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What Are We To Do With Baby It’s Cold Outside?

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[Note: This post is a part of my Virtual Musical Advent Calendar from my own site — which in turn comes from a series I did for Ordinary Times back in 2013, though it has largely been both reworked and rewritten. Although I did write an entry for Baby It’s Cold Outside for the original OT series, this post is quite different from that one.]

So, we probably need to have a conversation about Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Over the years I have seen a number of classic holiday songs go in and out of fashion, but I’ve never seen one removed from the holiday music canon altogether. Still, there’s a very good possibility that this is what has already begun to happen to Frank Loesser’s Baby It’s Cold Outside. In recent years the song has gone from a Vegas-lounge-y, so-schlocky-it’s-cool hipster favorite to one that’s seen as advocating sexual assault. At the very least, both amongst its defenders and detractors alike, the song is sparking debate about tremendously complex questions such as the relative importance of an artist’s original intent versus the public’s, and whether or not art from the past must necessarily square with current political and social thinking in order to be considered art.

And all of that for a song which, more than any other classic wintery holiday song, was never intended to be either a holiday or a wintery song at all.

The famed Broadway and Hollywood writer Frank Loesser wrote the song in 1944, without the initial intention of ever selling or recording it. Loesser, who would later write Guys & Dolls, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and the family classic movie Hans Christian Anderson, thought a witty duet about an attempted tony Manhattanite seduction would be just the thing to trot out and sing with his wife Lynn Garland at tony Manhattanite cocktail parties in their tony Manhattan apartment.

In the original score, the two parts aren’t written out for “Male Singer” and “Female Singer,” but rather for “Wolf” and “Mouse,” which Loesser and Garland would sing respectively. It was never meant to be a winter song. It was originally performed in their apartment during the summer months, so that the “cold” the Wolf warns of is entirely fictitious and a poor excuse; to this who first heard it, at least, the “cold” was supposed to be funny. Loesser and the decidedly younger Garland would describe it to party guests throughout New York as “our song.” Garland was somewhat miffed, then, when Loesser sold it without her permission or knowledge to MGM studios.[1]

That a song entitled Baby It’s Cold Outside might bring to mind snowstorms and freezing weather was a thought missed by MGM as well as Loesser. The studio used the song as the musical centerpiece in their 1948 film Neptune’s Daughter, a romantic farce set in a summery beach resort. The song is actually performed in the film twice, by two different couples. In the version sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán (yes, that Ricardo Montalbán), it is Montalbán who plays the wolf to Williams’ mouse. Later, the genders are reversed, and it is Betty Garret who attempts to seduce a reluctant Red Skelton.

To say that the song was a smash hit upon its release is something of an understatement. Songs today simply don’t become smash hits the way Baby It’s Cold Outside was a smash hit. You could even make the argument that Baby It’s Cold Outside was more popular in its time than any other song has been before or since. Within twelve months of it being published the song reached the top of Billboard five times recorded by five different pairs of artists, including the now-classic rendition by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Imagine Taylor Swift having a hit so huge that Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Drake, and Ed Sheehan immediately rushed to their respected studios to re-record it, and each of those five different (but remarkably similar) versions also became smash, chart-topping hits — at the same time.  Even by today’s overhyped mega-star standards, Baby It’s Cold Outside’s success was surreal.

Still, it would be almost a decade and a half before anyone would record the song in an attempt to attach it to the modern holiday canon. Not surprisingly, the first to make the leap was Dean Martin, who was looking for Rat-Pack-esque content for his own 1959 holiday album, A Winter Romance. (Also not surprising for those old enough to remember him: Martin chose to have the song’s Mouse role performed by an entire chorus of breathy chorus girls.) After Martin, recordings of the song began to be released each year in two distinct genres: vegas-torchlight albums and festive holiday albums.

All of this, however, is what happened to Baby It’s Cold Outside in the past.

Today, in the era of #metoo, for many the song has taken on a darker and decidedly non-holiday interpretation. Most young people today interpret the song’s Wolf as a predator and the Mouse as a victim struggling to get free. The truth is that the original interpretation of the song, the one meant by Loesser and Garland, is quite different and likely also a product of its time. Though no one today would ever think of Baby It’s Cold Outside as a feminist song, one of the reasons for its popularity at the time is that that era’s women absolutely did, even if the term had not yet been coined.

Baby It’s Cold Outside became popular in a time when it was still taboo to acknowledge female sexuality, let alone make popular music about the topic. The jazz age and 1930s saw numerous songs that subtly acknowledged the fact that both sexes actually enjoyed the physical parts of sexuality, but most of those songs were penned and performed by African American jazz artists. Indeed, when head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger began to repurpose his office to also persecute black musical artists for playing jazz music, the genre’s lyrics’ acknowledgement of female sexuality (and the disastrous effect he claimed they would have on white women who might hear them) was a large part of his political justification.

When Baby It’s Cold Outside was written, the artist’s intent was that the Mouse in the story wanted to stay, but was going through the necessary dance a woman of that era had to go through in order to say yes. In fact, the line “say, lend me your comb” was meant to infer that the Mouse had already gotten jiggy with the Wolf. Baby It’s Cold Outside was far more popular with the women of its era than with the men, for all of the same reasons that Madonna’s scandalously (for the time) sexual songs were more popular with the women of the 1980s than the men of that same decade. And like Madonna in her era, Baby It’s Cold Outside was far more likely to make 1940’s men than women uncomfortable with its insinuations about women. Like a Jane Austen novel, Baby It’s Cold Outside is both a product of its era’s patriarchy and a subversive, give-the-bird commentary on it.

And yet...

Even knowing that, it’s hard to completely separate the song’s lyrics from the stories women are stepping up and sharing in today’s #metoo movement. It’s long been one of my favorite holiday songs, and knowing where it fits in our cultural history I very much want to give it a pass — but even I think of the Weinsteins of the world when it comes up on my playlist this year.

And so the question arises: what are we to do with Baby It’s Cold Outside?

Myself, I haven’t banished it completely, but I do listen to it far less. When someone talks about hating the song for the way it makes them feel, I don’t jump in and tell them they are misunderstanding the artists who wrote and recorded it seventy years ago, in part because I don’t want to mansplain and in part because part of me hears what they hear and agrees with them. Besides, I believe that part of what makes art transcendent is its ability to move different people in different ways, even if that movement is the opposite of what the artist intended one to experience. The moment Frank Loesser let his creation into the world, he gave up any right to tell you how that creation should make you feel.

In a perfect world, we’d all put the song away until we’d collectively changed the world for the better, and the #metoo movement had become one more curiosity about the things we used to put up with from men in power. Then, perhaps, we could take Baby It’s Cold Outside out again, and try to listen to it using the ears of those women who launched it to the top of the charts multiple times in the same year.

Perhaps.

Until then, if you want to continue to make Baby It’s Cold Outside part of your annual holiday playlist, or if you want to give it a shot and try to hear what those who first heard the song in 1945 heard, there are plenty of options.

The list of those who have given Baby It’s Cold Outside a crack is legion: Tom Jones, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Harry Connick Jr., Lyle Lovett, the Barenaked Ladies, Robert Plant, Dionne Warwick, Ben Folds, Cee Lo Green, any major star who was once a Mousketeer or a Rat-Packer, rapper Mac Miller, Kelly Clarkson, Rita Coolidge, the list literally goes on and on.  Zooey Deschanel has recorded it thrice: twice as the Mouse to Will Ferrell and Leon Redbone’s Wolves for the movie Elf, and once as the Wolf with M. Ward.  Rainn Wilson played the Mouse to Selma Blaire’s wolf in a Gap commercial; Joseph Gordan-Levvit has done the same with Lady Gaga.  It’s almost easier to compile a list of crooners and vocalists since 1960 who haven’t recorded Baby It’s Cold Outside at one time or another.

There’s even a kind of Baby It’s Cold Outside Hall of Shame, version I think we can all agree to hate on regardless of our general opinion of the song. Sometimes these are simply odd and ill-conceived pairings that never quite worked as planned.  The recordings of Bette Midler and James Caan, Barry Manilow and KT Olsin, Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart, and Buster Poindexter and Sigourney Weaver all fall into this category.  Still others have been placed in the Hall of Shame for simply being abominations against nature and good taste.  These include Washed-Up-Era John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, Petula Clark and — I swear I am not making this up — Rod McKuen, the cast of Blossom, Barry Manilow and Debra Byrd, and the Simpsons. (No, not them —  the other Simpsons).

With all of that said, let me end this post with a little confession — but you have to promise to never repeat this to anyone.

When I’m alone in my car and Baby It’s Cold Outside comes up on shuffle, I belt out both parts. When singing the Mouse lines (“I simply must go…”), I sing them with Tom Waits’ voice; when singing the Wolf lines (“But baby it’s cold outside!“), I sing them using the voice of Fred Schneider of the B-52s. It is, I am sure, a sight and sound most terrible to behold.

Remember, this last bit’s just between the two of us.

[1] This should probably have been something of a tipoff to Garland. Just as her own marriage was itself a product of her husband’s love of both seduction and younger women, so too was her eventual divorce. Her husband would eventually abandon her to marry Jo Sullivan, the far younger star of Loesser’s The World’s Most Happy Fella.

 


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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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184 thoughts on “What Are We To Do With Baby It’s Cold Outside?

  1. Having multiple artists record Baby, Its Cold Outside wasn’t unusual. It was written in the pre-rock era and most people did not associate a particular song with a particular artist. When you went into a record store looking for a song, most of the staff would assume that any good or workmanlike recording of the song would do. You didn’t need to have the Frank Sinatra version or the Nate King Cole version. Thats why traditional pop music are called standards. The were supposed to be part of a musician’s standard repertoire.

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      • That could be true. I have no idea how many versions of a song would be produced in a given year. One reason why “Baby, Its Cold Outside” might have been enormously popular was that it spoke to a lot of people about what type of polite fictions they needed to engage in to have pre-marital sex.

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  2. The entire issue of “Baby, Its Cold Outside” has to do a lot with what historians call presentism, the projecting of current moral standards onto the past. Defenders of the song will point out that it was written when society at least attempted to pay lip service to the no sex before marriage rule even if the un-married couple were well into their twenties or above. Many apartment buildings had rules about not having overnight guests of different genders and these rules were enforced. In his autobiography, Roger Ebert wrote about how police would go to motels and look at license. They would then check with the university whether these numbers belonged to university students and if they did, the university would issue punishment. This was in 1963, right on the cusp of the Sexual Revolution.

    So to the “Its not a rape song” faction, “Baby, Its Cold Outside” reflected the type of song and dance routine no-married couples had to go through if they wanted to have sex. Humans being humans, premarital sex did occur even if it was rarer but in order not to lose face, especially if you were a human, an elaborate rouse was needed. The song is about the creation of this rouse.

    The “Its a Rape song” faction are having none of this. They hear that the mouse/woman does not want
    to stay and the wolf/man is convincing/pressuring her to stay and might have even used some dirty and evil tricks to do so. To them, the first clear no should have ended everything like invoking the right to silence or an attorney ends a police interrogation.

    Complicating matters is what is the line between legitimate seduction and illegitimate verbal arguments to get sex. If one party says no, does the other party have to stop immediately or can they muster all their rhetorical ability to attempt a flip? For the enthusiastic consent faction, the answer is obviously “no means no and that is that.” Most other people might see the situation as more complicated for a variety of reasons. Sex isn’t really as straight forward to most people as deciding to go to a movie. There is still something of a song and dance even in the most liberated societies of the developed world.

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    • Complicating matters is what is the line between legitimate seduction and illegitimate verbal arguments to get sex. If one party says no, does the other party have to stop immediately or can they muster all their rhetorical ability to attempt a flip? For the enthusiastic consent faction, the answer is obviously “no means no and that is that.”

