The Date Rape Christmas Song

Christmas has always been a special time of year for me, a stable raft in a stormy life.  One of the things that I really love about it is the music.  The minute I start to hear Christmas music in late November, I am in the Christmas mood – happier, more generous, more likely to sing along out loud no matter who is listening or go through the whole day humming different songs.  I still remember getting a thick packet with the lyrics to a ton of Christmas songs at the Christmas party when my father was still a cop – I was probably no older than seven – and I am still upset that I lost that packet.

So I love "Baby, It’s Cold Outside" , even though I call it "The Date Rape Christmas Song" (The first part of each line is sung by a woman while the second part is sung by a man):

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

There are versions that don’t get the "Date Rape Christmas Song" nickname.  I have a version that is Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen McRae in which McRae sounds like she isn’t taking Davis seriously at all and will happily step out into the cold night no matter what he says.  But even in that version, Davis shrieks "Baby, you’ll freeze out there" with such desparation that ManPants and I agreed that he sounds creepy. 

But even the strongest woman and weakest man couldn’t get around the song as it is written.  The man is still doing whatever he can to get the woman to stay in spite of her own repeated statement that she wishes to go.  The plaintive pleading is a classic example of coerciveness, and of course there is an unstated implication that what he truly desires is sex ("Lend me a comb"?  What have you been doing that you need a comb?). 

The worst line, in my opinion, is when she asks what’s in her drink.  I realize that this was written long before roofies existed, but even in those pre-Second Wave times, the phenomenon of getting a woman intoxicated in order to take advantage of her could not have been completely unfamiliar.  (Alcohol is a date rape drug too and, I would argue, is probably more likely to be used even today.)

This song is considered romantic, and yet I want nothing to do with a romanticism that constitutes men trying to get into women’s pants while women are expected to play hard-to-get.  The names of the two parts in the duet – the woman is "the Mouse", the man is "the Wolf" – make this all too clear.  But I don’t find being treated like an indecisive weakling with no mind of her own to be romantic. Does anyone these days?

It annoys me, too, that the woman is once again the gatekeeper, overly concerned about what others will think (she mentions her mother, her father, her neighbors, her sister, her brother, her aunt – while the only concern he shows is "if [she] got pneumonia and died") while the man is once again the smooth-talker in search of sex at any cost. 

It’s a tug-of-war of the sexes that I hate to see perpetuated, and yet I adore this song.

(Cross-posted on my blog, What If )

Join the Conversation

  • GeekGirlsRule

    I’d only ever heard the Muppet version, with Miss Piggy singing it to Rudolph Nureyev (sic). So it took me a minute to figure out what you were talking about.
    Hooray for the Muppets and their fucking of gender stereotypes.

  • wax_ghost

    I’ve never heard that one! I’ll have to see if I can find it.

  • Anne

    I feel the same way you do! The first time I heard this song it was on Elf. I didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics for awhile, and then one night in the car I really listened and was shocked. I felt so uncomfortable listening to the song after that. I wish I could find a version with different lyrics.

  • buggie

    I’ve always had a problem with this song. It is creepy. And annoyingly repetitive to boot.

  • aleks

    Is Ms. Piggy, in that (hilarious) scene or any other, really a break from gender stereotypes?
    What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know . . .

  • Gexx

    I just popped that song in my CD player yesterday for the first time in probably over a year! And my boyfriend, who had just dared me to figure out how “Rudolph” showed “exploitation by the patriarchy”* caught on to the theme before I did. I never really thought of it too much, I guess I always assumed playful banter because she kept coming up with excuses that were dependent on family/neighbors and didn’t just say “no”. Also, my version (I need to dig it out who) has the female at the end saying “come on, walk me home.” and he responds “Are you kidding! It’s cold out there!” so I was left with the thought that he was a wimp who wouldn’t take her home and she left.
    I guess it’s one of my “Unfeminist Guilty Pleasures”
    *btw: Rudolph was disenfranchised and did not regain social recognition until he did a special favor for Santa, the old white dude at the pole… Patriarchy reinforced (yay?)

