Photograph courtesy of Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Baby, the Lyrics are Fine

Brace yourself for an unpopular opinion: Baby, It’s Cold Outside is not about rape and you’re misguided for thinking so.

Dec 8, 2018

Editor’s note: This article contains explicit language.
Brace yourself for an unpopular opinion: Baby, It’s Cold Outside is not about rape and you’re misguided for thinking so.
In recent news, radio stations across the U.S. have banned the [song] ( in spirit of the #MeToo era for lyrics that have been interpreted as sexually coercive or forceful. In the song, a man is supposedly pressuring a woman to spend the night at his house while she insists that she “really can’t stay.”
I stand behind the #MeToo movement, I stand behind holding sexual assailants responsible for their actions. I stand behind movements that target the undercurrents of rape culture in popular culture. That being said, we need to draw focus away from nitpicky, sensationalist arguments about Christmas songs and focus on the larger issues driving the conversation about sexual respect.
One in three women suffer from sexual assault or physical violence sometime in their lives. More than that are harassed, verbally assaulted and coerced into sexual activity. Even more face workplace harassment and gender discrimination both in professional and personal spheres. Fortunately, there have been a number of movements from the 1960s onwards — most recently the #MeToo movement — that raise awareness about women’s issues. The goal of these movements has been to identify and challenge aspects of society that propagate misogyny and elevate the voices of those who have suffered to share their experiences. However, focusing on inconsequential things like Baby, It’s Cold Outside is taking the movement in the wrong direction.
When examining certain behaviors, films, texts or even music lyrics that may perpetuate abusive rhetoric or rape culture, it is important to contextualize these elements. One of NYU Abu Dhabi’s foundational ideologies is to strive toward understanding radically different perspectives and to not only evaluate, but to comprehend a situation within a relevant historical or societal context. For that reason, you cannot take the lyrics of Baby, It’s Cold Outside in isolation from the time it was written.
The original song was written in 1944 which means that the [lyrics] ( should be understood within the societal norms and expectations of that time period in mind. The song is a call-and-response duet, traditionally sung by a man and woman. During the era it was written, it was expected that women, especially unmarried women, should be bashful in sexual situations because their reputation might suffer as a consequence. Throughout the song, the woman expresses her concern of what “the neighbors might think” and that “there’s bound to be talk tomorrow,” which is precisely why she “ought to say no.” This was a moment in history where a woman could not be sexually liberated because premarital sex was viewed as [immoral] ( However, it is clear in the song that the woman does in fact want to spend the night with him as she says she will stay for “half a drink more” to communicate her interest. The song concludes with both voices rising in unison to sing “Baby, it’s cold outside,” a phrase repeated throughout the verses as a socially acceptable reason for her to stay over. She shies away from expressing her direct sexual interest, but instead communicates through these coy but suggestive exchanges. This song can actually be viewed a progressive one, showing that a woman is willing to embrace her sexuality and desires even in a society that would shame her for doing so.
Unfounded sensationalist gestures such as [banning] ( this song from radio stations belittle the importance of movements that push for women’s rights and gender equality. A gesture like this one is on par with citing every bad date you have had under the #MeToo movement.
Are people just jumping on this bandwagon to feel good about themselves? Rape culture isn’t like Vogue’s color of the season, it’s not something hot you pick up and flaunt around while it’s popular and convenient. “Women deserve better than lazy, intentionally uncharitable readings of half-a-century-old songs for their feminist causes” says Jessica Goddard in a recent [opinion piece] ( on the absurdity of banning the song. The rhetoric is not useful simply because the lyrics do not reflect what rape or coercion actually look like. With only so much room for spotlight in the media, sensationalist actions like these and unwarranted criticisms of song lyrics are actively taking away from attention that could be given to actual voices and victims of assault, abuse and violence. If you care to fight for these rights, divert your attention and efforts onto things that actually matter.
If these movements are important to you, I urge you to not to waste your attention on banning a song with innocuous lyrics. If music is your domain, fight to ban songs with graphic lyrics about sexual abuse and domestic violence like those by the widely-esteemed rapper, Eminem: “If she ever tries to fuckin’ leave again, I’ma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire” in Love the Way You Lie or “Went to gym in 8th grade, raped the women's swim team” in Just Don’t Give a Fuck.
If political activism is your call to action, fight to change legal systems to allow for some justice for sexual assault victims by writing to judicial or governmental figures. Boycott movies or shows with actors, producers or directors that have been accused of sexual assault. But merely banning a Christmas song from an entirely different decade because you are unable to contextualize it should not be on your list of efforts.
Hala Aqel is a contributing writer. Email her at
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