      If one partner says “no,” then yeah, you should stop any attempts at sexual seduction. However, there is a lot more going on. The actual point is, you should accept their decision not to have sex, and not in some grudging way, but completely. If, by contrast, you’re insecure or preoccupied by sex, then you will probably be a really bad date. Even if you don’t overtly pressure them, using “game” or whatever, you’ll still be sullen and closed off, which in turn will block any capacity for mutual enjoyment.

      This creates the double bind for sexually insecure men. Either “game” them for sex, or admit “defeat” and withdraw. The former is manipulative and rapey. The latter feels like failure.

      The “third way” is to manage your own insecurities. Continue the date. Have fun. Be open and accepting. Let the chemistry develop.

      The funny thing is, if you do the latter, you might end up having sex. Perhaps it will happen on some later date. It could, however, happen later that night, although you need to manage that carefully. Listen, communicate, etc.

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      • At least from personal experience, making the wrong move at the wrong time leads to a game over experience in the date and definitely for subsequent dates no matter how gratefully you accept the no. So the third way doesn’t really work because you still feel the pressure of having to get every little detail right, which creates stress and reduces fun and chemistry.

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        • — I have the opposite experience. Of course, “wrong move” is likely a relative term. In any case, I can only assume that, in the context of dating, your social calibration is way off.

          For most people, it is a skill that can be learned. That said, like many unconscious cognitive tasks, it’s not one that can be easily taught.

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          • My experience should be taken with a grain of salt, because I haven’t been in the dating pool in a couple of decades, but everything you say, , matches my own personal experience.

            I always enjoyed dating, to the point where I thought I’d really miss it once I decided to get married. (I didn’t, as it turns out.) With few exceptions, I really liked the people I asked out or who asked me out (which makes a kind of obvious sense) and it never occurred to me at the time to strategize the evening or the relationship past that night. I just had fun and let things unfold however they unfolded. And it usually worked out really well that way regardless of whether sex happened or not.

            I confess that I am now curious about what you mean when you refer to a wrong move leading to game over — like, I’m curious as to what those wrong moves might have been, and what “game over” meant to you.

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        • I presume “wrong move” here means “a declined proposition for sex.” My experience is that a declined proposition for sex is not a dealkiller, not even during that very evening. It does require a bit of grace and understanding of the date’ body language and other forms of nonverbal communication to understand what she wants to do at that particular time.

          Sadly, that experience is all in my rather distant past, but here’s hoping I get a refresher course in the near future.

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          • What I mean by wrong move is literal anything unwanted at a particular time. It doesn’t even need to be close to sex. Maybe I’ve just had an extraordinarily bad romance life but my experience is that generating chemistry isn’t easy but killing it is extraordinarily easy and generally unrecoverable from. The date might not end immediately but you aren’t going to see them again. I also seem to be badly wired for romance because I hate all the chase part of it. I just don’t have the wherewithal for it. I’m fairly certain that I will never enjoy it and that having to do all this will kill my ability to enjoy what comes after the chase.

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            • This may seem like a non-sequitur, but how are you with cats? Do you get on well with them?

              I have a generic “make friends with a cat” strategy. It includes the possibility that the cat doesn’t want to be friends with me. I stay in one place, and offer something. A hand, a bit of tuna. The cat gets to decide what they are going to do about it. That’s not my decision. If the cat wants me to scratch there I will do it for a little bit and then stop, and see if they want more.

              My sister has a cat named Thelma that is famously cranky and likely to turn on people who pet her. She never does this to me, because I always ask, at regular intervals, if she wants more. She often does, but sometimes not.

              Is this “game”? Not in the usual sense, I don’t think. There is a slight bit of manipulation to it, but not in the game sense.

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      • “If one partner says “no,” then yeah, you should stop any attempts at sexual seduction. ”

        Genuine question: Is this true for all disagreements in a relationship? Some? Or is sex unique in this regard?

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        • — I don’t know.

          Sex is particularly fraught. Likewise sexual insecurity is a big source of manipulation and dysfunction. That said, trying to manipulate your partner into anything can be problematic.

          Myself, I try to use the same communication skills for sex as I use for other “relationship stuff.”

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          • “Myself, I try to use the same communication skills for sex as I use for other “relationship stuff.””

            But this makes me think — at least in the context of an established relationship of one kind or another — that “If one partner says “no,” then yeah, you should stop any attempts at sexual seduction” isn’t an absolutely hard rule. Unless, of course, you are using “sexual seduction” to refer to a very specific type of communication/negotiation.

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            • — People who seek out black/white rules are too often the same people who will game those rules. So what are you trying to achieve? Do you want a flowchart, a simple set of “if x then y” conditions that will lead to a perfect relationship?

              You can’t have that.

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                • — I expect people to read about complex social stuff with an awareness of how complex social stuff works. The whole, “Let us treat these statements as narrowly constructed proscriptions, and then ‘play Socrates’ with them” is a fucking infuriating way to miss the point.

                  Honestly man.

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                  • It is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot and particularly so in light of the growing conversation on these matters. So I’m not “playing” anything.

                    Relationships are, in many respects, an ongoing negotiation. Should we cook or eat out? Go to the party late or leave early? Rent or own? Move or stay? Have kids or not? So it seems reasonable to me that there is at least some space to negotiate sex, both if/when to have it and what to do while having it. In fact, I’d argue that healthy sexual negotiations and explorations can be incredibly positive for folks, giving them opportunities to try things they might never otherwise. But for that to happen and to stay well on the side of “the line”, there are probably some important norms and best practices to employ when engaging in such negotiations.

                    But that is just my opinion. And I’m but one person and a very specific person: white, cis male, straight, etc. So when I see someone offer a different opinion, I’m interested in unpacking it to see if I might need to change my own opinion in response to a perspective I lack but can grow to understand.

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                    • — I used the word “seduction.” And yes, you are doing the “Socratic dialog” thing, even if you are unaware that you are doing it.

                      Hint: if I get a whiff of “MRA discourse patterns” from a man, I tell him to get bent. I am FUCKING DONE with how men discuss this topic, all their teasing around the edge of consent to try to justify their own insidious bullshit.

                      That said, of course mature adults in functional relationships with good communication skills can talk about sex. Obviously. Duh.

                      However, in this context, I was responding to Lee. Figure it out.

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                      • If you want to paint me as an MRA because I’m trying to understand if and how I may be/have been approaching this problematically and, as a result, want to adjust my behavior to be non-/less problematic, I don’t know what to say. I guess I’ll just go get bent.

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                        • — Maybe try to understand why women are touchy on this subject.

                          And let me repeat, in this context, Socratic dialog is a terrible way to gain understanding.

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                          • So, by saying, “Hey, can you help me understand that thing you said?” is a bad way to gain understanding of something a woman says?

                            I’d ask you to unpack that but… it seems that’s inappropriate.

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                            • The problem is not so much in asking the question, as in when someone answer the question and the response is “but … but…. but…”

                              It’s not a woman’s job, in general to help you understand. The resources are out there for you to read, puzzle over, etc. If someone answers your question, you should take some time to take it in rather than argue with it.

                              The “Socratic” part is the constant arguing in assertion of your misunderstanding, rather than the questioning itself.

                              (You weren’t bothering me, here, and if you’d like to take this discussion offline or something (I don’t want to have it on public display because it touches on some really touchy topics) – I’d actually be happy to discuss it with you- Jaybird has me pretty hardened to Socratic questioning – but it’s a really common pattern, so I’m fairly familiar with it.)

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                            • — I can clear up a lot: do not ask me if some sex thing is a “rule.” Certainly do not interrogate me about the precise scope of some supposed rule.

                              It doesn’t works like that. How could it? What authority do I have delineate the boundaries of some other woman?

                              If you try to exercise some empathy, it should be blisteringly obvious why, from a woman’s perspective, having her “no” greeted with some hard-sell seduction attempt is infuriating. Of course, if she is inexperienced or insecure, or her seducer sufficiently skilled, that seduction attempt may work — about which many women have much to say.

                              “No” is a complete sentence. Accept it and move on to other fun stuff. Sex might come later. Maybe not. Does she trust you? Should she?

                              If you’re in a long-term, and you’re not happy with how sex and intimacy is working, then talk about it — which is precisely not seduction. Likewise, if your partner actually likes the whole “I say no and then you seduce me” thing — well that’s between the two of you, but gosh you better set clear boundaries. She needs a way to say, “No, and actually I really mean no.”

                              The thing is, I’m pretty sure you could figure all this out yourself. No seriously, is anything I just said not completely and utterly obvious?

                              So why did you ask?

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                              • “The thing is, I’m pretty sure you could figure all this out yourself. No seriously, is anything I just said not completely and utterly obvious?”

                                Put simply… no. It isn’t all completely and utterly obvious. Maybe it should be. But it isn’t to many men. Shaming those who are trying to figure it out to avoid the very behavior you are railing against is counterproductive.

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                                • I don’t believe Veronica *is* shaming you. She’s expressing frustration about something that very very many women are also frustrated about, ie, if men want to fix their behavior because of what they’ve been hearing through #metoo – or for whatever reason – they should consult *men who are good at this stuff* and/or women who want to teach them and/or books, because many many women are very very very tired of having to tiptoe around male defensiveness and self-centeredness on this topic.

                                  I can fully understand why men *are* defensive on this topic, I get defensive about similar things sometimes myself because part of my abuse history was being taught that I couldn’t step a foot right in relational realms – but it’s very difficult not to hear requests to help figure out stuff that *is obvious to women and other people socialized as women* (women / young girls are, as you know, trained from a very young age to be very sensitive to subtle cues) as somehow blaming *us* for the very things that hurt us. When we say “Isn’t everything that I know about this obvious? Why do you keep *arguing* with my experience if you want to learn from me?” It’s not a shame move, it’s equal parts bafflement and (eventually) a “jeez, leave me alone” move. That eventually part is the “fight” part of fight-flight-freeze-or-fawn.

                                  And in the face of literally 1000s of women speaking out about harassment and sexual abuse (#metoo was started by a *child sexual abuse survivor* for the record, speaking of unambiguously messed up situations), even *implying* by insisting on discussing it in a socratic fashion how the actual problem is that women aren’t welcoming enough of discussion and are super touchy, wary of any hint of MRA arguments, etc etc etc when men of good intention try to have conversations….

                                  That comes off as very unfair.

                                  I mean, we’re talking about *being raped*, *being groped in offices*, having someone *pin us into a corner where we can’t escape* and force advances on us…. and there are people (including people on this very site) who want to make everything about them and their growth opportunities (or lack thereof).

                                  Most of the women I know who object to Baby It’s Cold Outside are uncomfortable *because it reminds them of actual abuse they’ve suffered* and makes them feel vulnerable, and I have zero idea of that’s because they/we are more attuned to it, or because *most of the women I know have had sexual stuff forced on them in unambiguous situations*, so any small subgroup of women I know will *also* be in that situation. Like, I literally can’t even tell which it is. Certainly not all women get upset by it. I don’t even, most of the time! I’m aware of it but it doesn’t really bother me for reasons I’ve already discussed.

                                  Pursuing greater understanding about women’s statements about seduction as aggressively as you were here, is *at least* equally counterproductive of what you’re saying you want, as @veronica-d’s reaction was to what she has said she wants.

                                  Probably far more so because, frankly, you are not, to the best of my knowledge, the problem that most women are trying to solve with #metoo. Most of them/us are trying to solve a problem of covering up *egregious* *non-ambiguous* obvious abuses, not in the “I thought that was obvious” dating sense, but in the “if it wasn’t sex it would still be assault” sense.

                                  I’m not worried about you, I’m not worried about Lee – I doubt to about the 100th power that you’re dangerous to any woman although you might accidentally hurt one, mightn’t we all.

