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Baby, It’s Consensual Outside (Updated)

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion in the last few days about the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Unsurprising, what with (a) it being the winter holiday season, and (b) there being a lot of discussion of rape culture lately. I don’t have a huge amount to add to the conversation, other than, “Yup, the song is troubling at best and rapey at worst,” and, “I don’t care that Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt reversed the gender roles — men deserve to have their sexual boundaries respected just as much as women, ignoring boundaries and treating it like a flirtatious game is fucked-up no matter what the genders are.” The main thing I want to say is this:

Have you heard the consensual version?

There’s a really cute, sweet, funny parody version of the song on YouTube by Chase Gregory, titled “Baby It’s Consensual Outside,” in which the guy respects the woman’s boundaries. I thought some of you might enjoy it.

I’ve transcribed the lyrics, for the deaf and hard of hearing:

BABY, IT’S CONSENSUAL OUTSIDE
by Chase Gregory

I really can’t stay
Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go ‘way
Remember, it’s cold outside
This evening has been
Thanks, baby, for stopping in
So very nice
Was wonderful, to be precise
My mother will start to worry
Oh, then you’d better hurry
My father will be pacing the floor
Let me walk you out to the door
So really, I’d better scurry
That’s okay, please don’t worry
Well, maybe just a half a drink more
Only if you’re really quite sure

The neighbors might think
Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink?
I’ll pay for your taxi fare
I wish I knew how
Your eyes are like starlight now
To break the spell
And here’s your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no sir
Say it, we’ll end up closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried
It’s okay, I’ll take it in stride
I really can’t stay
Baby I’ll hold out
And it’s cold outside/and it’s cold outside

I simply must go
Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no
Oh good, I think that’s your ride
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
Don’t want to seem malicious
My brother will be there at the door
Waiting for the girl I adore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
Man, this feels repetitious
Well, maybe just a half a drink more
Say “when,” so I know what to pour

I’ve got to go home
Baby, don’t freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb
It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand
I totally understand
But don’t you see
I know it isn’t up to me
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
Here’s some gloves you can borrow
At least there will be plenty implied
It’s not really mine to decide
I really can’t stay
I trust you, there’s no doubt [may be mangling the transcription of this line a bit – GC]
And it’s cold outside/and it’s cold outside

*****

UPDATE: In response to the commonly-voiced objection that the woman in the song doesn’t really mean No, that she wants to say Yes but is worried about social disapproval (voiced here in these comments as well as many other places), I have this to say:

1: When women want to say say No (or indeed are saying No and not having it accepted), they often place the blame on others. We’ve been socialized to think that saying No to what other people want is rude and mean and selfish — so we place the blame for the No on others, “I’d love to stay at the party, but I have work tomorrow.” Etc. As A. Noyd said @ #7, “If a guy is pressuring a woman for sex/companionship and she doesn’t want to stay with him, she often has to bring up other reasons, such as disapproval from family members making her life difficult, when her wishes alone aren’t being listened to.”

2: It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what the reasons for her objections are. No means no. If she were saying No because she thinks sex will make her nose turn blue or that space aliens will invade if she says Yes — she’s still saying No. Over and over and over again.

3a: Yes, there probably are some women — and some men — who say No as part of a flirtatious game, to get their pursuers to pursue them. That is also part of rape culture. The idea that you really know someone wants you when they ignore your boundaries and keep pushing past your objections… this is also part of rape culture. (It’s also really sex-negative, reinforcing the idea that it’s bad and wrong to enthusiastically say Yes to sex when you want it.) I don’t like it when pop culture encourages, celebrates, and reinforces this idea.

3b: When pop culture reinforces the idea that ignoring boundaries is part of a flirtatious game, it doesn’t just encourage the recipients of attention to say No when they really mean Yes, and to think that if someone takes No for an answer it means they really don’t like them. It encourages pursuers to think that No means Yes, or that it means Maybe, or that it means “I want you to keep trying.” And that makes them more likely to push past someone else’s boundaries.

Comments

  1. huntstoddard says

    This seems to be a continuation of the same discussion from last year, as I remember. I can definitely see where one might perceive the (original) song as problematic, yet if you pay attention carefully to the lyrics and think about them, I think ultimately the song has to get a pass (but I’m definitely open to objections on that). In summary it describes a woman who stops in at the dwelling of an obviously amorous male. It’s easy to conclude that she’s objecting to his advances, but in the context of 50s and 60s morality, it seems more that she’s thinking about what mettlesome family members and associates are going to think if she stays and probably has sex with someone she for whom she reciprocates attraction. (I note, there are some lines that seem rather alarming, like “what’s in this drink?”) If that is the case, it’s an instance of consensuality; the refrain of tension throughout the song is actually in reaction to fear of the conservative sexual mores of the time from which the song dates. All of this could easily be lost on modern listeners.

