Baby, it’s cold outside

So I logged in Sunday night to write what I expected to put up today — a post about my top 15 albums of 2007 — but before I could start composing I noticed on the site’s dashboard that we had received a link from a blog I thought had been abandoned: Is There No Sin in It? (we’ve long linked to it in the “Excursions” list), written by A White Bear, someone whose blogging I’d admired long before I met her through a mutual friend.

A WHITE BEAR ! Very well. Have I ever seen one? Might I ever have seen one? Am I ever to see one? Ought I ever to have seen one? Or can I ever see one?

And lo and behold, she’s started blogging again, which she didn’t mention either of the last two times I’ve seen her — during a small group outing to see Control, the Joy Division movie (I cried during the “Transmission” performance, but not at the end), or the other night when she dropped by with Dave for our annual Gingerbread House-decorating event with Slade and her kid.

Once I’d caught up with the virtual AWB, having lost an hour of the time I was supposed to spend composing my post for Monday morning I realized that her most recent entry was more than enough to carry TGW into a new week, and not just because she happened to use an incident that occurred at our house as the occasion for her post. It’s also seasonably appropriate, as it involves the song whose title I’ve used as the title of my post.

First, take a look at the lyrics, bearing in mind that the first part of each line is typically sung by a female voice, the second by a male (the voices overlap in the middle of the line):

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
well Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir – Mind if I move a little closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

C’mon baby

I simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no – Ooh baby, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been – I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm – Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious – Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door – Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious – Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just a half a drink more – Never such a blizzard before

I’ve got to go home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Your eyes are like starlight now
But don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Making my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that old out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

Baby it’s cold outside

Brr its cold …
It’s cold out there
Cant you stay awhile longer baby
Well … I really shouldn’t … alright

Make it worth your while baby
Ahh, do that again …

About the song, and her exchange with my ladyfriend while the song was playing at our house the other night, AWB has this to say:

Last night, while listening to Christmas songs with Dave at the Watermans’, Stephanie and I got into a conversation about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a song which has always creeped me the fuck out. Stephanie held the position that it’s about a woman who is saying no but means yes, and it is in this mood that it is usually sung, as a playfully erotic seduction scene. And I agree, it’s kinda hot, but, unfortunately, it’s also really scary.

… Loesser’s song reiterates this old narrative of the woman who must say no, and the man who convinces her that she really should fuck him, all through insistent, repetitive argument that has nothing to do with the possibility of female desire. The female voice in the song (referred to by Loesser as “The Mouse”) is clearly getting very drunk, worries about whether he has slipped her a mickey, is anxious about her parents and other family members, and even says, “The answer is no.” The male voice (”The Wolf”) does not even listen to her concerns and runs through a cycle of responses that (1) threaten her with the bad weather (she may not make it home safely), (2) compliment her body and encroach upon it, and (3) accuse her of hurting his “pride.” In this song, which I find difficult to read as anything but date rape, the tension of refusal and demand is coded as the very stuff of erotic content. His argument is not that she should stay and have sex with him because she is turned on or because he will show her a good time, but because he wants her and doesn’t care about the consequences she may face.

Why is this song such a turn-on to women? I get it, I do, even as I see how uninterested “The Wolf” is in her sexual pleasure. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, not some other one that doesn’t have this long history of patriarchal demand and the subjugation of women. Sexual desire is a funny thing, isn’t it?

Early in the comments on her blog, someone posted a link to this, the original performance of the song in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, which may or may not complicate AWB’s reading. But more to the point — I want to know what the good readers of TGW have to say about two questions AWB closes with: “Why is this song such a turn-on to women?” (Is it?), and “Sexual desire is a funny thing, isn’t it?” (Is it?)

View AWB’s entire post here.

27 responses to “Baby, it’s cold outside”

  1. Rachel says:

    A whole generation of listeners is only going to know this song from the movie Elf, which makes it seem a lot more innocuous–even though Will Ferrell is sneaking up on Zooey Deschanel, who’s singing in the shower….

    …..(Sorry. I got distracted for moment there.)
    …his character is so naive that the moment is comically sweet, not threatening.

    In any other context, the song is pretty creepy, I agree. Sexual desire is a funny thing indeed. Irrational, ineffable.

  2. TC says:

    I feel like these words could be sexy or could be creepy, depending on the context. It’s ambiguous. We need to know what the relationship is like between these characters (power dynamics, history of nights like this, whether her sexual pleasure is in fact addressed in their lovemaking) and also we need to know things like “would she be uncomfortable if he alluded openly to her sexual pleasure, given her personality and mores?” I feel like the answers to all of these questions would totally shape our assessment of creepiness. In the same way, you could imagine that a line like “Hey baby, you want summa this?” could be entirely creepy and probably inappropriate if uttered on a first date, but sexy and appropriate in some context, such as a relationship, perhaps. Given the ambiguity, I’m willing to give the song the benefit of the doubt and say that she really is into it — a reading which makes the song not about date rape, but which still makes the song about a thing that I find very bad, i.e., the conceit that girls should pretend not to be into sex, even if they actually are. The last two lines of the song (“make it worth your while / ahh, do that again”) seem to confirm that she wanted it all along. So I wish she would have made that clear. But, you know, it was the 40s.