                                  But I’m frankly not having a lot of patience for ANY guy’s dating problems* – Veronica doesn’t even date men for the most part! why did you need to ask her and ask her when it was clear (i guess it wasn’t! but to me it was!) that you were increasingly getting on her last nerve? – because it’s freaking life or death for us in the sexual realm right now. And it has been for millennia. The main difference is that enough women who are afraid have become collectively *enough braver* that they don’t worry as much about hiding their fears or dissociate from them as much… I’m not basing that on projections, I’m basing it on stories old women have whispered to me that their old women whispered to them, when I could catch them in a rare mood to tell the truth (usually b/c they felt I needed warned) instead of papering everything over because they *weren’t allowed to be angry*.

                                  The old (and imperfect) saw “if women make a sexual mistake, they might die, if men make a sexual mistake, they might get laughed at” has some serious weight for me right now. Of course that’s not literally true – men die in honor killings and so on – but a ton of women are going around feeling like it’s pretty darn emotionally / big picture accurate right now, and hearing from their friends how they also feel the same way.

                                  Is that really the environment in which you want to blame a conversational partner for shaming you, when you yourself acknowledge you said some pretty fished up things?

                                  You are smarter than you are acting. I’m sorry if that makes you feel shame, but that is. not. why. I’m. saying. it. I’m saying it because it’s really frustrating to see men hijack this conversation over and over in this way, and then be affronted that anyone is suggesting it’s a hijack. And I am not more worried about your shame than my frustration. Neither is V.

                                  Why should she be? (that’s not a rhetorical question, I can’t promise I’ll like the answer but I’m honestly curious why *you*, who is usually so good about gender stuff, suddenly has come over all … whatever is going on here.)

                                  * note: empathy and patience are not the same thing. if anything my empathy makes me more impatient. i literally grew up in a hell of manipulation, deceit, and physical violence. it was REALLY HARD for me to figure out how the average person sees the world (let alone the average girl) because in my house, the only viewpoint that actually mattered was my abuser’s fished up and inconsistent viewpoints, and everyone else’s had to bend around whatever his was that day. and yet, I have mostly figured it out and I mostly manage to be a good, kind person that women mostly find trustworthy (and attractive enough to flirt with, make moves on, etc., if my physicals are to their liking). And most especially, I’m very good at not making conversations about women and feminine people’s rage, hurt, and shame – even conversations that are only *tangentially* about that as this one was – into conversations about how I don’t know what I am and am not supposed to do in dating situations, and how some woman who is not really wanting to, and addressing someone else, should be willing to argue with me about it.

                                  That isn’t *shameful*, it’s just really *baffling*, and kinda hurtful when it comes from someone who is usually much more of a champion of women than that.

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                                    • I’ve copped to not handling this perfectly. But in re-reading it, I struggle to see why it escalated as it did. About two comments in, V could have said, “I’m talking about X not Y,” when I asked if we were talking about X or Y or both and instead she got pretty frickin’ nasty. And we were off from there.

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                                      • I don’t think you’re in a headspace to hear this, I’m not sure you’re actually asking rather than expressing your own frustration, and I’m a bit frustrated in that I feel like I’m now meta-having a conversation I said I would rather take to email than have in public – but I’ll try anyway.

                                        The point at which I felt like “what the heck Kazzy, jeez, why are you pushing at her like that on this?” was this comment:

                                        “But this makes me think — at least in the context of an established relationship of one kind or another — that “If one partner says “no,” then yeah, you should stop any attempts at sexual seduction” isn’t an absolutely hard rule. Unless, of course, you are using “sexual seduction” to refer to a very specific type of communication/negotiation.”

                                        That’s the point at which I started wishing you would be less pushy given the topic and the already fraught history of this particular discussion on this site.

                                        So if it seemed to come out of nowhere, and you weren’t yet feeling defensive/attacked, that’s the point at which I would think about how you could have taken a different approach / used a different register, given that I would normally expect you to be really aware of how hard this topic is for women (especially right now when a lot of long-buried-only-discussed-by-women-and-men-they-trusted-very-deeply stuff is coming to a head). Things did escalate with every comment after that, but I read that as a result of V trying to push you away, discussion-wise, and you pursuing the conversation anyway.

                                        If someone wants to be done talking to you, is communicating that, and you keep asking them questions, they will probably keep trying to answer you anyway, but with increasing levels of angry. (At least around here. B/c most of the people who just stop talking .. uh, don’t argue with people on the internet. Hi lurkers! We love you! Comment more!!!) – to be clear, that’s my analysis of the conversation with you and V, not a passive aggressive statement about my own involvement.

                                        I also think that for women saying something has a “whiff of MRA” etc, they don’t want to talk to them and tell them to get bent, etc., is a flat statement of how they feel, not an accusation that someone IS an actual MRA idiot. I read it as a “hey, if you want to talk about this, back the hell down and maybe think about how you’re pursuing it,” which is why I didn’t caution her. You seem to have taken it far more literally/directly. Again I would refer you to the example of the book I mentioned…

                                        That’s about all I have that I feel comfortable talking about in front of God and everybody, though.

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                                        • She asked what felt like pretty non-rhetorical questions so I didn’t take her to be trying to end the convo.

                                          It’s really weird… there is this ongoing refrain of, “You should have known/understood/figured it out…”

                                          But, clearly, I *didn’t* know or understand and wasn’t figuring it out. And that’s on me. Fully. I’m not blaming anyone else for my own ignorance or stupidity. I’m just bothered that the response to, as you said, someone who is usually good on these matters suddenly being a ignorant/stupid dunderhead is what was offered here. If I was barking up the wrong tree in the wrong way with no obvious ill intent and no history of ill intent, a simple, “Not here, not now, not this way Kazzy,” would have sufficed.

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                                    • I hope there is some room for reflection and the growth you say you want. I wouldn’t bother explaining it to you if I didn’t think you were worth the effort to communicate honestly with. An honesty which includes being angry about a lot of things, though, as I said, I’m not particularly angry *at you*, just baffled and a bit hurt.

                                      There is little room for constant questioning and a lack of sensitivity to how people respond to the questions / disagreements, on this topic.

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                                        • The gist of what I’m getting here is that asking questions as I have is a sign of being either stupid or evil. If it’s the former, I need to go elsewhere to get educated. If it’s the latter, I deserve whatever response I get.

                                          And I’m not trying to make myself the victim here. I’m annoyed and little else. But if the goal of this place is to promote dialogue and understanding and growth… we’re failing right now. And if that isn’t the goal, then I’m not sure why I’m here.

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                                        • To be frank, on this topic, the need to figure out what might be underlying someone else’s behavior lies *heavily* in the court of men, not of women and nonbinary people. So on some level it is not mine or veronica’s job to understand you, but yours to understand us. And there are other ways to understand and learn than interrogative mode. Your methods sounded hostile to V, and to me.

                                          I could, if I desired, explain about 50 different ways why it’s totally unfair for us to be mad at you right now and what your perspective and underlying motivations might be, because *women are trained that they have to do that when dealing with men*. But I do not want to. Especially not right now, on this topic, when my efforts to explain / mediate with you have been treated with a lot of hostility that you might not feel very strongly, but you are definitely giving off those subtle cues about big time.

                                          Learning and growth and dialogue is extremely valuable, extremely a part of this site, but not at the expense of chasing all women out of these conversations.

                                          Which, honestly, is what frequently happens on this site, both historically (as you yourself have expressed frustration about in the past.) – and, from my perspective, in this conversation.

                                          And the “what’s wrong with this conversation is that i’m either stupid or evil” dichotomy is the exact kind of not-listening defensive really hard to interact with male bullcrap that drives many women up a wall.

                                          You’re not stupid, though you may be under-educated on this topic. You’re patently not evil. You are being a pain. Which is a long way from being evil. But which is still… a pain. And tends to lead to people losing their tempers and not wanting to talk to you.

                                          If you want more of a response, email me. If you don’t, feel free to have the last word. Because by now, all I’m hearing between my own ears is various commenters complaining about how boring and ridiculous and oversensitive and etc I or some or the other writer for the site is, and it’s making it pretty unpleasant for me to keep interacting.

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                                          • Earlier you said you aren’t worried about men like me or Lee.

                                            The thing is, *I’m* worried about me. I’m reflecting on a lifetime of existing, wondering what women I may have given #metoo moments too and thinking long and hard about how I can avoid doing that. And how I can raise my sons to think long and hard about how they can avoid doing that. I’m thinking about a new role at work that has me in a position of authority with an almost entirely female workplace (one other male among 25 of us). I’m thinking about a newish relationship with a girlfriend who is still emerging from an emotionally abusive and at times sexually exploitive relationship. I’m considering almost all my interactions with women — past, present, and future — in a new light and thinking about what light I ought to be thinking of them in going forward.

                                            So if I seem more obtuse than usual right now in this conversation, that’s a big reason why. And I’m not asking for sympathy or pity or even real understanding. If anything, this is how I should be feeling right now (and perhaps perpetually).

                                            I was… and am… really trying here. And I was… and am… clearly failing quite a bit. I need to fail less.

                                            I just ask that you and V and others recognize the trying… even if it doesn’t make the failings any less of what they are. If even that ask is unfair, okay then. Another fail, another lesson.

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                                            • *sighs* okay, I know I know. I should just shut up. But here:

                                              Of COURSE I recognize that you are trying. You can *trust* that I recognize that you are trying, you can *trust* that V recognizes you are trying.

                                              You shouldn’t require us to keep reassuring you that we recognize that you are trying, to know that we know that.

                                              Because we are busy talking about people who are far more dangerous than you have ever been, even if you have seriously seriously fucked up sometimes. Even if there are grounds for people to have accused you of being their #metoo. There is a hoard of deliberate or unconscious nasty predators out there. People who are not trying and will not ever try.

                                              Your first job should be to support us and ally with us against those people.

                                              Interrogating your own behavior and being centered on what you may have screwed up is *entirely* understandable. It’s the first set of explanations I would have proffered for how you were behaving if someone asked me, not because I’m psychic but because I’ve been expected since birth to pay attention to people’s feelings (and would have been even if I had a great upbringing – literally all the women I know have conformed to this expectation to some degree, even those with Aspergers – we may not feel like we’re any good at it but we’ve made our peace with being expected to be good at it and generally a lot of learning has taken place as part of that).

                                              The thing is that the job of fixing yourself should come a good step behind the supporting, allying, empathizing, listening, being willing to let the other person in the relationship lead decision-making… all that stuff. Like, several steps behind it. Because the worst experiences most of us (including your girlfriend) have had, are far worse than the things you are upset at yourself about. I know I can’t know that but I’ve seen this focus on self-accusation and related defensiveness over and over to the point where I’d be willing to bet you 500 dollars that it’s the case.

                                              So focusing on your own behavior and learning needs rather than on what we’re going through, has the effect of making it seem like you think you are more important than us. Which…. isn’t really your fault – who ever taught you to not be like that or that it was your own job to solve the problem, rather than to put your feelings ahead of ours? – but it is the systematic problem with male dominance, in general.

                                              And you should talk to people who want to talk about it in the contexts where they are willing to do so – not just kind of frustrated, kind of trying to help because they care about you, kind of embarrassed and thinking about the audience and being thought stupid or weak themselves – if talking to people is how you learn best. I am not going to throw under the bus here, but when I think of who people should be turning to for stuff like this, that is who I think of them turning to. If not him, people like him, with his mixture of privilege and empathy.

                                              And trust us that if we get pissed off at the entire kyriarchy, it’s really not that you are the worst, or that we don’t value your efforts even if we aren’t receptive to your methods. Even if we’re quite DONE with those methods and that ends up spilling over into you feeling attacked.

                                              Trying to have this conversation if you don’t understand that we are dealing with a lot of stuff that is probably way more the worst than your stuff is supremely hard though. (It’s not always true, so forgive me if I’m guessing wrong – I know some childhood victims of sexual abuse who are men, but have almost identical experiences to mine even as adults.) Trying to have it if you need us to support you through it and do a bunch of emotional labor so you can do your emotional labor… that’s the part that seems unfair.

