baby its cold outside

Baby, It’s Controversial Outside

If you missed the latest hot debate, Glenn Anderson, a host at Cleveland’s WDOK recently announced the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” would be removed from the holiday rotation. Glenn explains that although the song was written in 1944, “now while reading it, it seems very manipulative and wrong.  The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place.”  

And the internet raged.

“The #MeToo movement has gone too far.”

“I have never linked my misfortune with a damn song! I enjoy that song!”

“Calling it “rapey” is to entirely misunderstand the song & its real meaning.”

Are we really becoming too sensitive or not empathetic enough? Does intention trump perception? Is there any validity to being triggered by an old classic? Does it even matter?

Written in 1944, Frank Loesser wrote the instant hit to sing with his wife, Lynn Garland, to sing at the end of their holiday party, as a means to politely suggest it was time for their guests to hit the road.

In the forties it was not socially permitted for a women to spend the night with a man. The banter between singers (unfortunately named “mouse” and “wolf”) was intended to display their coy relationship unfolding. While she considered her reputation, he provided line after line of suggestions to convince to stay and forget about the social consequences of her inevitable walk of shame in the morning. His persuasive voice was merely echoing her intentions. In fact, “What’s in the drink?” was a common expression at the time, to save face by blaming alcohol.

The internet raged back.

“It’s not 1944. It’s interpreted as a rape song now. Victims hear it and cringe.”

This debate is nothing new. A few years back, Marya Hannun of WashPo explained the lyrics “could be read as an advocacy for women’s sexual liberation rather than a tune about date rape.”

With intention clearly understood, she continued, “And while the song has progressive origins, in a year of renewed outrage over sexual violence, a song where a man sings, “Baby it’s cold outside,” and a woman responds, “the answer is no” deserves increased scrutiny and criticism.”

So which side of the debate is the right one – the lyrics are harmless because that’s how they were meant or the lyrics are triggering because that’s how some people perceive it now?

Steve Ritch, of the American Speech Language Hearing Association, has given some insight into the core of this question: Intent vs. Perception. “Sometimes we are unaware that our words or tone may have an entirely different implication for the individual or individuals we are addressing. Innocent conversations may have unintended meaning for someone whose life experience differs from ours.”

Sorry. I didn’t mean that. That wasn’t my intention.

Do those words make it hurt any less?

Melanie Tannenbaum further illustrated this point. “…it’s not OK for people to tell [a woman] that she should just change how she feels because she’s being too sensitive or reading too much into things. Guess what? If you say something and you make someone feel seriously uncomfortable, it’s now on you to give serious consideration to why that person might feel that way. That’s how empathy and being a nice human being works.”

Triggers are real. According to Psychology Today, people who’ve experienced trauma can be triggered by any number of expected or unexpected subtle factors, including smells and sounds. For example, “A person who smelled incense during a sexual assault may have a panic attack when they smell the same incense in a store.”  They could experience overwhelming sadness, fear, anxiety, or panic. It could provoke a very real emotional and physical response and even cause the person to relive the traumatic event.

“When we know our emotional triggers, we can choose to not expose ourselves to situations that harm our mental health. To not expose ourselves to digital content that can generate unpleasant emotions. The idea is not to run away from these situations and create a bubble which separates you from the outer world, but being aware helps us know our limitations and our boundaries and avoid–as much as possible–exposing ourselves to those situations that hurt us and negatively affect our mental health and self-esteem.”

With an abundance of media streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, it’s easy and usually free to create your own holiday station. And the major advantage these services offer over radio – the skip button. Radio listeners have no control in cultivating a playlist, other than to tune out here and there. For those who’ve survived date rape, getting to the volume control in time might still not be enough time to prevent unwanted memories and feelings from pouring in.

The song’s lyrics and intention were relatable in the forties. There was no misunderstanding. But today, with women speaking out about abuse and misogyny, the lyrical intention is no longer relatable in the same manner.

Joe Frank adds “Victims of sexual assault and their advocates fully understand that the intention of this song was to counter the public shaming of a consensual sexual encounter. But given the prevalence of these assaults, and the absence of the aforementioned shame that was so prevalent in the 1940’s to provide context for the lyrics, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect that the more popular interpretation here in the 21st century would be a rape.”

Sure, you may think this is ridiculous, it’s “just a song”. A classic! And a damn good tune to boot! But is it really so unreasonable to understand that a survivor of date rape could hear this song and be flooded with unwanted emotions? Could you put yourself in her shoes?

Just to remind the readers, Cleveland’s WDOK didn’t “ban” the song. It was removed from the holiday rotation. “Baby, It’s cold Outside” can still be heard playing on radio stations across the country and be added to every streaming service available, including Sirius XM.


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