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Posted in: Feminism

Published on Dec 14, 2018 by Stephanie Gutmann

Written for USA Today

Millennials, banning 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' won't keep you warm at night

In the modern, 'affirmative consent' version of this classic Christmas song, the man could not care less whether his girlfriend stays or goes. Hot!


It’s becoming a staple of the Christmas season — along with LED snowflakes on Main Street, and muzak blaring in the aisles at CVS.

I'm talking about the debate over whether the Frank Loesser duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” should be included in the Christmas/seasonal musical canon or flushed down the memory hole along with other artifacts of unenlightened decades past.

“It’s time for our Christmas carols to match our evolving culture,” huffed an op-ed writer last year.

Before embarking on the massive undertaking of remaking Christmas carols (many centuries old) to “match our evolving culture”, let’s review the facts as we know them about this number — which is not actually a carol, but seasonal song. In critiquing the song, many critics refer to the 1949 movie “Neptune’s Daughter,” where Esther Williams performs the duet with Ricardo Montalban.

Williams’ character has ended up in Montalban’s apartment where he is, as they used to say, putting the moves on her. Williams murmurs various protestations but the Montalban character persists — by easing off her stole when she puts it on, by putting a new glass of wine in her hand. His most repeated argument, and the chorus of the song, is, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” By the end of the song she is cuddled up to him on the couch, appearing to agree that, on a wintry night, warm company in a warm apartment may be nice.

Did millennials kill romance?

Horrors!

To the politically-correct mind, so many offenses have been committed it’s hard to know where to start: Hasn’t this guy heard of the “affirmative consent” rules, adopted by many colleges, which stipulate “consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual act.”

At one point Williams murmurs, “Hey, what’s in this drink?” Uh oh. Roofies?

Perhaps worst is when Montalban asks Williams, "What's the sense of hurting my pride?" What a quaint idea! That a woman should consider the feelings of a man she’s involved with!

Read the lyrics: Here are the lyrics to 'Baby, It's Cold Outside,' the Christmas song facing a radio ban

For some critics, these remarks are “too close to coercion for comfort.” A viral Tumblr post called the song “one of the best illustrations of rape culture that pop culture has ever produced.”

In 2016, a couple of millennials in Minnesota decided to pen a version that honored the duet structure while altering the lyrics to make them more modern. “I've always had a big problem with the song,” said duo member Josiah Lemanski. “It's so aggressive and inappropriate."

Problem solved! In the millennial’s version, the male in the scenario could basically not care less whether his girlfriend stays or goes.

To her “I ought to say no, no, no, sir,” he croons, “You reserve the right to say no.” When she sings, “I’ve got to get home,” he intones, “Do you know how to get there from here?” He does propose that they have a next date at the Cheesecake Factory — so there’s that! — but then he let’s her go with a cheery, “Drive safe.”

Hot! Maybe this is why the American birthrate has been in steep decline and why a 2017 study showed that millennials have “elevated rates of adult sexual inactivity” compared to past generations.

Don't litigate companionship out of existence

This year, the brouhaha over the song involved radio stations, starting with a station in Cleveland, Ohio, which took the song out of rotation after an unspecified number of listeners complained. This was followed by bans at stations in San Francisco, California, and Colorado.

To their credit, the San Francisco station re-introduced the song after listeners weighed in. They were bombarded with listener protest, the gist being, as one program director put it, “Don’t mess with my Christmas music.” Even a bonafide celebrity spoke up. “At last check votes were running more than 90 percent in the song’s favor,” said "CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King, “Please count me in the 90 percent.”

So, what actually does this seasonal tune represent? Rather than a study in rape culture, maybe the song is, as my friend Phyllis Chesler, author of “A Politically Incorrect Feminist” put it to me, a look at the universal conditions of “hope and longing.” “It’s about courtship, and the invitation to linger can be sung by either sex,” she told me.

In fact, later in “Neptune’s Daughter,” the song is performed with sex role’s reversed. Actress Betty Garrett sings the part of the aggressor, while comic actor Red Skelton scurries around trying to avoid her advances.

Why must everything be defined starkly as predation and surrender? Human behavior is complex. Intimacy, finding a spot of warmth in a cold world, is the most important — and therefore the most risky — part of the human experience. Naturally there will be ambivalent behavior, oscillating between "I think I’ll go," and, "No, maybe I’ll stay.”

So, most of us have decided not to litigate the quest for companionship out of existence. We will allow ourselves, and others, to be human. The human race may survive after all. Happy holidays to that!

Stephanie Gutmann is an author and photo studio manager living in Rockland County, New York.


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