    My opinion, anyway.

  2. says

    I tend to agree with huntstoddard, the ‘mouse’ seems more worried about appearances than anything else. (Though I grant the ‘what’s in the drink’ line is suspicious).
    Now if you compare that song with, say, Flanders and Swann’s Madeira, M’Dear from a few years later it begins to look positively benign.

  3. doublereed says

    So much Christmas music would never be played except for the fact that it’s become “Christmas Music.”

    I think the song would be very much improved if it was sung by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. But then that’s my solution to everything.

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    About a year ago, I wrote my own version of this song. I should look it over, and decide if it should be shared.

    Thanks for this video.

  5. A. Noyd says

    huntstoddard (#1)

    it seems more that she’s thinking about what [meddlesome] family members and associates are going to think if she stays and probably has sex with someone she for whom she reciprocates attraction.

    If a guy is pressuring a woman for sex/companionship and she doesn’t want to stay with him, she often has to bring up other reasons, such as disapproval from family members making her life difficult, when her wishes alone aren’t being listened to. Even now, it’s so god damn common that guys will not take “I’m not interested” as a reason to leave a woman alone. So, from my perspective as someone who has had to use such excuses to get away from aggressive guys before*, she’s not there consensually at all. It’s just that, in the context of the morality of the time, she couldn’t tell him to go fuck himself, rush out the door and flag down her own taxi.

    ………
    *Which is humiliating. It fucking sucks to have to do that—to be reminded you’re not enough of a person for the guy to care about what you want.

  6. monad says

    Though I grant the ‘what’s in the drink’ line is suspicious

    “The answer is no” is a pretty strong line, too.

  7. Greta Christina says

    huntstoddard @ #1 and richardelguru @ #3:

    1: What A. Noyd said @ #7. When women want to say say No (or indeed are saying No and not having it accepted), they often place the blame on others. We’ve been socialized to think that saying No to what other people want is rude and mean and selfish — so we place the blame for the No on others, “I’d love to stay at the party, but I have work tomorrow.” Etc.

    2: It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what the reasons for her objections are. No means no. If she were saying No because she thinks sex will make her nose turn blue or that space aliens will invade if she says Yes — she’s still saying No. Over and over and over again.

    3a: Yes, there probably are some women — and some men — who say No as part of a flirtatious game, to get their pursuers to pursue them. That is also part of rape culture. The idea that you really know someone wants you when they ignore your boundaries and keep pushing past your objections… this is also part of rape culture. I don’t like it when pop culture encourages, celebrates, and reinforces this idea.

    3b: When pop culture reinforces the idea that ignoring boundaries is part of a flirtatious game, it doesn’t just encourage the recipients of attention to say No when they really mean Yes, and to think that if someone takes No for an answer it means they really don’t like them. It encourages pursuers to think that No means Yes, or that it means Maybe, or that it means “I want you to keep trying.” And that makes them more likely to push past someone else’s boundaries.

  8. sambarge says

    What I find most intersting about this song is how the dialogue around consent has changed in the last 50 yrs. I’m not old (45 yrs) and I remember hearing this song as a younger woman and thinking nothing of it. That was the dialogue of flirting/sexual negotiations, if you will. It didn’t seem wrong.

    But look at the dialogue now! And the re-writing is great. Sexual politics are changing and that’s a good thing. Maybe Bing Crosby didn’t intend to rape Doris Day but the song lyrics are severely problematic. I didn’t see it 25 yrs ago but my consciousness has been raised on consent and now I do see it.

    When other people from my generation were taking offense at the suggestion that we weren’t always so aware of consent, I was marvelling at how far we’d actually come. It’s great.

    I still sing along to it though. Just like Panis Angelicus, which ceased to mean anything to me a long time ago, I still like the song.

    Trebuchet @#6

    I find “Santa Baby” about as creepy.

    It’s way more creepy.

  9. huntstoddard says

    I agree with the point about the contortions women must often endure to avoid unwanted sexual advance. I think the thing that bugs is that lately the song been commandeered to illustrate lack of consent and the possibility of date rape, while actually in the proper historical context, it’s saying a lot more than just that about conditions as they existed fifty or seventy years ago. Why is the “mouse” so unwilling to accept sexual advance? Why does the “wolf” seem so nonchalant about it? One angle is consent/date rape. Another is that in decades past girls/women were impelled to be “good,” “chaste”, not “loose,” “pure,” etc. And there was the ever-present specter of unwanted pregnancy and out of wedlock childbirth (and of course, illegal abortion). All or most of these things were considered a moral liability for women. There was probably some collateral risk for men, but the primary “blame” and stigma were endured by women. This opens a whole other aspect of historical horror that a single interpretation simply glosses over, and personally I think the song is more about that than sexual consent. I mean, it’s probably about both, but as written, I think it’s telling the story of a post-date young woman ruminating about conservative sexual morality and the possible consequences of sex.

