This holiday season, with the #MeToo movement showing no signs of relenting, a new front has opened up in our 21st-century culture wars. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is an Academy Award-winning song that was popularized in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter. Per Wikipedia, at least eight versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” were released during the same year as the film, and the song (typically performed as a duet) has been covered at least 58 times since that year.
The premise of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” involves a host attempting to convince a guest not to leave the warm confines of the host’s home—presumably so that the two can engage in some intimate activity—because it is too cold for the guest to go outside. In the version of the tune performed in Neptune’s Daughter, two separate couples performed, with the host being a man and the guest being a woman in one of the pairs, and vice versa in the other. However, in most versions, it is the man trying to do the convincing.
Seen through #MeToo’s eyes, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been subjected to increased scrutiny. The song, which is sung in call-and-response form, includes the lyrics such as:
Guest: The neighbors might think
Host: Baby it’s bad out there
Guest: Say what’s in this drink?
Host: No cabs to be had out there
Guest: I simply must go
Host: Baby it’s cold outside
Guest: The answer is no
Host: But baby it’s cold outside
For many, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is problematic with respect to its approach to consent. The guest tells her host “no” on multiple occasions, yet he remains persistent in his efforts to get her to remain at his home. As noted in a recent New York Times article, “Decades later, as discussions of date rape and consent became widespread, listeners began to notice just how often the woman says ‘no.’”
Taking the perspective that the song is essentially about a creepy (at best) man attempting to manipulate a woman into engaging in sexual activity, more than one comedic platform has parodied “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” For example, in 2015, Funny or Die released a rendition entitled “An Honest Performance of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside,’” in which the host attempts becomes increasingly aggressive restrains his guest with duct tape at one point. Ultimately, the guest escapes, but “reminds” viewers that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a “completely inappropriate song.” That same year, Saturday Night Live aired its own version of the song, with Emmy Award winner Keenan Thompson briefly singing as “special guest” Bill Cosby.
Some have decried the controversy surrounding “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as an example of political correctness gone too far. Multiple radio stations have banned the song (though at least two have reversed their decisions). One Cleveland radio host, Glenn Anderson, wrote regarding his station’s ban, “I gotta be honest, I didn’t understand why the lyrics were so bad…Until I read them.” Anderson further opined:
Now, I do realize that when the song was written in 1944, it was a different time, but now while reading it, it seems very manipulative and wrong. The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place.
Another radio station in Kentucky played the song for two consecutive hours, with its director of programming noting that “I’m not sure why it’s controversial. We’ve played this song for years…”
For what it’s worth, if I was an employer, I would leave “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” off my holiday party playlist. The song has the potential to offend female and male employees alike. Plus, it’s not even an actual Christmas song.