  3. ssw says:

    I read this as a character who can make her own decisions (to have a drink, smoke, fool around) but is also very concerned with what other people will think–she can’t seem to tune out those voices. The implication of whatever happens between them sexually remains unspoken except for she does ask for a comb. Her defenses are quickly back up about what people will think (“there’s bound to be talk tomorrow”). But as for the seduction piece, I disagree that he’s not in touch with her, or that his advances are unwelcome. He’s charming and alluring–tempting her and breaking down her resistances (tell her she’s pretty and he’s lucky; protect her from the cold, etc ). It’s also funny and feminist to have the girl take the traditional man’s role and be the one who’s more active, and swaying him to stay–that’s obviously what the second couple from the clip plays on– plenty of people, regardless of how you play out the roles, love a good seduction story. In a perfect world, everyone would have the ability to say what they want and to get it, but we’re often not that tuned-in to ourselves or well-received by others. Complicated indeed.

  4. Tim Wager says:

    First, an aside: Watching the first part of the original version of the song, I thought of Christopher Walken as The Continental on SNL. So creepy and yet so good.

    I’ve never really been a big fan of the message of this song, but I really like the melody and the interplay of the duetted lyrics. It’s really very well written.

    I tend to agree with AWB, that the song claims that female desire and pleasure must be coaxed, if not even forced. The first half of the clip from the movie shows this quite well, with Ricardo Montalban as the Lothario whose every move is calculated to trap his prey in the web of his own desire. (The scene is really well choreographed, btw.)

    The second half of the clip, of course, puts an entirely different spin on the song, reversing the gender roles as it does, and making it into light comedy, a diffusion of the sexual tension built up by the first half. (It also expresses quite well a male fear of female sexual desire.) I found it a very interesting reinterpretation, one that hasn’t found its way into the popular sense of the song, which remains that of the male entrapping the female.

    Perhaps even more interesting to me in the clip from Neptune’s Daughter is that Red Skelton plays an Eastern European immigrant (complete with comical accent and old-fashioned mores), which re-figures the dynamic over again, turning it into an expression of post-war America’s desire to drag “Old Europe” out of the 19th c. and into the 20th.

    Too bad Mr. Roarke and Laverne and Shirley’s landlady couldn’t have just found each other.

  5. Scotty says:

    When I first read the lyrics I was troubled that there would even need to be a discussion. To me, the song (and the assumed characters who sing either part) is completely problematic, but you all make an interesting point: what if it’s a woman singing the man’s part or god forbid a same-sex duet?

    I do think it’s a mistake, however, to take a piece completely out of its historical context (I’m no expert here, but I know of several Whatsitzers who are). Educate me: Where doe’s historicism come into play here? When we re-contextualize, don’t we run the risk of assuming things like house slaves having a degree of power over their masters? Or aren’t we always bound to commit the natural fallacy?

  6. Dave says:

    Context: In the 1940s, date rape was perfectly okay.

  7. reality check: in the 1940s “date rape” didn’t exist as a concept. the closest i can think of would be “taken advantage of.”

    i have more thoughts on the song (i don’t find the song so creepy, though i recognize the potential to play it creepy is absolutely built into it) but am short on time and am enjoying listening to others first anyway.

    back to work …

  8. A White Bear says:

    Bryan, I hid nothing! I don’t think I’d restarted blogging yet when we went to the movie, and I just forgot on Saturday. But yes, I am back.

    This morning, I largely disagree with my post, but I have to figure out why. Hrm.

  9. Bryan says:

    okay. now i have a minute for a couple stray, not-very-well formulated thoughts —

    1. I’m reading the whole exchange as sexual performance, a sort of highly stylized mating ritual complete with role playing. Most of you are probably willing to let all kinds of role playing off the hook if it’s done in the bedroom between consenting adults; why is this necessarily different? because these aren’t real people?

    2. Formally, I think the duet has a lot to say. There’s a lot of balance going on here rather than one side dominating. Plus performers tend to sing at least the refrain in unison, which suggests both sides really want the same ending.

    3. So let’s say this really is an insidious representation of the negation of female agency and sexual pleasure in the seduction scenario. I’ve always tended to read it, rather, as a coquettish performance, which suggests a certain degree of both agency and at least desire. That is, I’ve read it as a seduction of the wolf by the mouse, to borrow the songwriter’s terms. And maybe I’m just betraying how much my sexuality is tied up in some patriarchal hegemony, but I personally find coquettish performance to be sexy. And don’t think it has to mean that the person playing the role of the Coquette is dumb.