  10. huntstoddard says

    @sambarge
    There’s a particularly galling Tonight Show clip on youtube in which Don Rickles tells a story about being in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra and “loosening up” the woman he’s with with drinks. Nobody seems to think anything of it. It’s received solely as a humorous account. And that wasn’t “that” long ago, maybe in the 80s.

  11. says

    Maybe Bing Crosby didn’t intend to rape Doris Day

    I think we can be pretty sure that’s the case. The problem with this “no means yes” narrative is not that some people use it and end up having mutually enjoyable consensual sex. The problem is that it makes the flirting that is a prelude to consensual sex impossible to tell apart from the grooming that is a prelude to sexual assault. Now that we have more knowledge of how rapists operate, we can take steps to change the scripts about sex so that they are not as easy for rapists to subvert to their own purposes.

  12. Greta Christina says

    I mean, it’s probably about both, but as written, I think it’s telling the story of a post-date young woman ruminating about conservative sexual morality and the possible consequences of sex.

    huntstoddard @ #11: I don’t really care that much about the original intent. The content of the song is about a woman saying No again and again, and having that No ignored. Yes, it could possibly be that the original intent/ historical context was to be more about the conservative pressure on women not to be sexual, even if they want to. It doesn’t matter. Even if that’s the case, the response of the “wolf” in the song — to ignore her ruminations and keep pressuring her — are still completely unacceptable.

    But since you keep bringing up the issue of the original intent of the song in its historical context, I encourage you to watch this clip of the song in its original pop culture context — as part of the movie “Neptune’s Daughter” with Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban. Please note how she keeps pulling away from him, and even physically pushes him away. Note how she pushes his hand away when he rests it on her knee. Note how he keeps taking her coat and hat off when she puts them on. Note how he keeps physically grabbing her arm. Note how he keeps physically pulling her back onto the sofa. Note how she keeps physically trying to leave, and how he keeps physically not letting her.

    The historical context is that in the 1950s, people gave even less of a damn about consent than they do now. People thought persistent pressure was a form of courtship. People thought women saying No again and again was a form of flirtation. This song is Exhibit A. And it’s fucked up.

  13. johnthedrunkard says

    ‘Consent’ language is part of the problem. If nothing else, the song serves to highlight this.

    Sex is not ‘on tap’ for her to Permit,even if the that is the case in the scenario of the song. To put everything in terms of female ‘consent’ is to reduce sex into a thing that she ‘has’ and which he is trying to ‘get.’ It’s all downhill from there–a ‘gift’ requested–a commodity purchased–loot seized.

    That does NOT mean that the opposite of consent is not vitally important. ‘NO’ is more important, and to my mind, more legitimate than ‘YES.’ Mutual sexual attraction and activity is not a contract negotiation. But in real life, the option to terminate is absolutely vital. If only because men are bigger than women.

    I performed this song once, many years ago. I hadn’t remembered it for a long time. The woman I sang it with had a stage-fright fit and flubbed EVERY SINGLE LINE. Leaving me to try to answer the jumbled line she actually sang, or try to prompt her back by singing the line I would have sung normally.

    Frank Loesser is a better songwriter than folks tend to remember and this is an amazing song. The lyrics exist in altered versions anyway. I’ve read that the original, written for a private party was way to obscene for publication. I wonder if any trace of the original survives, and if so, is it more or less sexist?

  14. antialiasis says

    I guess I’m lucky to live in Iceland – I’ve literally never heard that song before. Our Christmas songs may be bizarre (and on at least one occasion simply a collection of stereotypes about gender roles and the elderly), but at least they’re not rapey.

    Love the parody. Ironically, simply by changing the guy’s lines but not the woman’s, the song does start to sound like huntstoddard’s interpretation – when he doesn’t pressure her to stay at all but instead is totally understanding and offers to pay for her cab, the way she keeps changing her mind and deciding not to go after all anyway starts to genuinely make her out to actually want to stay while feeling worried about social norms. It’s the very fact he’s not respecting her boundaries that makes it not sound like flirting at all.

  15. huntstoddard says

    This song is Exhibit A. And it’s fucked up.

    Yes, that clip definitely more supports the undesired sexual advance angle of interpretation, and since it dates from near the origin of the song, it’s a fair indictment. Every new rendition of the song invites added criticism, since modern renditions, like the Gaga one, don’t have the excuse of even historical context. I wonder if the song will ever gain the status of something like blackface, where it is no longer performed with acceptance. To date, it’s still a very popular Christmas song, adored even, up there with all the great Christmas songs.

