You’re pushing your shopping cart along at Target and the sounds of the season are humming through the store, when “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” comes on. I love that song—no, wait—I forgot, I can’t love that song because I’m a feminist, and it’s rapey. Can I love a song about sexual predation and assault? I need to check the Feminist Rulebook.
News flash: The rulebook says the song’s not rapey.
In the 1944 Frank Loesser song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a woman goes for a cocktail with a man she’s attracted to, maybe her boyfriend. She’d like to stay longer, but she’s pressured by expectations, by what the neighbors might think. She’s so worried about societal pressure, gossip at the water cooler, by, yes, the old bogeyman, the Patriarchy, which so fears she might put her sexuality to use that they wrote a whole song just trying to get her out the door. But what if the woman in the song is not a victim, but, in fact, an empowered, sexual being?
The lyrics at issue are her query, “What’s in this drink?” suggesting doctored drinks, and his macho stance in, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride?” and “How can you do this thing to me?” Those are typical “blame-the-victim” tropes. I won’t deny; that is a powerful argument for “rapey.”
If you read the original lyrics, this song is written for a wolf and the mouse. The mouse, purportedly the weaker member of this couple, says repeatedly, I have to go, I must go, gotta leave now. The mouse’s stream of excuses ranges from guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear, to desire and social pressure. What will Mother think, what will Father think, what will the neighbors think, what will her maiden (virgin, non-sexual) aunt think? But the Mouse has to leave behind a good time: “The evening has been so very nice.” She’s had at least one drink, and her hair is a bit mussed, from her hat or from a little smooching. It sounds to me like she’s having a jolly good time. I’d stay. Wouldn’t you?
Now, on the other side, the Wolf seems to be preying on her with counters to every argument. He’s holding her hands, complimenting her, giving her orders (put some records on), and one could say he’s even badgering her. He even says, “Get over that holdout,” a familiar line if you believe that no really means yes. He blames her for missing out on pleasure. But how can she enjoy anything with everyone blaming her for having a good time?
What’s so wrong with having a good time? Why can’t she stay?
I’m a feminist, and I don’t like the patriarchal bullwhip any more than anyone else does. But I’m sick of women not being given credit for knowing what makes them happy. I’m willing to believe the song is a playful pas de deux between lovers. She wants to stay—so stay.
Quit worrying about what everyone else wants, and take care of what you want. You want the drink; you want to stay and cuddle on the sofa, do it. It’s a cold world—and if you’re going to leave your happiness up to everyone else to decide, it will be colder still.
What if we changed the word to bold and instead of her being afraid of what the neighbors think, we could tell her, “Baby, it’s bold outside.” And she could have another drink and make out with her man all she wants.
That’s what’s in the Feminist Rulebook: Do what makes you happy. Because YOU want to. The end.