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                                              • I should have said – “if you don’t act as though you understand that…” – I actually believe you get the gap, and you explained that quite well in the comment just above – but it’s the acting as if that is lacking. More empathy and less pushing is required.

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                                                • I have no idea what to do with that as a response to telling you, among other things, that understanding you isn’t my priority on this issue, and that having women understand you is among the things that shouldn’t be your priority on this issue right now either.

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                                                    • No, you made it about one side, me misunderstanding you. That wasn’t an affirmation of mutual misunderstanding at all.

                                                      There’s a lot here to unpack, both from me and from V. If it’s not stuff you need, fine. If it is, maybe go unpack it and stop criticizing us for our responses.

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                                                        • If you can’t phrase things that way in the first place – rather than after blaming and then denying that you’re blaming and etc etc etc in a persistent loop – I don’t want to talk to you about this. Dealing with that pattern is part of the emotional labor that women shouldn’t have to do around this topic.

                                                          Arguably you never asked me to.

                                                          But watching you have that pattern with other women is really hard for me to just sit by for, even though it’s only annoying and not actually dangerous.

                                                          That’s not an understanding problem (I realize it’s not your intention or what you’re trying to have happen), it’s a “change your approach next time” problem.

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                                                          • For christ’s sake, I was attempting to disengage to avoid further inflaming things here and typed a hasty message from my phone. We are talking past one another and this is no longer productive at this time.

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                                                            • How in god’s name is “You misunderstand me.” with nothing else a “disengage” move, Kaz?

                                                              It’s right up there with telling someone to calm down.

                                                              And this hasn’t been productive since the first pushy non-empathetic thing you said to V, apparently, since you’re basically in the same place and still deciding that what you think is or isn’t productive is what is most important in the conversation.

                                                              Fix that. I’m not saying that as a moderator and I will, in fact, stop now. I am saying it as someone who remains baffled, and yes, hurt, by how you are behaving. Not because it’s egregious, but because it’s egregious *for you*.

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                                • — Let me put it this way. If you want to know what someone wants, what they are thinking and feeling, you can do one of two things. First, you can ask them directly. Second, you can try to guess at what they want. In the latter case, you’ll use some combination of their body language, their tone of voice, and other modes of “social calibration.”

                                  The reality is, of course, it isn’t either/or. You need a bit of both, mixed according to the situation. In the first case, when you ask directly, well consider this: have you ever lied to someone, in some way, because you thought they would be uncomfortable if you told them the truth?

                                  People do that. Women are people. We do that.

                                  So if you ask a woman for sex — be it directly or in some subtle way — how do you read her answer?

                                  I assume you want to “get it right.” So what exactly must you do?

                                  I could write 100,000 words on this. In fact, if you seek it out, you can easily find that much written by women on how we have to deal with thirsty men. It goes on and on.

                                  We don’t all agree, because different women want different stuff. (Shocking!)

                                  Men murder us for this. They beat us and rape us. But more commonly than that, men cry like whiny little shits because it isn’t easy. They complain and complain and complain, and push and push and push. Sometime they whip out their dick and jerk off into a plant, all the while shielding themselves with learned helplessness, cuz women are some deep mystery I suppose.

                                  We. Are. Done. With. This.

                                  We are not a deep mystery. We are people, much like you. How do you feel when someone is pressuring you to do a thing, but you don’t want to do it, or maybe you do, kinda sorta, but it’s hard, gross, weird, and complicated? The key to navigating this space is empathy, plus social skills.

                                  So what can you do?

                                  Do you want a short answer, one that you can then interrogate?

                                  “If a woman says no, stop trying to seduce her.”

                                  “But whaddabout blah blah blah blah blah ad nauseam blah blah whatever blah.”

                                  I know you mean well. Really I do. (I mean you individually. Other men — well look around.) But still, the very mode of questioning is broken. I cannot answer you.

                                  Empathy, social skills, empathy, social skills, empathy, social skills — I’ll say it again and again. There is nothing else.

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                                  • Thanks, .

                                    I suspect a major misstep here was my failure to articulate my own feelings. Thus the impression of interrogation.

                                    Your original statement I quoted? It caught my eye precisely because it has become my rule of thumb. So when I saw someone who I know things about these sorts of things from angles I’m not even aware of state an approach I employ but which I do not feel I do so fully considered, I thought exploring it with you would allow me to more deeply understand it.

                                    I will not air her story here, but suffice it to say my girlfriend did not even feel empowered to say no to her ex. For 17 years. For that and other reasons, I have taken the approach that at the first indicatuon of “no”, I back off. And thats that. I don’t always want to but, hey, ain’t all about me. Further, I try to accept and move on… sulking, withdrawing, being distant feels like its own form of quasi violence. So, in the moment, I do exactly as you describe. Because I think that’s right! But I sure as hell ain’t certain. And, ultimately, what’s right is what the girlfriend and I decide mutually is right for us. But to do that, I need to further understand what’s right for me.

                                    So, despite all evidence to the contrary, I wasn’t asking you to explain all women or my girlfriend or any other woman to me. I was tryibg to better understand my own feelings by exploring what seemed like similar but more fully formed feelings as expressed by someone whose perspective I respect.

                                    I obviously didn’t get there. But at least that was my aim.

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                        • Part of what is required is probably the patience to understand that if someone says “I don’t want to talk about this with anyone who has a ‘whiff of MRA discourse patterns’ because I’m so wary”, it’s not a wide-ranging personal accusation that you are an MRA.

                          To provide an example that you are probably more familiar with wrapping your head around? Maybe?

                          There’s a recent book by a British black woman called “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. I suspect that if you saw white people getting huffy and personally offended by that statement, be it the book title or a personal declaration in a comments section, your empathy would be with the person refusing to talk to white people about race… even if you knew that particular white person was motivated by only the best intentions.

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                          • Thanks for weighing in. Reflecting on the conversation, I can see some places I mis-stepped a long the way. To clarify one point, I wasn’t necessarily looking for Veronica (or anyone) to offer me “what women want”*… Rather, I was trying to understand Veronica’s specific perspective because she is someone I know has thought long, hard, and deeply about these matters and I reckon she has some real umph behind whatever it is she says.

                            My bad for bungling this convo. Please know that my intent was not to offend or give you whiffs of the stink of MRA crap. I greatly value your perspective and saw a potential opportunity for growth through probing it, but took a poor route and failed to course correct when that feedback was offered.

                            * While not nearly as serious an issue as what we’re discussing here, I have ample experience being asked to offer “THE male perspective” in professional settings because I am so often the only male in the conversation. I get how… ugh… it can be to asked to speak for an entire group and educate folks whose very question makes me want to do just the opposite.

                            ETA: I wrote this comment before seeing your most recent comment, Veronica.

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  3. Oh dear jebus.

    I’ve heard this song, and it’s pretty clear what’s going on. I’m not sure I ever considered it a holiday song, but YMMV. It’s a cute song.

    “And so the question arises: what are we to do with Baby It’s Cold Outside?” Err, you could listen or not to it, as YOU choose. They same way I choose not to listen to rap or hip pop since I think most of it is crap. Or just like watching “It’s a wonderful life” or not, which I dislike.

    “When someone talks about hating the song for the way it makes them feel, I don’t jump in and tell them they are misunderstanding the artists who wrote and recorded it seventy years ago, in part because I don’t want to mansplain”. Others are entitled to their “feels”, and unless someone is in/on your property and objecting to you playing the song, it doesn’t matter how they feel. Frankly, if I was playing it in my car/house and someone objected, depending upon how important they were to me, I’d tell them to “deal with it” or switch to another song. (it’d be unlikely this song would be playing in my house regardless)

    “In a perfect world, we’d all put the song away until we’d collectively changed the world for the better,” Meh, it’s a song. Stop feeling oppressed by something from the 50s you’ll likely never run into very often. I’m starting to think I need to d/l the original song to play to all my liberal friends so they can have panic attacks like they did after last year’s election-while they clutch their Hillary dolls.

    Me, I’ll be playing “Snow” on the Ipod and drinking eggnog.

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    • “Stop feeling oppressed by something from the 50s you’ll likely never run into very often. ”

      1) I think you underestimate how often the average person will run into this song. I’ve heard it twice since Sunday (not counting this post) without even making any effort to do so.

      2) I’m assuming that you’re directing that directive at someone other than Tod, if you’ve read the post? [My guess is “people who complain about the song who don’t still sing along with it and feature it in their holiday advent calendar”.] If not, you’re guessing wrong at his feelings and you should stop declaring what they are.

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      • “) I think you underestimate how often the average person will run into this song.” I have no idea how often the “average” person will run into this song. I’ve heard it, less than a half a dozen times over my entire lifetime. The xmas party I was at last sat had no music at all….Then there’s the issue of hearing the song and bothering to really listen to it to understand what’s going on. How many may hear the song but not understand it?

        ” I’m assuming that you’re directing that directive at someone other than Tod”

        Exactly.

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      • The reason you hear it so often is that there *aren’t* really any Christmas-song duets except for “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. You can turn any song into a duet, of course, with “singer A and singer B alternate verses and both sing the chorus”, but the kind of call-and-response structure in BiCO is unique.

        So you’ll probably hear it a lot simply because it adds some variety.

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        • Good King Wenceslas (also not really a Christmas song but adopted as one) has traditionally been sung as a duet, with men singing the king and women singing the page. At least, I’ve heard it that way in church and on the radio since I was a very small sprogling.

          Which isn’t to say you’re wrong. I can’t think of many others. I think BICO is also more popular b/c there was a reach for the secular going on throughout the last century – less religious Xmas songs get a lot more airplay than religious ones do, for the most part.

          I should note that I like this song. I also like Blurred Lines. And not because I’ve never thought about them, or because I don’t get the mixed messages, but because they describe the society we still live in fairly accurately – that’s not the only way things work, but it is ONE way that things work – and I’ve never particularly thought of individual songs as prescriptive, rather than descriptive. (Art in general – though Balthus’ work does blur that line for me, just because he was so obsessed and repetitive, which isn’t saying what the Met should or shouldn’t do about it, just that it changes my own feelings.)

          I find songs like this both funny and troubling in their accuracy, and “funny and troubling” is somewhat of a sweet spot for me entertainment-wise.

          Sweeping stuff under the rug and pretending we don’t have the cultural inheritance we have really doesn’t help anything, also.

          But I also don’t really come across these hoards of people song-shaming that some people here are complaining about.

          Like, most people really don’t care if you like something and their opinions (as the OP notes) are offered just as a way to talk about their own tastes/experiences. They’re not trying to get you to stop or to think a certain way or to whatever – just talking about what they see because they like to talk and they see you as an interesting conversational partner. Now, if their opinions are met with a lot of hostility, they will of course double down, then you will double down (generic you), then they will double down…

          But generally any time there’s a conversation like this, and someone says “Huh, I really don’t think that hard about Christmas music,” I don’t see a lot of “YOU SHOULD THINK WHAT I THINK I’M SO OFFENDED AND OPPRESSED” in response. It’s really only on the internet that it shows up at all, IME, and then I have to go looking for it (or be referred to it by angry persons who wish me to see how terrible my fellow feminists are). It’s when that someone says, “THAT’S SO DUMB WHY DO YOU CARE?” that they get huffy angry responses….

          But I suppose I hang out in different circles than many folks here….

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    • I’m siding with Damon on this one for a change. You really can’t make people interpret the song the way you want them to. The “Historical Context” faction and “Present Day Interpretation” faction will marshal their facts and speak past each other forever while conceding nothing to other side. The “Rape Song” interpretation faction should not be allowed to dictate the musical choices for people who see it in its historical context or thing its a cute song about seduction though.