  • Adrian

    Here is the song, as performed by Miss Piggy and Rudolph Nureyev.
    They are reversing the gender stereotype of men sexually pursuing and threatening women. There is a separate stereotype, as Aleks mentioned in terms of Mrs Robinson, about women being sexually demanding and out of control, but I don’t think they’re using that model. There are strong suggestions of Miss Piggy using physical violence to get her way, and Mr Nureyev being frightened for his physical safety as well as his reputation. Those are taken from bodice ripping stereotypes of male/female date rape. They’d look scarier and less funny if it wasn’t for the image of a 6-foot tall athlete getting beaten up by a knee high muppet. (Miss Piggy pushing around Kermit does look somewhat disturbing, though it’s played for laughs.)

  • KatieinNewYork

    I’m so glad other people feel this way about that song. It is one of my favorite and least favorite winter-time songs out there. Especially the version with Steve Page (from Barenaked Ladies) and Rita McNeil. I love duets with a lot of back and forth. But I always feel like I have to surpress my feminist side to really enjoy listening to it.
    Also, thanks for the muppet clip. I always loved the old guys in the balcony.

  • Destra

    “I just popped that song in my CD player yesterday for the first time in probably over a year!”
    Well, one usually only listens to Christmas music once a year… ~_^

  • wax_ghost

    Yeah, there are some versions that are more bearable than others. I have another version with Dean Martin and a choir of girls that is far less creepy because 1) Dean Martin just doesn’t sound like a creep, and 2) there is no specific woman. On the other hand, the worst one I have is (I think) Olivia Newton John and some guy with a scratchy voice; she sings very coyly and giggles a lot in a way that sounds nervous, while he has the kind of voice that stereotypically sounds like a predator’s voice. So I think it depends in some part on how it is sung.

  • Gexx

    Yeah, you got me there.
    In my defense, though, last Xmas season I was involved with someone who didn’t really like Holiday music, and having worked retail I need to be in a special mood to put it on myself. Therefor, I don’t know if I listened to it last year, hence the “duh”-able comment.

  • wax_ghost

    Very interesting, thank you!

  • Lilith Luffles

    I’m so glad you mentioned this. I work at Staples, where it’s Christmas music all the time. There are 3 different version they play, (not sure by who), and all are gross. I didn’t like it before, but the first time I heard it this year I instantly thought it was ridiculous and wished Staples didn’t play it. It’s this and Santa Baby that drive me up the wall…

  • EGhead

    I’ve always found the song kinda creepy, but I had never read the lyrics before. Now…just…CHRIST (no pun intended). That line about ‘what’s in my drink?’ just goes above and beyond for me, and I’m kind of glad it’s in there. Now I have something definitive to point to when I hear that song and feel creeped out.
    Now that I think of it, we sang this in high school choir, divided between bass and tenor (the boys’ sections) and alto and soprano (the girls’ sections.) It was definitely a way different version, though.

  • moonglow283

    I was just listening to this song and thinking the same exact thing. I’ve never really listened to the lyrics until recently.

  • Rachel_in_WY

    I have the exact same ambivalence toward that song. The lyrics are creepy, but when Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton sing it together it’s simply unbeatable.

  • Heraclitus

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a man sing the “mouse” part while a woman sings the “wolf” part? It would either be very comical or extra creepy, but either way it would show the absurdity of the lyrics.

  • SociologicalMe

    Interesting… I can totally see the date rape angle, now that you’re talking about it. But the first thing I think about reading these lyrics is that it seems like the woman really wants to stay and do something, but is constrained by society. There are what…ten or more lines about what other people will think of her. Now don’t get me wrong, I hate that she’s the gatekeeper and he’s the pusher/instigator. That drives me crazy. But I wonder what might happen if she was free to make her own choices and didn’t have to worry about what the neighbors and her maiden aunt would think.

  • Rachel_in_WY

    Yeah, that’s always the impression I got – that she wants to stay but is worried about her reputation. Maybe it depends on how it’s sung. In some versions of it, there’s a lot of affection between the two, so that gives you a different impression.

  • eyes_wide_open

    I can see what you mean, but I’ve never felt that way about this song. It’s from a different time, and if anything I’d say it’s reminiscent not of date rape but of outdated gender roles: good girls don’t fuck! This xmas I’m grateful that I can own my sexuality and that my family doesn’t guard my virginity like it’s a prize to be offered to the first champion he-man who comes knocking at the door. I’m glad I don’t have to pretend to be drunk to consent to sex while keeping my self-image intact.