    It’s interesting that even in that clip there’s the gender reversed version at the end, but in typical 50s fashion, it’s a comical version, employing the performance of Red Skelton. In other words, we’re not supposed to take that one seriously, it’s only in opposing comic relief to the first.

    Bottom line, it’s a song from the mid 20th century dealing with sexual conduct. Almost by definition, it’s going to be fucked up.

  16. sambarge says

    The problem is that it makes the flirting that is a prelude to consensual sex impossible to tell apart from the grooming that is a prelude to sexual assault.

    Exactly. And the resistance people express to the fact that this song could well be depicting a date rape is that this sort of flirting was culturally acceptable. Well, it still IS culturally acceptable in most places.

    Girls are still being taught that sex is something they ‘give’ to their partner, that others will judge them harshly if they do and if they “give in” to their partner’s repeated requests/demands, they had better be able to prove that he was very persuasive (if not an actual rapist) and that they didn’t give in easily.

    I re-listened to the song when I watched the video that Greta posted. I take back my earlier comment that I like the song even with the crap lyrics. I actually don’t like this song. It goes on the scrap heap with Santa Baby, the Little Drummer Boy and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

  17. bigz says

    Very relieved to read this. Your updated comments have expressed what I thought must be right my whole life, but always heard the opposite.

  18. Gemma Mason says

    Actually, the thing I love about this version is that it’s pretty clear that the guy isn’t losing much by respecting her consent. He’s able to be honest about his feelings, telling her she’s beautiful and he’s had a wonderful evening even as he carefully takes her at her word whenever she talks about leaving. That she’s still not sure she wants to leave now really does become a picture of a woman who is following a script that says she ought to be reluctant, rather than a woman who is genuinely reluctant — and the great thing is that because this guy was honest about liking her, I reckon she’ll be back :)

  19. says

    When women want to say say No (or indeed are saying No and not having it accepted), they often place the blame on others. We’ve been socialized to think that saying No to what other people want is rude and mean and selfish — so we place the blame for the No on others

    And men completely understand this, although they may sometimes pretend not to because they don’t like the answer.

  20. says

    No means no. Furthermore yes may mean no. Just because someone says yes doesn’t mean they really mean it or can voice it. Pay attention to why they are saying something. The best part of valor, always, is to wait and be sure. There is always another chance, another time. I would prefer clear-headed consent supported multiple times than risk idiotically induced unhappiness.

    It goes far beyond sex to interpersonal relationships. Being able to say what you mean, what you feel, what you think is not immediate, obvious, or even, often, coherent. Take the time to get it. My two dollars. Sorry to be emphatic.

  21. sdavis67 says

    I am a trained musician and have analyzed many scores and lyrics, but I honestly think there is waay too much speculation and wrong interpretation going on here. Please don’t feel insulted, but it was simply a flirtatious song from that era.

  22. Greta Christina says

    I am a trained musician and have analyzed many scores and lyrics, but I honestly think there is waay too much speculation and wrong interpretation going on here. Please don’t feel insulted, but it was simply a flirtatious song from that era.

    sdavis67 @ #23: It’s hard not to notice that you haven’t actually made any sort of argument to support your case. I spelled out many of the reasons I find the lyrics of this song troubling, as have several other people in this thread — but all you’ve done is essentially say, “Oh, stop worrying about it.” (With a healthy dollop of the argument from authority.)

    Yes, it is a flirtatious song from an older era. It was an era in which ignoring boundaries and refusing to take No for an answer was considered flirtatious. It was an era in which consent was taken even less seriously than it is now. It was an era of profoundly fucked-up gender politics. And this song still gets sung today. It is worth critiquing.

    You say you are a trained musician who has analyzed many scores and lyrics. I’ll tell you what I’m trained in. I have 52 years of training in being a woman in a sexist society. I have 52 years of training in having to constantly watch my back in strange places, or with men I don’t know. I have 52 years of training in knowing where exits are, knowing where the nearest public place to run to is, knowing not to say my hotel room number out loud, knowing how to recognize red flags. (For the record: being dismissive of concerns about consent is a big old red flag.) I have 52 years of training in watching rape victims get blamed for it, every single time. I have 52 years of training in seeing women who clearly say No get called bitches, and seeing women who give off sexual signals of any kind get called sluts who are asking for it. I have 52 years of training in living in a culture that dismisses and trivializes the basic idea of consent, in thousands of different ways. How exactly is it that your training as a musician trumps my training, and millions of other women’s training, in living in and recognizing rape culture?

    Do you have an actual argument to make? Or is your sole argument, “Oh, stop worrying, little lady, you’re making too much of a fuss about this”? If that’s all you’ve got: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

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