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      • Beyond “Historical Context” and “Present Day Interpretation,” there is the singer’s interpretation, and I’ve never heard the mouse interpreted as anything but playful and coy, not drugged and panicky.

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        • A cover of “Baby, Its Cold Outside” where the mouse was drugged and panicky would be interesting in a dark way. Most people in the mouse part sing it as playful and coy because they were directed to or are basing it off of every other interpretation they heard.

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          • It’s also the case that women sometimes act playful and coy when they are feeling rather nervous and scared. Like, often enough that it’s a “thing” that women among my acquaintance are aware of and sometimes make reference to. (I don’t do this. This is one of the things about femininity that I find alienating and have worked my butt off to understand. I act cranky and mildly aggressive and puff myself up like a bullfrog when I’m feeling nervous and scared – or cold and rational a la Spock – both of which I’ve been given to understand are more stereotypically masculine reactions.)

            In fact, women also sometimes vacillate between playful and coy vs nervous and scared, because they are so much more vulnerable in situations like the one depicted, even when in *general* they’ve decided they’re safe and playing. There’s a reason why Naomi Alderman’s The Power is her breakthrough novel, and it isn’t that her prose has taken some kind of a leap from all her other (fabulous) novels. It’s that she struck a very loud chord in acknowledging how vulnerable women *are*, and how the world would change if they were *not*.

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              • Yeah, I almost linked to that one – it was definitely also on my mind – but the feminine reactions to it have been complicated enough that I went with The Power instead, to make the point rather than stress people out any more than I already am :D. (The Power also strikes me as literarily superior although there’s a lot to be impressed by in Cat Person and I appreciated it.)

                Did you know there’s a whole (brief, now shut down by owner) MenReacttoCatPerson twitter account? ( ) I am not a fan of reading people being bothered in that way, but those who are, might find it interesting. I do find it somewhat fascinating how far away their reactions seem to be from the story that was in front of them – but that probably ties into what was saying about visual vs abstraction, below.

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              • I read that the other day myself.

                During the point in time that the protagonist and the fellow she hooks up with have their sexual encounter, I felt a great deal of personal anxiety: this isn’t rape, but she’s definitely no longer into it and would rather not. She just doesn’t know how to gracefully back out of having consented. She doesn’t enjoy the sex, and is by then repelled by her partner. Had *I* ever inspired such feelings in a sex partner in the past? Thought about one woman in particular I’d briefly dated many years ago before I met the woman who is now my ex-wife.

                But then I got to the end and the male character finishes the relationship doing a series of things that I knew I would never actually do, even if in dark moments I’ve felt twinges of the post-relationship bitterness obviously motivating that fellow. And I decided that my earlier discomfort was likely based in large part upon my own anxiety about my own body image. Even that one past partner had reasons and libido and agency of her own during our relationship. And while I could have been more graceful, I’d not treated her nearly so badly as that when we parted ways.

                Then I read https://twitter.com/mencatperson and there found statements by other men that left me astonished and certain that none of them would ever have, even for a milisecond, even entertained a moment of self-doubt like I had, and my sense of moral self-worth was restored.

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  4. I’m largely in the camp, in that I think the controversy around this cheesy old tune seems like a case of people digging really deep into the cultural canon to find something that is #problematic. However I’m not sure that’s even quite the end of it, because if it was, I’d just sort of roll my eyes and that’d be the end of it. Opinions on all art, high and low, will vary, and that’s a-ok with me.

    The impression I’ve gotten, is that those who do think there’s something wrong with it also think that everyone should find something wrong with it, and that those who fail to see something wrong with it are themselves complicit in something bad. It’s kind of like the whole Balthus thing that’s going on at the Met.

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    • “The impression I’ve gotten, is that those who do think there’s something wrong with it also think that everyone should find something wrong with it, and that those who fail to see something wrong with it are themselves complicit in something bad”

      Exactly. And those who disagree are “wrong think” individuals who need “re-education camps” just like those “gun nuts we need to “deal” with”. Don’t think I didn’t know what that dude meant when he said that.

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    • I hadn’t heard about the Balthus controversy. That’s an easy one for me. It should be gone. The Met is a private institution, but its facility is owned by the city, which means it’s publicly-supported. That puts it in a different category than a song.

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      • I find that to be a weird position unless you think that there should be no public funding of any kind for the arts (which maybe you do). If every person could exercise a veto the walls would be bare. Personally l, as someone who is generally fine with public money going to the arts, am glad the Met seems to be standing its ground.

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        • I’m very sympathetic to “fund no art” position. But that’s not what’s motivating me on this one.

          I realize the dangers in declaring works of art to be unsuitable for publicly-funded display. But those dangers don’t mitigate the obligation of doing so in the case of obscenity. We can argue about Howl and Michelangelo’s David, but that Balthus work is beyond the pale.

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          • that Balthus work is beyond the pale.

            But here’s what’s funny about that to me. I see it as pretty consistent with a long history of paintings of girls with some very mildly erotic undertones (not all of which, btw were painted by men). There are lots of works out there like this from before and after Balthus, and they’re all over the map on sexuality. Is that whole artistic topic and tradition off-limits when a cent of public money hits the coffers?

            Now, part of the reason Balthus seems so tame to me is I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of art, including some where the lines between art and all out smut really get pushed. From my perspective saying this is beyond the pale sounds sort of like someone freaking out about a Bela Lugosi dracula movie while people are in theaters seeing the latest Saw installment. But that’s part of art, everyone is going to bring their own perspective to it. So whose sensibilities govern?

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            • I’ve seen nuder things than this, and more erotic than this. What jumps out at me in this Balthus work is that it’s nothing more than adolescent sexualization.

              To the other question, to the extent that a region of government funds a particular art, it should be within that region’s purview to decide what kind of art is funded. I can’t think of a reason that I should be able to say what art is supported by a NYC institution, but likewise I can’t think of a reason that a New Yorker shouldn’t have a say. If they take any federal money, then I should have a say.

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      • Should the New York Library stock Lolita? I think visual arts are held to a different standard because of the immediacy of the form and the certainty with which viewers interpret it. I try to resist that impulse, but not sure how I feel about that particular piece. If I encountered it in a museum, I would probably move along because my initial thoughts would be whether this is depicting something inappropriate.

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        • I think you’re right about visual arts, but I’m not sure about the certainty piece. Perhaps it’s the varieties of certainty that make the difference – ie some people are sure Lolita is meant to make it clear what is appealing about ephebophilia, whereas to me it’s very very (very) obviously a story with an unreliable narrator, meant to show how far a paedophile will depart from consensus reality to justify their misbehavior. And has been since I was a teenager. Both readers are equally certain, there’s just no expectation of consensus about who is right, because a reader is believed to bring more of their own stuff to the text. (That said, anyone who thinks Humbert Humbert is meant to read as a reliable narrator is wronger than a very wrong thing.)

          There’s not much difference between “recognizing people can be very sure in different directions” and “uncertainty” when one takes a step back, I realize, but they do seem rather different to me.

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          • With respect to certainty, it has to do with how visual stimulus can bypass some of the reasoning parts of the brain. Reading necessarily involves use of abstract reasoning just to combine letters into words, that have to be coordinated into sentence. And it takes time to read, so our ultimate sense of the work takes place over time.

            Images create instantaneous impressions and can evoke strong emotional reactions. The harshest criticisms that I see written in our local newspaper almost always have to do with the editorial cartoons. Most of these utilize exaggeration to make a point, but people can react viscerally to what appears to be an untrue depiction of reality. I just simply try to recognize it, but not be manipulated by it.

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    • The Balthus painting is a lot less open to ambiguous interpretation than BICO. I don’t think that people in the late 1930s would have seen this as a particularly innocent light either.

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    • What bothers me about the Balthus thing is the idea that displaying something in a museum means you should agree with its values or caption it with a disclaimer.

      The degree of not expecting people to have or use their own brains / historical context / etc that that implies is staggering. Were I the protestor, I wouldn’t be writing petitions, I’d be writing about how fished up and shameful Balthus was (assuming that’s what she believes) and I’d be *glad* his fished up paintings were publicly accessible to prove my points.

      (Like, lock away half the V&A, shall we?)

      Who walks into a museum without a mental trigger warning of their own?? History is fished up, pretty much start to finish…

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      • Who walks into a museum without a mental trigger warning of their own??

        Well.. I have a theory on that but it would require a lot of defending I’m not sure I’m ready for and where I would need to understand the other side better to make sure I’m not just tearing down a straw man.

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        • That’s fair. It would need to include both Balthus and the elephant dung Mary freakout people, to be comprehensive, and probably a long post of its own.

          If you get there eventually, it’d probably make a *good* long post of its own, but no hurries.

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  5. I’m somewhat in Damon’s camp on this one. I don’t care what the zeitgeist thinks of the song, or any song. I don’t like the song. I’ve always found it creepy – I didn’t need Harvey Weinstein to make me realize that.

    As for the song itself, the tune is unremarkable, although the interplay of the duet is interesting. It’s not a Christmas song at all. And I’ve pretty much given up on Christmas songs in favor of Christmas hymns, anyway.

    I don’t care what “we” do with Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Are we no longer capable of making individual moral decisions? Do we always have to act in concert?

    ETA: I guess I’m also in InMD’s camp too, because he referred to Damon’s camp one minute before I did.

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  6. So it’s the same thing as ’90s humor; its validity as a mode of expression depends heavily on cultural context and shared audience assumptions, and once you remove those things it just looks awful.

    Which doesn’t mean it’s *wrong* to say that the song’s message doesn’t really come through to modern audiences, but as LeeEsq points out that criticism must be recognized as having context-dependency of its own. The issue is that people are overreaching, saying “it’s a song about rape AND IT ALWAYS WAS AND IT WAS NEVER ANYTHING ELSE AND IT WAS NEVER OKAY”, and doing all sorts of mental contortions to explain how that’s true (“even expressions of independence and liberation are to be considered suspect on account of America is the worst country in the history of humanity!”)

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    • There seem to be plenty of people born in the Baby Boom generation and afterwards, that is post-Sexual Revolution, who are just fine with “Baby, Its Cold Outside” and don’t see it as a rape song. The intense debates about the merits of the song online are not between people in their twenties and thirties during the 1950s and people in their twenties and thirties today but mainly between people not old enough to remember a time when cultural rules against pre-marital sex were enforced.

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    • So it’s the same thing as ’90s humor; its validity as a mode of expression depends heavily on cultural context and shared audience assumptions, and once you remove those things it just looks awful.

      This is a great point and one I think that may be getting lost in the cultural discussion. Let me give a weird example. I did something really shameful the other night. It was late, the wife and kid were asleep, I’d had a few drinks, and I ended up watching Predator 2 in its entirety on cable.

      I hadn’t actually sat and watched this movie since I was probably in high school, but seeing it now you could almost write a thesis on the racist tropes and horrible cultural representations. Indeed there’s a lot about it that is for numerous reasons inconsistent with current cultural sensibilities.

      However, I picked up on all kinds of hilarious aspects I never quite appreciated that reflected the time it was made. The schlockey Current Affair-style news reporter, the drug fueled inner-city ultra-violence, the send up to Bernie Goetz in the subway. You can tell that, while the film makers aren’t fully self-aware (it ain’t Tarantino or Verhoeven), they’re playing on and parodying a lot of cultural attitudes that were prevalent at the time and that they expected the audience to pick up on it. So is it a hopelessly racist movie? Is it a product of its time? Maybe both? Either way I’d hope no one decided someone was somehow morally deficient for having a nostalgic late night laugh at it, which is where I think a lot of the Baby Its Cold Outside critics want to go.

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  7. This might be the Southern Babtist in me talking but it feels like I never heard this song growing up. It wasn’t even on the periphery of “well, it’s after Thanksgiving and before New Year’s Eve so we’d better play these albums” kinda music.

