Stop the song-shaming of Baby, it’s Cold Outside

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By pushing a timeless favourite off the Christmas playlists, those who deem the lyrics improper are applying their own narrow, sexist lens, the same lens that used to characterize society’s negative view of sexually active unmarried women.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on December 10, 2018.

OTTAWA—Stop the song-shaming of Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

The song is not about date rape. It is about so-called slut shaming.

By pushing a timeless favourite off the Christmas playlists, those who deem the lyrics improper are applying their own narrow, sexist lens, the same lens that is used to characterize society’s negative view of sexually active unmarried women.

The 74-year-old tune was an indirect call for women’s sexual liberation. By killing it, those who promote an equality agenda are actually blocking it.

A closer look at the lyrics should kill any notion that it involves any unwanted advances. The words make clear that the woman’s sexual choices were tainted by external influences like what the neighbours think.

In those times, it was impossible to make the same sexual choices as men without being deemed immoral or bad.

A closer examination of the words makes it clear the song is not about date rape or some pervert dropping roofies in a drink.

It is about a woman vacillating about her desire to stay out longer to enjoy her partner’s company, not because of her own reticence but because she fears being shamed by others.

You do not have to go back 74 years to find a time when women were not free to experience the same sexual feelings as men.

It was not until the discovery of the birth control pill that women were really in a position to explore their own sexuality. The pill was approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in l960.

Prior to the availability of these oral contraceptives, women were discouraged from exploring their sexuality precisely because of the fear of unwanted pregnancy. Attempts to find foolproof birth prevention methods dated back almost 3,000 years. Condoms were invented in 1838 but they were less reliable and depended upon agreement of the male partner.

Before the sexual revolution of the sixties, “good” young women abstained from sex before marriage, and had to appear reluctant when anyone tried to convince them otherwise.

In Baby It’s Cold Outside, the woman says the evening has been so very nice but she has to get home because her mom will be worrying and her dad will be pacing the floor.

She also expresses concern about what the neighbours might think. Nowhere in the song is there any indication that she is being forced into an unwanted sexual encounter.

If anything, the lyrics imply the opposite.

So canning the song because it supposedly elevates date rape actually diminishes the gravity of a real sexual assault or threat.

In the vigorous debate spawned by the radio ban, song shamers make some very good points.

Kerry of the North tweeted that if people got as pissed off about the 636,000 reported incidents of sexual assault in Canada annually as they seem to be about Baby It’s Cold Outside getting taken off Christmas playlists, maybe we’d have fewer rape victims in this country.

She was absolutely right about people’s lack of attention to sexual assault victims. But that had nothing to do with the song.

By promoting the song ban, the #MeToo movement risks the possibility of loss of support from those who believe that marginalizing this song only serves to marginalize the movement.

The entertainment and media business, including movies, music, and broadcast, play an important role in how we perceive the sexual roles of women and men.

How women newscasters dress, as compared to their male counterparts, sends a message that exposed breasts and bare skin are required of women but not men.

It is great to see women sports casters covering the male-dominated world of the National Hockey League but one does not have to watch very long to see blatantly discriminatory dress codes for both genders in that area.

Likewise, there are songs currently on the charts that promote violence against women. One only has to review the lyrics of many rapper rants replete with threats to slap women around if they don’t put out. The same sexist messages reverberate in many movies.

Going after current rape culture messaging is fair game.

But by attacking the lyrics of this Academy Award-winning song from seven decades ago, supporters of the #MeToo movement completely miss the mark.

And in doing so, they risk losing support.

Why would any woman want to return to the days when they could not openly express their sexual feelings lest they be deemed sluts or bad girls?

Baby, it was too cold outside!

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.