Some Christmas songs will always be controversial. Fairytale of New York, with its cavalier use of offensive phrase “faggot”, and Do They Know It’s Christmas, with its blanket description of Africa as this poor homogenous mass are notable offenders. But none are more controversial, and divisive, than the 1944 song Baby it’s Cold Outside. The lyrics of the number, potentially problematic, have recently been thrust into the limelight in the wake of the #MeToo era.
People tend to fall into one of two camps when discussing the song: either it is describing a date rape scenario, or it portrays a consensual relationship. Certain lines are often focused on when discussing the date rape interpretation, lyrics that seem to imply the woman’s drink may have been spiked and her constant requests to leave despite the man’s attempts to keep her there. These lyrics alone may sound suspicious. However, focusing on these lyrics ignores many other parts of the song that appear to contradict this message.
In fact, the whole song can be seen as two people having a flirty conversation, with her seemingly wanting to stay the night but being apprehensive about what her family members will think. To make sense of this, we must remember the time period in which the song was written. At the time, it would be unacceptable for a woman to stay overnight with a man, even a boyfriend or a fiancé. This context even explains the infamous “hey what’s in this drink” line: if a woman was having a good time and didn’t want to leave, she could try and blame her uncharacteristically bold behaviour on the drink. This would only make sense in a society where women are expected to reject men’s advances whether they want to or not. With this in mind, the song portrays a woman with a sexual agenda during a time when women weren’t allowed to have one.
Taking the song off the radio, as has occurred at one station in Cleveland suggests that neither the intention of the song nor the context of its time period is important, when both should matter. We need to stop over-judging old media based on current society’s standards. Most of this media, including Baby it’s Cold Outside, only reflects the morals of the time. These may be different and present a challenge to our expectations, but they are not always as problematic as they appear. We need to embrace and learn from our past attitudes and morals; not pretend they didn’t exist. Taking a catchy Christmas song off the air just because we don’t agree with the morals that would’ve been ingrained in society at that time is definitely an overcompensation.