    It wasn’t until… I dunno… Elf? I guess? That the song entered my radar. That would be the early 2000s? (Looks like Elf came out in 2003.)

    To me, it feels like a song that was something like Dean Martin’s “Marshmallow World In Winter”… only this one came back. So my question for the more heathen members of Gen-X (or older) among us: was this song a regular staple in the 80s as well and I just missed it?

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      • This makes sense to me. I can easily see this song as being part of a playlist of Rat Pack-kinda music. The coolness, the vague haze of sleaziness coursing through it… you just know Dean Martin heard this and thought “this song was written for *ME*!”

        But as a “we need to play this right after we play some Trans-Siberian Orchestra” song, that feels like I was well into being a grown-up when that happened.

        But I also know that I have absolutely no perspective when it comes to that sort of thing.

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      • I am also on the GenX/Millennial cusp.

        In Canada it played on various Christmas specials and was on the radio fairly regularly (b/c the Christmas specials were by Canadian artists, hence, CanCon).

        I also remember discussing the creepy/not-creepy blurriness of the song as a teenager in the 90s, with my equally provincial living-on-a-small-island-before-internet friends. (They were the ones bringing it up, not me.)

        My experiences of it are otherwise fairly similar to what Tod writes about only without knowing the Wolf/Mouse historical bit until I was in my 30s.

        I do wonder if perhaps I am more *aware* of it, ie notice when it’s playing in the background or on the radio, more than most of you due to a) cultural assumptions that I’m the mouse leading to me noticing the song more, b) my abiding and unshakable love for Ella Fitzgerald and anything she sings, and/or c) my dad, among his other offenses, being the ultimate gross creeper who manipulated women into having sex with him through similar moves. (Though he never liked this song one bit.)

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        • Very interesting. It’s entirely possible it was on all around me and I never picked up on it. As a kid I went to Catholic school so the Christmas songs were religiously focused and I can’t remember it (or any holiday song) ever coming up among my friends as a teenager (of course there a lot of things I don’t remember that may or may not be related to activities involving a certain plant).

          My parents are also not at all into that kind of music. The old man listened to mostly 70s punk and classic rock and car rides with my mom were either top 40 or NPR.

          I can of course see why a cultural artifact with themes that you felt reflected your personal circumstances/experiences would loom a lot larger.

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          • Yeah, similar for me – growing up my musical environment was pretty much all classical and non-rat-packy jazz at home, and metal, punk, ska, breakbeats, and trance beyond.

            I was probably vaguely aware that the song existed, but to this day haven’t heard it enough times to say anything coherent about its lyrics.

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        • See, this is just weird to me because I am also a Canadian and a Maritimer and we’re almost exactly the same age, but I swear it was on *all the time*.

          Mind you “all the time” doesn’t really stretch back before I was 12-13, Christmas before that are mostly a blur.

          But maybe the abovementioned reasons for why I found it more noticeable than some would are relevant here as well.

          Or maybe PEI is just weird. (Arguable.)

          I think the very *most* ubiquitous Yuletide song when I was growing up, that I rarely hear and have to seek out now, was I Saw Three Ships.

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          • Holy buckets yes! I saw three ships was on CONSTANTLY! Like I think the only reason I didn’t remember it is because I blocked it out.

            Also I was raised around a goodly number of Catholics so that might have colored my impression, alsotoo I didn’t really listen to radio much until I started driving.

            Oh and PEI was definitely weird and vaguely sinister. I say this only as a grandchild of a South Shore lobsterman who grew his own potatoes. PEI potatoes have a distinctly PEI taste, a bit more muddy than the sand grown ones I was raised on.

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      • Same here and I was unaware of BICO until I was in my early thirties and didn’t know there was a controversy about it until one or two years after I first heard it.

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    • I think this is one of the ubiquitous Christmas songs of my youth and I didn’t even grow up in a house that listened to Christmas music. I don’t even like Christmas music!!

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  8. As I said on good old social media, I knew parts of the song’s history but not the full version before your essay.

    I think Lee hits the basic nail on the head when he talks about Presentism above. It seems to me that a lot of the debate over the song is taking present day morals and ethics and hammering them unto the past. The song was written at a different time and when it was not socially acceptable for unmarried men and women to spend the night together. The song was written at a time when a lot (maybe most) married couples slept in separate beds (though this seems to be coming back into vogue but for different reasons).

    But I don’t know if there is anything that can stop people from Presentism. It seems part of human brain wiring. Lee has written about this in the past, the ability to think historically might be a psychological oddity, even among intelligent people.

    As mentioned before, this song and the song blurred lines is where I first heard the term rapey used. The problem with a term like rapey is the inherent subjectiveness on it. The user of the word is saying it is not a full on song about rape but really doesn’t want dissent either.

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      • It also reminds me of conversations about whether Nick Carroway in the Great Gatsby is gay or not. People are taking modern ideas and shoe horning them into the past. There were obviously LBGT people in the 1920s but there is nothing in the text that really suggests Nick is gay and in love with Gatsby. But having him be interested in Jordan is boring to our modern selves so we need to make him gay because he is somewhat mature and sensitive I guess.

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        • I think the people who imagine Nick Carroway to be gay also like to imagine Jordan a lesbian in love with Gatsby’s vapid love interest despite there being even less textual evidence for that beyond Jordan being a golfer, which I guess people read as butch.

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          • I don’t think it’s because they’re bored so much as because they’re hungry for representations. There is very little literature from that time period that depicts QUILTBAG people, or rather people that we’d see that way. If a person loves the literature of that time period, I think it’s fairly natural to imagine themselves into it by making the characters more like themselves in their own understanding of the works.

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            • There seem to be a lot of straight yaoi/slash fans that like to imagine Nick and Carroway as gay. I’ve first seen the arguments for this advanced by straight slash/yaoi fans more than other people.

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              • I’ll tread warily here because I haven’t done a lot of research into slash although I have read some.

                But in my experience straight women who enjoy slash are partly enjoying imagining themselves into stories as well. They can “be” the more-active, more-allowed-to-have-agency male characters in stories where the female characters are quite passive by comparison, but *also* imagine that character they identify with having the same(ish!! as a queer person I note – ISH) desires they have as a straight woman.

                It’s a way of writing characters that act traditionally male but have “female” desires for men.

                This is also why straight women write a lot of M/M romance outside of slash. Some of them are awful and stupid and reveal that they don’t really understand gay men or treat them as equally human; some of them are really good at it and popular with gay men as well as straight women; and some of them end up transitioning to presenting as nonbinary or male. (Seriously, I know of a LOT of m/m romance writers who ended up identifying as not-straight-cis-female anymore, eventually… a small but disproportionate percentage of the whole slash/yaoi group.)

                It’s definitely more complicated than my original description and I should have included some of that complexity.

                But I think representation/identification is still a big part of the picture.

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          • The woman Jordan was built from, Edith Cummings Munson, was also described using terms like “She swaggered like a bullfighter,” contemporaneously. While no one would EVER suggest that someone was gay in public back then, much less that (later on) the admired wife of a conservative civil servant was gay… they also didn’t have much concept other than sapphic to understand a “masculine”-acting woman through back then.

            So the echoes may be older than you think.

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    • I’m wondering how ordinary, non-ideological people hear this song. If a not very political young or middle aged person, one relatively unschooled in the current debates about consent, what would they think?

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  9. I’ll add to the chorus agreeing with Damon. Let’s not try to project modern sensibilities onto a 75 year old song.

    Hearing it today is kind of like hearing Maryland, My Maryland before the Preakness. You just marvel that those attitudes were once well accepted in polite society. Don’t like it? Don’t listen.

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    • So do you see a difference between not liking the song and wanting to talk about the ways in which the song is still reflective of problems in modern society even though it’s out of date? Or between projecting modern sensibilities vs. having them and saying so?

      Because I see a comment like yours and I don’t hear “enh, for me it’s not a big deal,” I hear “but why are you CARING about this????” (rhetorical variant). Which seems far more prescriptive than Tod’s OP was.

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      • My point is the song cannot possibly reflect problems in modern society because it was written 3 generations ago. It’s reflective of attitudes toward women in the mid-1940s, attitudes which were most likely a problem then, and certainly are now, but still of their own time. The song is an anachronism that gets trotted out each Christmas, is played for a month, and then promptly forgotten until the next holiday season.

        Because I see a comment like yours and I don’t hear “enh, for me it’s not a big deal,” I hear “but why are you CARING about this????” (rhetorical variant).

        Precisely. We just had a race for a seat in the United States Senate in which a major party ran a candidate, with the national party’s and President’s blessings, who has a history of hitting on underaged girls came within a whisker of winning that seat. We have a sitting President who has openly bragged about forcing himself on women. If we have to rely on the offensive lyrics of an outdated pop song to make our point, then the argument is already lost.

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        • I don’t think the purpose is to win the large argument. I think the purpose is to talk about our experiences more openly, especially the small ones (like feeling uncomfortable when listening to a Christmas song), that may cross party lines with some frequency, in order to build a stronger coalition / more shared social norms.

          Many of us may hope that emergent *winning* strategies well, emerge, from there, but that’s a hope, not an expectation.

          It’s not like arguing *without* discussing small personal experiences and finding common ground has worked superwell up to the present. Most civil rights movements have also come hand in hand with reflections of this sort.

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          • I agree that small, personal experiences of injustice can be a catalyst to larger change. Where one sat on the city bus, or whether you could buy a hamburger at a lunch counter are 2 fine examples of this. These, however, are parts of everyone’s life at some point. I would posit that critical examination of the lyrics of a pop song just might be reaching a little too far.

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            • *shrug* I know a lot of women who have opinions about pop song lyrics. I mean, discussing pop song lyrics, writing down pop song lyrics (usually not classics in that case), listening to the top 40 when we were in high school…. these were common feminine activities in my neck of the woods. My friends who I’ve made later in life, from different classes, social backgrounds, and even countries, also have had these experiences. (Even some guys though mostly not guys.)

              A close read applying critical theory, maybe not. But most of the buzz around this song is not that. It’s much closer to natural conversation. “Oogh, this song makes me uncomfortable because” “well for me it reminds me of when I was a kid and” “my first date, this song was playing” etc etc etc? Women talk about that kind of stuff all the time. (See, “Every Breath You Take,” for a pre-internet example that isn’t a relic of the past in the same way this one is, that got equally hashed over.)

              And as for Tod’s post, it’s a solid entry in the type of song-history-plus-critical-analysis that’s been around in the genre of music writing since at least the 50s (when critics were already complaining about this song and its overtones, ftr, although “rapey” was not a word they were comfortable using back then).

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              • Spurred on by this discussion, I consulted the woman who sits across from me at work regarding the song in question. Like me, she considers it an anachronism, but she enjoys it and doesn’t avoid it on the radio.

                It just seems we’re ascribing too much import to a song that was admittedly a party trick.

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                • I think the interesting question wherever this plays out is when continuing the anachronistic thing is a message.

                  Playing the song on the radio is different from highlighting it (for example, I suspect we’d feel differently about a company using BICO as a theme for its holiday party). The same goes for many traditions.

                  I think the easy answers, even if we accept that it now has creepy undertones, are: (1) making BICO wasn’t a horrible thing to do; and (2) hearing it without freaking out now is completely ok. The more interesting questions are about radio stations choosing to play it.

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                  • Interestingly the first time I became aware of the controversy was at a work sponsored event at a dueling piano bar when one of the pianists/singers asked for a volunteer in the audience to do the song with him.

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    • You just marvel that those attitudes were once well accepted in polite society.

      This is all assuming you aren’t unconscious in the infield with soiled pants well before the song is performed, which is the most traditional way to enjoy Preakness.

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      • As a host who always thinks of his guests first, I would turn it off. That’s not to say I wouldn’t struggle with a bit of internal derision for the request.