    4. I do think it’s all about how the lines are played. And one of the reasons I think it’s such a great song — and has endured as long as it has — is because there’s so much room to play around with the parts: role reversals are built in in multiple ways from the beginning, as the clip from ND makes clear.

  10. oops. for a moment that came across as from ssw. i’ve fixed it.

  11. celia says:

    Funny thing. I turned on as I started reading this and what song was on? You guessed it. Baby it’s cold outside sung by Ella F. and Louis A. But the words were different in this version.

    I’ve never once thought of him as trying to coerce her to have sex with him. I’ve never even thought of this song in terms of sex, though after reading the words you posted I can see why one would.

    The words that I linked suggest that she needs to go because she’s worried about worrying others (or getting caught) because she’s sneaked out of the house.

    I think it appeals to some women (like me) who want to feel wanted even if the situation doesn’t permit you to stay (be it social pressure “the neighbors might think”, personal or religious convictions, family, etc.)

  12. celia says:

    Oops. my link was bad. dang. I’ll try it again. Here is it. Sorry about that. didn’t proof read my link code.

  13. celia says:

    Sheesh. I don’t know what my problem is today!! I guess if you want to read the lyrics someone with editing power will either have to fix my link or you can copy and paste the url.

  14. Beth W says:

    I’ve never thought of this song as particularly creepy or sexy. It’s flirtatious and when performed well quite enjoyable to listen to. On the other hand I can see the creep factor. But it’s a song. It’s supposed to be light hearted and fun. I imagine the lyricist was more concerned with rhyming than social mores. (Is that an excuse?)

    This song reminded of another Christmas song, Let it Snow (lyrics here). It’s also about staying inside out of the cold with a loved one but a less controversial alternative.

  15. Ruben Mancillas says:

    how come no one is bringing up pezband? that’s the first thing that comes to mind when i think of “baby, it’s cold outside”

    it’s called power pop people, embrace it.

  16. TC says:

    Another old pop song that opposes cold weather with the lover’s embrace is the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Winter Warm.” There is a nice recording of it by Rebecca Kilgore.

  17. I fixed the link in #11.

  18. Is he trying to slip her a mickey? Or is she just pretending she didn’t know the drink was going to be alcoholic?

  19. celia says:

    thanks bry

  20. Dave says:

    Right. I think some things are clear — he really wants her to stay and go to bed with him, she really is worried about people will say about her. But it’s ambiguous what she really wants to do, how turned on she is, the extent to which her resistance is her own or merely demanded by gender roles (“At least I’m gonna say that I tried”).

    That’s kind of a problem with lots of sexual situations, isn’t it — there’s ambiguity about one party’s intentions/desires/permissions, and the other party has to push past that ambiguity or else nothing will ever happen at all. But how far past the ambiguity does one take the situation? That’s a real trick.

  21. Eleanor's Papa says:

    Coincidentally this was the final number at our swanky but amateur firm holiday luncheon last week. It really captured the creepiness — a duet between a young-ish secretary and the semi-retired dean of the employment law partners.

    I felt sexually harassed just being there, and kept remembering all the law firm xmas parties I’ve been to over the last two decades where middle aged men ended up doing something foolish and hooking up with the staff, leading to divorces in the new year….

  22. swells says:

    This post could not be more up my alley. Exactly the kind of gender politics I love to analyze in pop culture. The call-and-response seduction/ date rape/ no no no yes yes yes format reminds me of the ee cummings poem, “may i feel said he” and the way female desire is supposed to be denied by said female and that if the male “succeeds,” the man’s punishment is to be hounded by her relentless, harpyish insistence on the Commitment that is all women really want and they will trap you to get it even if you rape them. Sorry to rant, but I have about a billion examples of this (often in contemporary advertising) that I use when I teach. See also “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

  23. Yikes! I’m so sorry, swells, for calling you out just now on another thread for not having commented here. I think your comment was tied up in moderation for the links. My bad!

  24. swells says:

    It’s okay, Bryan, but when I saw it was tied up I thought exactly that–how crappy it will look that I can comment twice on the other post and skip this, which is for me a perfect post! I was hoping my comment would get unhung before you noticed, but alas . . . I feel really violated by your comment, actually. Want to get married?

  25. swells says:

    And another thing:

    “Why is this song such a turn-on to women?” I think because (straight) women are socialized to believe that (as Celia mentions) if any man wants you, you’re doing something right, whether or not you want him. Being raped is its own reward–at least someone wanted to have sex with you. That’s really cynical, I know, but consider the source. Me and American gender politics: bad mix.

  26. wow. that meatloaf was some messed up stuff.

    to what degree, though, could these songs be seen as parodying the very attitudes you’re wanting to call them out for promoting?

  27. TC says:

    To me, this scene (which I agree is archetypical in American gender politics) seems to give the power to the girl. She gets to decide whether or not they do it, and the man has to completely lay bare his desire and try to talk her into it. How humiliating!