We’ve all heard it. Maybe you’ve heard the 1940s original recordings and you associate it with Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, or maybe you’ve heard the popular 2014 Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé cover, but you’ve probably heard Baby, It’s Cold Outside at some point in your life. I, personally, associate it with a light A Capella version I saw on the Drew Carey Show back in the 90s, where he and his girlfriend sing it quietly before falling into each other’s arms. It’s a wintry duet that can be a lovely background soundtrack for a romantic evening with someone.
OR IS IT A TALE OF DRUGGING, COERCION, AND DATE RAPE?!
It’s not. I’m just gonna let you know that upfront. It’s not that.
If you’re alive and on the internet or in America right now, you probably know about the controversy surrounding the 1944 popular Christmas song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” by Frank Loesser. It’s not surprising that something from the 1940s does not translate well into 2018. A 74 year old PERSON does not translate that well into 2018, much less a song based on a culture that’s since been dragged into the street and beaten to death. While many find the tune timeless, it definitely has the mark of its time period on it. It’s only recently, with the rise of the #MeToo Movement and women generally being sick of the shit they’ve taken for… ever… that the song has come under scrutiny. It’s because the lyrics are based in a culture very foreign to today’s social politics.
What is 1940s culture?
The biggest contributor to America culture in the 1940s was World War II, but a lot was going on. It was a terrible time to be alive, really. Kids were still dying of Polio. Boys went to war and didn’t come back, or men returned with blood in their eyes and without their hearts. The Holocaust claimed 11 million to 17 million lives. Gandhi was assassinated. Atomic warfare is no longer a threat, but a real act of global terrorism that the US launched on the sovereign nation of Japan.
From this turbulent time in history we got things like Casablanca: classic romantic wartime film featuring leading man Humphrey Bogart, Meet Me in St. Louis: a Judy Garland musical spectacular set in 1903, leading up to the World’s Fair, Fantasia: a musical adventure in animation that has its own problematic features, and It’s a Wonderful Life: a heartwarming Christmas story about suicide, featuring James Stewart. Musically, crooners were in and swing dance was all the rage. Fashion wise, we saw the rise of business look for women, as they entered the work force, and a generally utilitarian and modest look with sharp angles.
The Plight Of Reputation
Don’t let the women entering the workforce fool you; this wasn’t a great time to have a vagina. This is before the cliche 1950s housewife in heels pushing a vacuum and serving her husband a martini after he gets home from work. So what is life like for a woman in the 1940s?
Well, outside of wartime culture, we have wholesome American values in the 40s. Nuclear families of a man that works, a woman that is a homemaker, and a slew of children she’s responsible for raising and he’s vaguely responsible for beating. Also, any unhappiness in that nuclear family is FAMILY matter, and don’t you dare tell your friends, because you’ll bring shame on the family… and you’ll get whipped for it.
But Baby, It’s Cold Outside isn’t about a married couple, as we know because the woman has to leave. It’s about a single man and woman having a nice evening with some drinks. So, we get into 1940s dating culture, and hookup culture. Contrary to what people would have you believe, hookup culture is not new. My mother had hookups. My grandmother had hookups. Going all the way back to whatever gross fish-monster dragged itself out the sea, we’ve been fucking people we don’t love. It’s fine. There’s nothing terrible about that, unless it’s the 1940s and people want to pretend that promiscuity is a sin and a disease.
Now, I cannot say whether the couple in the song are dating or if he brought her home from a bar in the hopes of a one night stand, but regardless we’re addressing a couple who are willingly together sharing a nice evening. The disconnect between the 40s and the 2010s is easy to identify, but hard for people to grasp because the language is different.
In the 2010s, if a single woman goes home with a man and decides to stay the night, we don’t really think about that. Did they have sex? We don’t know. It’s not our business, and that’s the way it should be. Maybe she’ll go home the next morning and text all her friends about this great guy she hooked up with last night and banter about how to ask him on a second date, or maybe she’ll keep it to herself and never call him again, or some mixture of the two. Most of us don’t care, do we? No. A select few, however, like to hold onto those classic, wholesome, American values.
In the 1940s, an unchaperoned woman staying the night at a man’s house is a fucking SCANDAL. She’s a whore! A WHORE I TELL YOU! I bet she has syphilis. I bet she’s had abortions. I bet she pisses on the cross and reports everything back to the Soviets or the Japanese! And as you’re reading that, I hope you’re either offended or laughing at the ludicrous nature of those accusations: both are correct responses. In the 1940s, that was a woman’s reality, though. As a result, “putting up a fight” or “playing coy” was not just an art form used to flirt with men, it was a necessity to maintain your reputation as a good girl.
It’s here, in this scope of reality that many a woman lived through, that we set the scene for this classic Christmas song. A woman likes a man, maybe they’re dating and maybe not, but she’s having a nice time and she wants to stay. The problem is, as the song details, a lot of people are going to talk about it. Her mother will worry, because she’s out and people will talk. Her father will pace the floor, because no one can deflower his daughter without a white dress and a legal document. The neighbors might think— that’s right, they’re gonna think she’s a whore. Her sister will suspect, her brother will be waiting for her like some kind of disciplinarian, her aunt’s mind is vicious and she’s a fucking gossip because she’s a spinster with nothing better to do. All this weighs on her mind, because there’s bound to be talk, but maybe she’ll have half a drink more.
THE DRINKING! Let’s talk about the drinking. Prohibition ended in 1933, and if there’s one thing Americans are great at, it’s drinking, doing something stupid, and blaming it on being drunk. The 1940s and women are no exception, but in the 1940s it was a running joke to say “what’s in this drink” when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing. If you’re sitting around with your gal pals later and gossiping about something you shouldn’t have done, you blame it on the drink, they giggle, and everyone knows you didn’t need to be drunk to do it. We have jokes like this now. I, personally, accuse everyone I work with of being on crack every single time they do something stupid. Do I think they’re on crack? Nah. Will people know that in 74 years? Maybe not, because I come from a time when crack was a thing, so why would I joke about it? Because it’s fun to accuse people of using crack, obviously.
So let’s put this all together. Someone out there thinks Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a song about possibly drugging a woman, then coercing her to stay and have sex against her better judgement and/or will. No. It’s a song about a sexually repressed woman, who’s having a nice time, and in spite of all the gossip and possible repercussions of the act, she says she must go, in the most long, drawn out and flirty way possible, and then stays…. but at least she can say she tried, and blame it on maybe having too much to drink, whether they even drank alcohol or not.
This song is from 1944… and if you don’t recognize that so many things have changed in terms of women and sexuality, and what they’re allowed to want and do in 2018 that they would have been scorned, judged, and persecuted for in the 1940s. Yes, the wording is deceiving when taken at face value, but it’s not hard to sit for a moment and think about the context.
By the way… this song was written by a married man for he and his wife to perform, predominantly at parties, not by a single dude trying to figure out a way to coerce women into becoming another notch on his bedpost, like so many songs today….