The debate around Baby It’s Cold Outside has become as much of a tradition as the bad jokes in Christmas crackers. Is it harmless banter or humourless coercion? Is it anything more than the festive forefather of Blurred Lines?
Composer Frank Loesser wrote the song in 1944 for him and his wife Lynn to perform at parties. It was a fun way for them to signal to everyone that it was time to go home. What started as a private joke soon became a huge hit.
Once upon a time, Baby It’s Cold Outside was considered progressive. Women in the 1940’s were expected to reject all sexual advances from men, even if they fancied them, because women were not supposed to want sex. Like in black and white movies, where a broad might slap a man wearing a fedora for getting fresh: “not for me, I’m a lady!”
As the female part sings in Baby It’s Cold Outside the woman is worried about what “the neighbours might think”. She knows she’s not supposed to want to stay over, that she “ought to say no” to his advances… but she’s having a nice evening, so she agrees to “half a drink more”.
The man in the song is doing his best to persuade her to spend the night with multiple arguments: from there being no cabs, to the more dramatic possibility of catching pneumonia and dying.
What was once thought of as liberal, now sounds pretty problematic. With greater awareness about the importance of consent, lyrics where a woman sings “say, what’s in this drink?” come off as predatory, not playful.
Here’s a not-so-fun fact: on the original sheet music the two parts were listed as ‘wolf’ for the man, and ‘mouse’ for the woman. Creepy or what?