a blizzard before

The neighbors might think - Baby, it's bad out there

Say, what's in this drink? - No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how - Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell - I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir - Mind if I move a little closer
At least I'm gonna say that I tried - What's the sense in hurting my pride
I really can't stay - Baby don't hold out
Ahh, but it's cold outside

I've got to go home - Oh, baby, you'll freeze out there

Say, lend me your comb - It's up to your knees out there
You've really been grand - Your eyes are like starlight now
But don't you see - How can you do this thing to me
There's bound to be talk tomorrow - Making 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
Ahh, but it's cold outside.

Think about it. Forget that this is a Christmas classic and you grew up with it and blah blah blah and really think about the lyrics. She tells him she is leaving. He begs her to stay. She tells him she can't. He turns up the pressure ("forget that old out"). She tries to be nice about it, but remains firm. He tries to distract her by talking about how beautiful she is. She offers a polite concession- "half a drink more." And he freaking DRUGS HER! What? You missed that all those times you sang along in the shopping mall? He PUTS SOMETHING INTO HER DRINK in the third verse. Stop and think about what that means. If you aren't 100% disgusted with him right now, ask yourself why not.

In some of the most popular versions of this song, the singers speak-sing to each other at the end and she finally agrees to stay. Her line is "Well... I really shouldn't... Oh, Alright." This infuriates me, because undoubtedly some people are thinking "Hey, she really wanted to stay the whole time- she just wanted to play hard to get or try to avoid a bad reputation, etc etc- so why shouldn't he pressure her to stay if that's what she really wanted?" After all, don't we live in a culture that suggests that sometimes "no means yes"? Indeed. In the academic circles we call that "rape culture"- the idea that every woman wants to have sex with you, and if you just pressure her a little bit, and then a little bit more, and then maybe give her more alcohol or slip something into her drink to "loosen her up a bit" she will eventually comply...

These ideas are reinforced through advertising, stereotypes, television and yes, even beloved old Christmas songs. And don't think that it really doesn't mean anything, and that only lowlifes who are prone to rape buy in to that culture. At a Harvard Law party earlier this fall, one of my fellow students offered the observation that all women "need a little coaxing" in order to agree to sex. He explained it through evolutionary biology terms (another post on why I hate evolutionary biology), and said that the reason women do not naturally engage in casual sex is that they have to ensure that if they become pregnant, their partners will stay around to protect them and their helpless offspring against attack or starvation. Therefore, when a woman is hesitant about engaging in sex, she is really asking "are you going to stick around through the next rival tribe attack?" And what you have to do is assure her you will. This is why, as he put it, "women say, 'oh, I don't know if we should, do you think it's really a good idea?' And you say, 'come on, it'll be fine.' You have to be a little coercive (he actually used that word) in order to reassure her."


Crap like this makes me want to overturn tables and set fire to things.

EDIT: 12/4/07:
Special thanks to Ken Basin, who helpfully sent the link to the YouTube video in which you can watch her push him away and try to gather her things at least 50 times before she sits back down at the end. Alas, in this version you don't get to see him physically put something into her drink, but you do get to see him grab her arm and block the door. Say it with me now: CREEPY.


Melanie said...

Hear, hear. I personally think this is a good example of why men can never say that women are the only ones who can be stereotyped as manipulative. Clearly men are just as manipulative as the next Jane.

Ken Basin said...

As a somewhat embittered Jewish person, and someone who doesn't like the holiday scene for a variety of reasons independent of that bitterness, I don't know the lyrics to a lot of Christmas songs. So I actually went to YouTube to confirm this.

Wow. I always forget that the late 40s and early 50s were so repressedly lascivious.

But that Ricardo Montalban is so dreamy, no?

I especially love that there is clearly no storm in this clip.

E said...

You know, this song always creeped me out too. Especially when the middle school Christmas choir did it. Nothing like a bunch of 13 year olds singing about date rape drugs.