No, Christmas Classic ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ Is Not about Rape

a simple reading of the lyrics themselves reveals a much different story than the narrative and brouhaha coming from places like Salon and Huffington Post (George Marks VIA Getty Images)

It’s December, which means that it’s the Christmas season (or “Holiday” season, depending on who you ask). Many would have us believe that there is a “War on Christmas,” and that it’s necessary to maintain the “Christ in Christmas,” preferring Christian decorations and music to the neutral array of decorative tropes and song topics that have nothing to do with the Nativity of Christ.

The dispute between the use of the word “Christmas” and the use of the word “holidays” is one that I find very silly and unnecessary, seeing as how Christians and non-believers alike celebrate Christmas all the same. Despite being a Christian myself, I have no qualms with the markedly non-religious iconography of Christmas. I have a Christmas tree in my house, and I’ll sing along to “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells” with the same gusto as I will to “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”

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The only reason that the salutation “Merry Christmas” makes more sense than “Happy Holidays” is that, by and large, the US continues to celebrate Christmas more than any other winter-season holiday, and because Americans prefer it over any other holiday of the year.

While this seemingly endless debate continues each year almost as a staple of the season itself, some publications are now creating a new Christmas-related controversy — a song that has worked its way into the canon of holiday music which is being called offensive by many.

The song, as you might know, is called “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” It was originally written for the film Neptune’s Daughter, and has since been appropriated into the gallery of secular songs played at Christmas time. The controversy behind the song originates from the notion that its lyrics promote sexual coercion, since the male host in the song attempts to convince his female guest to stay with him for a romantic evening because of the inconvenience that the cold weather presents for travel.

The mention of alcohol is presented by the song’s opponents as somehow evidence of criminal intent. When I read that the lyrics supposedly indicate that the guest “may not even be old enough to legally drink (or legally give sexual consent!)”, I was horrified, because giving alcohol to a minor and statuary rape are both very real and serious offenses in the United States.

I remember seeing a performance of the song in ninth grade by some thespian schoolmates. I tried to remember precisely what the lyrics were about, because I strangely don’t remember being offended by it at the time, nor did anyone else in the auditorium. I don’t think the female character in the dramatization was supposed to be underage, and the character in the movie where the song made its debut is definitely not, so I looked it up to what all the fuss was about.

To my great relief, a simple reading of the lyrics reveals a much different story than the narrative and brouhaha coming from places like Salon and Huffington Post. As it turns out, it is the female guest who initially suggests drinking. She says, “maybe just a half a drink more” with no prior mention of drinking by her host. While he does offer to pour, it’s a stretch to claim he was trying to force her into an inebriated state. It’s also the only mention of alcohol in the entire song, with other excuses for staying — made by the guest, and not the host, by the way — including (Gasp!) a cigarette.

Meanwhile the reasons that she gives for leaving are nothing to do with any desire to get away from the man. She cites her mother’s worrying, her father’s pacing and, most notably, what “the neighbors might think.” None of that represents a crime or abuse by the host.

Make no mistake, the host is not being deceptive about his intentions, and the guest is not “getting to know him,” as Huffington Post claims. Rather, her reluctance comes from the embarrassment at what other people will say and think, not any distrust or lack of familiarity with the host.

There is no treachery or deception present in the conversation, either. The affection and flirtation suggest the two are already romantically involved. This is not a scene between two people who are just barely getting acquainted. Neither is the possibility of sexual violence ever implied. In fact, it’s the woman who brings up sex, saying not that she is uninterested, but that she is embarrassed that people might gossip about them.

Subsequently, the host convinces her to stay not using deception but with the simple reassurance that the cold weather would be understood by everyone else as the reason for them spending more time together. Frankly, I don’t think that any young couple owes their relatives or society at large an explanation for how much time they spend together, or what they do with that time.

As it turns out, there is nothing sinister about singing a flirtatious song with your boyfriend, no matter how cold it is outside.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and stay warm.

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