No, Baby It’s Cold Outside is NOT Rapey (But it IS Related to Rape Culture)

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As a card-carrying man-hating feminist, I think it’s time I finally weigh on the great debate of our time: whether or not the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is “rapey.” It comes up every year, and this year it seems to have escalated since several radio stations have announced that they’re not going to play the song anymore due to sexism. This has led to many people on the internet, notably great thinkers of our time like William Shatner, to declare that this is censorship of the worst Orwellian kind.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: it is not censorship. Seriously. Who even listens to the radio anymore? I do, but only when I’m in the car for less than ten minutes and I don’t feel like plugging my phone in. I don’t care of the rap throwback station isn’t playing “Baby Got Back” for reasons. I’m listening to whatever two or three songs they’re playing until I get to where I’m going, and that’s it. If I really want to hear a song, I’ll do what everyone does in the year of our lord 2018 and I’ll ask Alexa to play it for me. If she refuses because she objects to the lyrics, I’ll ask Siri. I have options.

Unfortunately, that’s where my disagreement with William Shatner on this topic ends. Yes, folks, strap in because I’m about to agree with the Shat about something. Baby It’s Cold Outside is not rapey in any meaningful sense. In fact, it is quite explicitly feminist. I’ll pause while you all pick up your monocles.

What people seem to be missing when they object to the song is context: it was written in the 1930s, when our society did not allow good upstanding women to have sex, unless it was within the confines of holy matrimony, and even then they weren’t supposed to want it, let alone enjoy it. But the protagonist in Baby It’s Cold Outside does want sex, and god dammit she’s going to enjoy the fuck out of it. How do we know? Because not only does she never say she wants to go, she says she should go, because other people want her to. Her mother will start to worry. Her father will be pacing the floor. The neighbors might think, her sister will be suspicious, her brother will be at the door, her aunt is vicious, and the whole town is going to talk about her tomorrow.

And of course, people complain that “Say, what’s in this drink” is an accusation of him drugging her. No. Am I the only one who grew up watching movies from the 30s and 40s? “Say, what’s in this drink” was an extremely common joke that a person would crack when they were purposely behaving in a socially unacceptable way — they would blame the drink, with the obvious punchline being that there’s nothing in the drink, it’s just you being an ass. Or in this case, a delightful slut who wants to stay and get some dick on a cold winter night.

It’s crucial that we examine pop culture through a progressive, feminist lens, but that means being intersectional, too, which means taking into account things outside our immediate environment and understanding. In this case, it means looking at the song in its context and remembering that rape is not the only societal ill that feminists have had to deal with. Slut shaming is a pretty big one, too, and it’s something we still deal with today.

I will admit that it’s fascinating how something that was obvious to people in the 30s, 40s, and 50s is now so inscrutable to so many people in 2018, and how in our current environment it’s quite easy to misread the exchange to completely miss the subtext and come away with the exact opposite message of the original. Is it a coincidence that a song opposing sex shaming is misinterpreted to be a song advocating rape? No. These things go hand in hand. The fact that girls are expected to play hard to get helps rapists who want to say she really wanted it. So yeah, Baby It’s Cold Outside is relevant to rape culture but not in the way many people think. The song AND it’s misinterpretation illustrate the fact that when we as a society don’t allow for men and women to talk openly and positively about sex, everyone loses. Women who want to have sex can’t and the ones who don’t get raped.

It’s unfortunate that this means people now hate what is otherwise a fun, catchy song about two people who really, really want to fuck, but hey, in the end, who cares? There are other songs. If you run a radio station and you don’t want to get angry letters every Christmas, just play other Christmas songs. Like hey, how about “Santa Baby,” literally a song sung by a woman offering to fuck a man in exchange for jewelry. But at least it’s not rape!

Seriously though, if you don’t like the song because of the way you interpret it, then that’s totally okay. Death to the author! Society changes, people’s interpretations change, and there’s nothing a YouTube video can do to stop it. This song will eventually be lost to memory, and in the end, it’s really not a big deal.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. It’s really remarkable that our species has been so successful when the act required for procreation causes so much confusion, strife and angst. I say let’s all just have a Merry fucking Christmas!

  2. Thanks for the reminder. The song is as sex-positive as it dared to be in the late 40s. Supposedly, Frank Loesser and his spouse preformed it as a ‘go home’ message at parties for years before anyone would record it.

    A quick wiki-check hints that there was no Xmas association to the song until the 1990s. I performed it in college back in 1977 and there wasn’t a whiff of Christmas anywhere near the song at that point.

    ‘What’s in the drink?’ is a pretty straight allusion to the (then and now normal) ‘plying with…’ use of alcohol as a dating ‘lubricant.’ And THAT deserves a flow of outrage that doesn’t seem to be happening.

  3. This is all fair, except she does at one point come out and say “I really must go, the answer is no”, and ignoring that is a very problematic message when we have consent issues.

  4. To be fair, though, Mickey Finn was from before Prohibition. So it’s not like the idea of intentionally drugging someone in food or drink was nothing new. Though for him it was more of a “15% minimum please”.

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