I wanted to respond to this piece defending the popular holiday song, Baby It's Cold Outside, because I think it misses a key point about the issues with the song. Ok, to be perfectly honest, I am conflicted about this song, it's been one of my favorite holiday songs for a long time, but once I began to think carefully about the media's influence on violence against women, I could no longer gloss over or ignore the messages in the lyrics. So I read this article with hope that it would give me a way to like the song despite the implied messages, and the undertone of rape. And for a moment, in some ways, it did. It's a good analysis, and I do believe that art has to be put into the context of the time and culture in which it was created. To an extent.
However, this is where I think the article went awry: to me, the issue with the song is that it is completely immersed in rape culture. To put it in context is to think of it through a lens of what was acceptable in the 1930s (and beyond) - and a big part of this was that women didn't really have the “right” to refuse consent. So the problem is not so much that the man in the duet may have spiked her drink, or that this is a happily sung overview of a date rape in progress, but that it so clearly illustrates the concept of “no means yes” on a variety of levels.
First, on its face, the man is blatantly brushing aside her “No’s” until he apparently gets the yes he's been waiting for, under what is quite obviously a lot of pressure. Second, the woman herself seems to be complicit in this, at least if you agree with [E] Slay Belle's analysis – she is seeking excuses to stay, even though she believes she should leave (due to societal pressures). BUT she never openly communicates that she wants to stay, only implies it, and this compels her “beau” to pressure her into staying. Using this argument, we, the listeners, become complicit in this myth, believing that this woman doesn't actually mean what she says. Thus we are reinforcing the “no means yes” fallacy that has caused so many problems for so long, and is one of the core issues at the heart of rape culture. How can we expect people to be clear about consent when we a) don't talk to young people meaningfully and in-depth about sex and consent and b) are inundated by this “no means yes” myth in the media, which is consumed, by youth in particular, in exorbitant amounts?
Even the 1930s norms are not that different for women of today – “everyone will talk,” in essence slut-shaming her for being sexual. Yep, I'm pretty sure we have a multitude of examples that this still happens to women and girls in 2013 (Steubenville, Rehtaeh Parsons, Rashida Jones, Miley Cyrus), and the double-standard that is applied to males is still quite apparent. While there has been progress, and many of us are working very hard to navigate how we can enhance positive sexuality for women and men, these issues are still glaringly present.
So my question is, even if I accept the argument that within the context of this culture and this time period, this song was not about an actual rape, by continuing to sing it, play it and perform it, aren't we just continuing to strengthen these still-harmful myths about consent and what women say versus what they actually want? The messages have been woven into the fabrics of our communities – so much so that they often aren't even consciously noticed anymore – and this is what I think happened in this article by an author who claims to have a very critical feminist eye (or ear, as it may be). But this is the very essence of rape culture, and its greatest danger, that it is so fully ingrained that it can be easily overlooked or written off, even by those of us who are aware.