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          • I dunno about Slade but at that point I’d be kind of worried about the person, unless we were really close. Because that kind of fierce criticism of someone else’s music choices – once you’re at a party and confronting the host that strongly, it is a criticism – is far enough outside social norms that I’d be wondering why they were willing to cross those boundaries.

            Worried mostly in the sense of “are they okay, is this actually a really bad thing for them and they need some support?” but a little bit in the sense of “has this person been doing coke and will they break something in my house and/or start a fight?” Depending on the context.

            But maybe you go to different parties than I have :D.

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            • Ha! I dare say you do not spend enough time with young people! But… wait… YOU MUST! In your professional capacity, at least! Have you not realized the hyperbole that has taken hold these days, wherein everything is either THE GREATEST THING EVER, IT SHOULD REPLACE GOD/HAMBURGERS/ROCK&ROLL AS THE THING EVERYONE LOVES! or THE WORST THING EVER AND EVIDENCE THAT THE END OF THE WORLD IS NEAR!

              I actually asked because I do think there is a tendency for some to be more responsive to the second such situation than the first, which feels backwards to me. Like…

              “Hey, man, can we change songs? I hate the fuckin’ Eagles.”
              “Sure man, no prob.”

              “Hey, man, can we change songs? This one feels uncomfortable and offensive.”
              “Whatever, snowflake. If you don’t like it, leave.”

              That certainly ain’t everyone but I do see it happening. If Slade is that sort of person, I’d want to try to understand such a perspective as it is foreign to my own.

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              • It was the stabbing candy canes in one’s ears part that would make me worry, not the declaration of hatred.

                I mean, everybody under the age of 30 does say everything is the worst. I’m not sure it’s new, we used to do that when I was in college. (And I enjoy talking about dumb teenage dramas in that exact register with friends who are on the same page.) But the invigorating descriptions of violence are generally saved for very close friends and/or things that are the actual worst.

                I see your point better now.

                But given that Slade already said he’s not that kind of person, by saying if he had derision he’d keep it internal, I’m not sure what the point of questioning him about it is…

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                • In my experience, little rhetorical flourishes like “candy canes in the ear” or “light myself on fire” seem to be the norm for discussing anything more discomforting than a mosquito bite.

                  I was inquiring in part because I’m curious if he’d feel the same internal derision at the other request.

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          • Not to answer for Slade, but to me, its much like smoking, ie; a gracious host would always put out an ashtray, while a gracious guest would never presume to smoke in another’s house.

            In other words, knowing that some find it distasteful/offensive, you don’t put it in the mix. Knowing that it could come up, you let it pass.

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          • I edited your comment below to reflect my reality.

            “Hey, man, can we change songs? I hate the fuckin’ Eagles.”
            “Sure man, no prob.”

            Slade’s response: “It’s only 3 and a half minutes long. Suffer.”

            “Hey, man, can we change songs? This one feels uncomfortable and offensive.”
            “Whatever, snowflake. If you don’t like it, leave.”

            Slade’s response: “Absolutely. What do you want to hear instead” (Slade heads for his Indigo Girls collection.)

            Derision in the first case is expressed verbally since the person is being impolite to me by insulting my musical taste. Derision in the 2nd case is internalized, allowing me to be simultaneously judgemental and a genial host.

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            • “Hey, man, can we change songs? I hate the (freakin)’ Eagles.”

              Derision in the first case is expressed verbally since the person is being impolite to me by insulting my musical taste.

              The person in question used an “I” statement and not a “you” statement. Someone else saying “I dislike this thing” is not an insult to your enjoyment of said thing even if it’s a thing that you enjoy very much. (Well, I suppose that there are people who might try to deliberately get your goat by saying they dislike something that you like, but, say, at a party where a song happens to come on that they happen to dislike to the point where they’d tell you about it? That’s not an insult.)

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                  • Yeah, I think so. It’s a breach of protocol that would only be offered up if you didn’t respect the person (OR conversely if you’re so close you don’t have to observe the protocol).

                    It’s the lack of respect shown in the former circumstance that makes it an insult. You’re conveying that they aren’t worthy of you following the protocol.

                    #notanettiquetteexpert #raisedinahospitalityculturethough

                    (Ironically, if you really wanted to ice them for it, you wouldn’t, in my raising, be rude back. (Being rude back is shifting to their protocol, and thus its own form of graciousness.) You’d extremely graciously and with no grit in your voice whatsoever cheerfully change the song. And then never invite them to a party again and/or for a period of time varying from 2 months to several years, duration governed by various other factors. I’ve seen otherwise rational people refuse to speak to one another or only speak to be civil in public but otherwise avoid each other totally over stuff exactly like this. Though generally it was the last straw, it isn’t always. Hospitality culture and honor culture are not that far apart.)

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                    • “…if you’re so close you don’t have to observe the protocol.”

                      FWIW, this is the only scenario in which I’d offer such feedback. But that’s because like 72% of my close relationships are just giving one another shit about crap.

                      I could only imagine saying something in a less familiar dynamic if it was truly unbearable. And even then I’d probably just suffer in silence. That’d more likely happen if the temperature felt unbearable or there was a noxious smell or the volume of the music was oppressive… something that was jarring in a sensory way (and as someone with high sensory thresholds in most cases, odds are someone else would have spoken first).

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                  • I’m with you here.

                    I’ve got a friend who really strongly dislikes one of my favourite kinds of music. Which is fine, people dislike what they dislike.

                    Except he doesn’t just decline invitations to go hear it, saying that it’s not his cup of tea, or even with stronger language. If there is any at a festival main stage, such that he can hear it from the campsite, he is likely to later launch into a 10 minute discourse on the suffering he endured, how such music fills him with stabby rage, etc. etc. Sometimes I’ll catch this discourse right when I’m coming back from the main stage, joyful from the music I just enjoyed.

                    And of course he’s not insulting me, he’s just oblivious to how rude he’s being. I still like him, he’s a good friend.

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                    • I would suggest that if he’s inside the “sharing a campsite at a music festival” circle, he’s also inside the “can be rude without being insulting” circle.

                      Not that I’m trying to square the circle or anything :P.

                      But rules about when being rude is or isn’t insulting generally seem to apply to social, but not *that* social, situations. If you live in a small and/or hospitality-oriented place, these come up a lot. Neighborhood parties, work parties, cousins’ baby showers, etc etc. (Hospitality-oriented places are extremely draining for introverts, I might add, and may be part of why I am unlikely EVER to move back home.)

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                      • I guess there’s being insulting in the sense that someone else feels insulted by one’s conduct, and being insulting in the sense that one means to insult someone with one’s conduct.

                        The two are probably somewhat independent.

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                        • In a hospitality culture there’s literally no way that would fly. Insult is on the part of the insulted, according to the well-known cultural codes, and intention is (nearly) no excuse. (Exceptions are sometimes made for from aways who don’t know any better yet.) Be glad you live in Toronto, city boy;).

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                    • A good life rule is, never slag a person’s musical taste. After all, it’s not so difficult to say, “Meh, I’m not into that stuff, but I can see that you enjoy it.”

                      Regarding a song like “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” I was once at a party where a friend’s girlfriend made it quite clear that she “couldn’t be around me.” She said that to my face. Evidently I “reminded her of someone.” (This was back in my boy days, to clarify.)

                      I wasn’t offended. Even back then I understood these things.

                      It was a big party. It turned out easy enough to stay out of her hair.

                      If I’m at a party and someone wants to change some song because they find it trauma inducing or rapey, I’ll roll with it. There are many songs.

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                • Your lovely wife nailed it. Don’t come to my party and complain about the music. I’m the kind of guy who spends a day compiling a playlist for said party. I’m very particular about what comes out of my speakers. You want to listen to music you like? Throw your own party.

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                  • Vocal complaint about the music on its inherent qualities is one thing. Wanting to change the song because of a personal association with it is another.

                    I don’t know what was playing on the radio when my guest was in a terrible car crash, or what musician assaulted them backstage, nor do they need to tell me.

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  10. It’s kinda weird how, in our interpretation of this song, we’ve somehow managed to ignore half the subtext, and turn the rest of the subtext into definite truth.

    The only *actual* pressure from the wolf in that song is ‘Hey, don’t go home, you don’t want to go home in this weather.’. There’s not a word in the song about sex.

    Admittedly, sex is sorta the subtext.

    But if we’re talking about what we’re supposed to get from the text instead of what it literally says, the subtext is pretty clearly that ‘the mouse’ is trying to justify her staying, despite the fact she ‘should’ leave.

    We’ve basically invented the idea she’s being convinced ‘into sex’. That’s not in text of the song, but it’s…not in the subtext either. If we pay attention to subtext of the song, it seems if there is any sex as an option in the future, she is on board with it, as clearly as she can be in a song that sex isn’t mentioned at all. She specifically explains the reasons she ‘is leaving’, and ‘Not wanting to have sex’ (Or whatever that would be under the subtext. No more kissing? No more holding hands?) isn’t one of those reasons.

    She is instead, explicitly, reluctant to keep spending time there because society will suspect that she had sex with him. (correctly or not) She’s very very clear about her problem being people’s reactions to this. Seriously, half her lines are about their reaction.

    I.e., the debate she is having with herself is exactly the opposite of what people seem to be thinking it is. The debate she is singing is not ‘Do I want to spend the night [have sex] with him?’, it is ‘I want to spend the night [have sex] with him, but can I live with people’s reactions?’

    And her possible partner is trying to convince her that he has a good lie for her behavior that will be accepted by society.

    Now, it is possible to have a problem with this, I guess. In a technical sense, it is still ‘trying to convince someone into sex’, assuming that’s what’s happening there. (Edit: Heh, I see I snipped all other references to that. But, basically, I had a point where it’s entirely possible to read the song as them just having had sex, and he legitimately wants to see her stay the night.)

    But I tend to think there is a difference between ‘Someone does not want to have sex, and someone else keeps trying to convince they to have sex anyway’, and ‘Someone _does_ want to have sex, but is convinced it is impractical, and the other party suggests a way around the problem.’.

    And, yes, I do know that women sometimes feel they have to invent fake justifications to not have sex, and that is a whole big topic I don’t really feel like dipping into right now, but this is not a real situation, this is a song, and we’re already a few layers deep in the subtext and maybe should not invent another layer where she doesn’t want to have sex, but feels pressured by him to have sex so has to use society’s disapproval to justify her rejection of him, etc, etc…

    YMMV.

    Now, another problem here is that ‘the wolf’ does seem a little too persistent here, and really should just suggest the falsehood they are going to put out and shut up and let her decide. That would seem a fair objection in real life…but here that’s because it’s a fricking call-and-response song and he sorta has to say something every other line.

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    • This is not to say I don’t see why it doesn’t make some people uncomfortable, but the problem isn’t, weirdly, that they are misunderstanding it…it’s sorta that everyone is misunderstanding it. Or at least understand it far different than I do.

      It is very very easy to listen to that song and think there is ‘seduction’ going on, and that’s probably why the song is popular now. And some people are comfortable with that sort of seduction, and some people are not and consider it an example of how men can keep demanding sex long after they have been told to stop…

      …except, from what I can tell, that’s not what’s going on in the actual song. There is some mild flirting from the wolf, but that seems almost irrelevant, and seems more in the service of whatever is ‘currently happening’ than trying to make something happen in the future. (For example, he says her lips look nice…and then two lines later that they taste nice. Clearly there is ‘stuff’ happening during the song.)

      What’s going on in the actual song, at least as far as I can tell, is two people having a discussion about the likelihood of hiding a (possibly already existing, possibly about to start) sexual relationship from everyone via a flimsy excuse.

      So in my mind people are sorta arguing about an imaginary version of that song.

      But I guess it can make some people just as uncomfortable.

