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The Moral Implications of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

One of my favorite renditions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is from Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams. I showed it to my wife, and she said, after seeing a couple of other versions, “That’s a miracle.” I’ve led a sing along with the song at the Speakers’ Club in Blagoveshchensk to help improve English skills in a fun way, and after listening to, and singing, the song a half dozen times this season, I thought we should delve deeper into its meaning. Words like “scurry” and phrase like “pacing the floor” aren’t everyday English that people here may have encountered.

Frank Loesser wrote the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in 1944 and performed it with his wife at parties. (That was something famous people did back before television and high fidelity.) The song let the guests know it was time to go home. It was so well received that Loesser and his wife were invited to several high society shindigs, so that they would perform the song. Loesser sold the song to MGM who used it in the film “Neptune’s Daughter.”

The song has a call and reply setup. The first line is labeled as “the mouse” (I really can’t stay) and the second line is the wolf (Baby, it’s cold outside). Most people will say that the male part is the wolf and the female part is the mouse, and because men still predominantly hold the power in society, this isn’t questioned, even though the first mass media showing of the song had both a man (Ricardo Montalban) and a woman (Betty Garrat) in the wolf position (while Esther Williams and Red Skelton sang the mouse parts).

Art is what you bring to it. In the 1940s and ’50s, this song may have been seen as a call to empowerment. The mouse, male or female, is trying to throw off the shackles of society and judgement. If the mouse is vocalizing an internal struggle and the wolf isn’t interrupting but vocalizing his or her feelings about the whole situation, the song could’ve been read this way, especially if the audience was unfamiliar with the labeling.

In the age of #metoo and hyperawareness of consent, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” becomes questionable. Whether the wolf part is sung by a male or female, it’s about one person trying to convince another to stay inside and cuddle, or more, depending on what’s in the drink. Even if it’s just alcohol, consent could become a further problem. Worse, these types of arguments are the same ones that people who commit sexual assault use to get the other person in an uncomfortable situation.

In a fantasy setting or movie, the song is enjoyable, flirtatious and fun. In real life, when “no” means “no”, there’s no place for this type of coercion. If s/he must go, call her/him a cab and facilitate a safe departing. If you have to invoke this song in your decision to do so, remember, it was originally written to signal to guests it was time to leave the party.

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