Victoria Jelinek


December 19, 2018 VII – Baby It Does Seem Cold Outside

Baby Its Cold Outside cover

“Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.” Camille Paglia

Something I always stress with my students when we begin studying a book in class is the context in which it was created. The context (time period, locale, gender and socio economic status of the writer, historical and cultural events during the period in which it’s written) informs why and how the text is written. It is the seeming inability or unwillingness for many to consider the context in which songs, films, theater, photography, painting, art in general, is created, that gives me the impetus to write today. Specifically, I address the once-again attempt to ‘ban’ the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is frequently played during the holidays.

In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in order to perform it with his wife at their housewarming party as they said ‘goodnight’ to their guests. It was written by Loesser as a playful call-and-response duet in order to amuse its listeners. A few years later, the song was used for the musical “Neptune’s Daughter,” in which the male and female parts are identified as “The Wolf” and “the Mouse,” respectively. In the musical, the Wolf and the Mouse have been out on a date and after having a nightcap at the Wolf’s house, the Mouse is making her excuses to go home while he’s trying to persuade her to stay. In this back-and-forth between them, “I really can’t stay…” the Mouse sings, “But, baby, it’s cold outside…” those wishing to ban the song argue that he’s trying to ply the female with alcohol against her wishes and then take advantage of her – certainly many of we women have experienced this attempt and it’s what is, essentially, “date rape” the reasoning goes. Is she succumbing to his unflagging persistence against her wishes? Or, does she really want to stay, but is playing hard to get?

I believe she does want to stay but is playing coy because “good girls” in the 1940’s didn’t have sexual desires outside of marriage (or, arguably, within marriage, but that’s another post). At the time in which the song was created, women – or the Mouse in this case – understood that there were distinctly “acceptable” behaviors for women that were in direct contrast with what was deemed “acceptable” behavior for a man. It was beyond the confines of social “acceptability” for a woman to succumb to her sexual desires and stay the night with a man she had just been on a date with. Giving in to one’s desires could invariably prevent a “good girl” from having a “good marriage” later, which was at the time the raison d’etre for women. Realizing the boundaries of social expectations, the Wolf, through his repeated refrain, is offering her the excuses she needs in order to stay the night without any guilt. Moreover, at the time in which the song was written, “What’s in this drink?” was a stock joke because claiming to drink too much could ostensibly be used as an excuse for bowing to one’s ‘hidden’ wishes – behaving as one wouldn’t normally according to the social expectations at the time. Additionally, if one listens to the song, there are no predatory elements in the tone and style of the music. The female singer is not anxious or afraid – she’s playful, sexy, and desires the male. The song is, indeed, suggestive of light, flirtatious banter, just as the author Loesser intended when he wrote it to sing with his wife after their party.

I include the link (below) to a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” performed by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In this version, the roles have been reversed – Lady Gaga is the “Wolf” and Gordon-Levitt is the “Mouse.” I think it’s a wonderful rendition that captures the essential spirit of the original song.

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