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        • No. That’s not from the songwriters, as far as I can tell. The song was designed for the two of them to sing, so would have been ‘labeled’ as their own names.

          And then the husband sold it to go into a movie musical so the parts would have been labeled with the characters in that, and it got famous.

          And someone working for the publisher that then owns the rights to the song later labelled the parts as ‘mouse’ and ‘wolf’ when publishing it. (Probably because in the movie, two different couples sung it, so there was no obvious single identifier for each.)

          So…someone at the song’s publisher thought the song was about seduction. Like a lot of other people.

          Not really sure how that is relevant compared to the actual lyrics. I know a lot of people think that it’s about seduction. I even agree it sounds like that. It is entirely reasonable to hear the song and think that.

          It’s just…not that, textually. Or even subtextually.

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          • You’re flat wrong about that, actually. It is from the original notes, not from the movie musical parts. And they needed a label other than their own names, because they actually *took turns* singing one part or the other from time to time, rather than always doing the expected male wolf and female mouse.

            Tod’s fairly clear about the labelling in the OP, and here’s another source for you:
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/19/baby-its-cold-outside-was-once-an-anthem-for-progressive-women-what-happened/?utm_term=.25ade597de39

            If you need more than two sources plus my word, have fun digging them up.

            The songwriters, when just playing around at parties, *labeled the parts wolf and mouse*.

            That says a lot about their intent. (Personally I think it is both funny, and descriptive, and a different kind of funny depending on who is singing the wolf and who the mouse (the unexpected one is subversive) – but it’s still a predatory context.)

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            • I stand corrected as to the names of the parts.

              But two points, one minor and one major:

              First, that doesn’t mean what is happening here is intended to be a preditation happening. Mice are not normally considered prey of wolves, and that’s kinda a weird metaphor. It seems possible this some weird in-joke about the writers instead of anything we’re supposed to think about their parts, or intended to describe the roles generally as wolvish and mousey and not intended to reflect a certain relationship between them.

              But a more important point is that, yes, the song might be art intended to bring to mind a seduction. In fact, regardless of whether or not the writers intended that, other singers could have, and messages can be gotten from art that aren’t intended at all, and people certainly are getting that message.

              I have no problem with people thinking the song, as a work of art, is about seduction. That might even be the intent. (I think it’s about how women had to pretend to be ‘seduced’ to acceptable have sex, but whatever.)

              But even if it’s intended to be about a seduction, that does not mean there is a seduction _in it_, not even a metaphorical one. And thus parsing that supposed metaphorical seduction for consent and whether or not mouse is being harassed into sex is rather inventing a problem.

              This all seems sorta akin to someone watching Firefly and getting upset that the main characters are pro-slavery. I mean, yes, they found the correct analogy with the American Civil War, except they missed the part where the Firefly universe did not have slavery.

              And, again, it is perfectly possible for people to dislike those things because those things make people feel certain ways, or even because people think they make other people misunderstand things. Someone can certainly think that Baby It’s Cold Out will _teach_ people to disrespect consent via metaphor, just like Firefly could, in theory, promote Lost Cause ideology and people can disapprove of it for the artistic message they are worried people might get out of it.

              I just find the detailed parsing of the lyrics to be weird on both sides, because both sides seemed to have consensually agreed on the same metaphor and have decided to act as if it’s what the song is really saying, while ignoring things the song really does say, and the rest of the subtext.

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              • “Say what’s in this drink?” is the kind of lyric that doesn’t really require detailed parsing to leap out at one in the present era.

                Nor did it at the time.

                It’s not combing over to notice such a thing.

                If subtext appears to be commonly agreed upon by writers, singers, listeners, etc., it’s probably not especially subtextual.

                It’s more like saying that Firefly’s main characters are pro-Wild-West mentality. Do they ever talk about the Wild West? No. Is the Wild West that we’re familiar with part of their lives, something they talk about explicitly as part of history they’ve paid attention to? No. But they ride horses, wear dusters, talk about “aiming to misbehave,” etc.

                They don’t have to literally be cowboys for it to be blooming obvious that they are cowboys, and something similar is at play in this song.

                So there’s nothing all that weird about it.

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                • “Say what’s in this drink?” is the kind of lyric that doesn’t really require detailed parsing to leap out at one in the present era.

                  Nor did it at the time.

                  The actual answer to that question back then was ‘alcohol’, and everyone would have understood it to be such.

                  So I am not entirely clear what you think it’s implying. It certainly isn’t implying what a modern day listener might be thinking.

                  Additionally, I am unsure as to what people think might even be going in the drink besides alcohol. Baby It’s Cold Outside was written in 1944, so that pretty much rules out anything commonly used as a date rape drug even existing.

                  Okay, so some sort of sleep aid, perhaps. Except the first of those was diphenhydramine, approved for prescription use in 1946. Possibly he put in a bunch of tranquilizers, except, no, the first real tranquilizer was invented in 1947.

                  Now, there were ways to knock people completely unconscious before that, but it was mostly ether gas or chloroform.

                  I mean, it’s not impossible there was some way to drug people unconscious, or drug them enough that they will not fight back, by putting something in their drink in 1944. I can’t disprove that. But this is getting a little silly, and is _certainly_ not what the intended audience would have understood that line to be.

                  And remember, this is a song written by a married couple, so playfully singing about ‘knocking her out and having sex with her while she’s unconscious’ is a pretty interesting interpretation.

                  And before anyone thinks ‘Oh, he’s just getting her drunk she’ll be okay with sex’…there’s no indication she’s drunk anywhere near enough to be impaired. (Also, if so, she probably shouldn’t be going outside in freezing temps and driving home to start with.)

                  And people doing things that were not socially acceptable and blaming it on the alcohol was pretty common back then…in fact, it’s pretty common now.

                  “Say, what’s in this drink” is, in my book, her clearly pretending to be startled that the drink she is having had alcohol, so her future actions can now be excused.

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                  • I was assuming it originally implied he’d put more in her drink than she asked for. She would not be the first nor the last woman to be handed a triple when she asked for a single.
                    (It’s happened to me and I generally took it as a sign to avoid the person thereafter – but it’s the first step in a lot of questionable-by-modern-standards seductions, also.)

                    At the time, some people thought that the lyric was cute and funny and perfectly acceptable (maybe even subversive!), and some people thought it was gross and weird to sing about. Both groups of people were largely in agreement it meant he was trying to keep her from “coming to her senses” about what they were doing (had done / were about to do again / whatever, it doesn’t actually *matter*) and there was a wide divergence of opinions about interpretation from there.

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                    • Two groups of people should mix your drinks at parties, at bars, anywhere:

                      1) professional, on-the-clock bartenders employed at reputable establishments

                      2) you.

                      That’s it. And you should keep your eye on your drink for as long as you intend to keep drinking it.

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                      • Thanks for the lecture. I was talking about an earlier, more innocent time, aka when I was 18-22 (and once or twice it was an honest to god bartender, who was flirting with me under the presumption I’d want extra free booze. They are not as reliable as all that, or at least they weren’t in Montreal clubs in the 90s). I have learned a lesson or two since then. (Though, honestly, back then I could tell within a sip or two if something was off – I was a slow and reluctant drinker in public – and my move was to disengage from said person and stop drinking. Which… isn’t the worst response.)

                        These days I only drink in the homes of people whom I would trust with my life, and/or at one local bar, and no one has, under those circumstances, given me anything other than exactly what I’ve asked for.

                        (I actually haven’t had a drink in more than a year, because meds. But, you know, in principle that’s what I do now.)

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              • Have you ever seen a cartoon short from time? One of the classic MGM ones or a WB short? Anthropomorphic wolves were frequently used to depict horny men into seducing ladies in them. The lady wasn’t depicting the mouse but the mouse has been traditionally been used to depict weak and vulnerable people in human folktales.

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      • I mean, really? The song is subtle and the sex is the subtext because the legal and social standards of the time called for sex in media to be in the subtext. Some times the subtext wasn’t that subtle. Trying to say that the wolf/man was just concerned about the mouse/woman because of the whether is just odd. Yeah, the song doesn’t mention sex but it doesn’t say record -40 degree cold either. For all we know it can be a perfectly normal but cold night in Chicago.

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  11. Oh, and while we’re talking about Christmas songs that done in ways that annoy people:

    What about the people who keep trying to make ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ into a happier and happier song? When it not only is a depressing song, it started even more depressing, and was supposed to be _incredibly_ depressing.

    The original song, for example, had the lines:

    Have yourself a merry little Christmas
    It may be your last

    and

    Faithful friends who were dear to us
    Will be near to us no more

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    • See now, this one I agree with you totally. There’s a range of reasonable presentation from “seize the day existentially” to “bleak and wallowing in it”, but chipper and upbeat is …. way off to the side of the song somewhere.

      And yet it keeps happening.

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  12. The elevation of the conversation around the sexual assault and harassment of women — in the workplace and elsewhere — has had me deeply considering my own behavior and attitudes. We’ve spoken elsewhere on the goals of #metoo — both real and perceived — and regardless of whether changing men’s behavior and attitudes is a goal, explicit or otherwise, it does seem like if some men do change their behavior and attitude for the better does arise from this and related acts of courage by women, it seems to me like that is a good thing.

    In recent weeks, I’ve had at least two moments wherein I almost said something — something I assuredly would have said without thinking up until very recently — but paused and said, “Wait a minute… this risks making others — women in particular — feel uncomfortable, threatened, attacked, or otherwise harmed. It doesn’t matter if I want to say it or what I mean by it… I *shouldn’t* say this if it carries that risk. Not here, not to these people, not from my position.” Two moments. Now I’m wondering how many moments are continuing to slip by. Have I just been picking the low hanging fruit? The obviously offensive and problematic? I don’t know. More reflection, more listening, more consideration is in order. Much more.

    In discussing these moments with my girlfriend, she chimed in with, “Of course you can’t say that! You’ll be the next guy on the news.” And she isn’t wrong. A potential consequence of sexually assaulting or harassing women is getting fired, getting sued, getting arrested, getting publicly shamed, getting blacklisted, etc. And I certainly don’t want any of those things to befall me. But that isn’t the point. I don’t think at least. Because whatever risks I assume by engaging in such behavior — and, let’s be clear, I and I alone would be voluntarily assuming those risks because of my own choices — the risks and very real harm I’d be causing to the women around me would be put upon them through no choice of their own, harmful in ways well beyond the consequences I’d face, and far, far, far more likely to befall them then I’d be to realize my own.

    Now, if fear of assuming those consequences motivates men to behave better, that’s probably a net positive overall. But it’s not enough. We men need to change our behaviors and attitudes because we are doing real harm to real people with real, long term consequences. We need to change our behaviors and attitudes because sexually assaulting and harassing women is wrong. And not justified by any desire to crack a joke or lighten the mood or whatever bullshit we often trot out to justify this bad acts.

    Twice. Twice I’ve caught myself. That probably isn’t enough. I need to do better.

    and , whether you choose to respond to this is entirely your call, but at the very least, I hope you accept my apology for my own ill handling of our conversation(s) above. I’m sorry.

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  13. So, assuming that there were very different gender norms in the 40s and to my grandparents it would have been unthinkable that there was anything “rapey” about this song, my question is: are we more aware of sexual assault in the present day (which seems to have some “presentism” but is conceivable) or is sexual assault more frequent now? I’m not sure how a historian would answer that.

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    • I would tend to square the circle with “sexual assault that wasn’t blamed on the woman entirely” is more frequent now.

      But that’s from an oral history point of view, not a proper historical investigation. It’s hard to do proper historical investigations into such matters, precisely because being sexually assaulted generally carries a lot of stigma, and much more then than it does now.

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    • I am pretty much on board with the idea that especially considering 1940’s social mores, the “Mouse” is well aware that the “Wolf” is attempting a seduction and not particularly troubled by the idea.

      M: My maiden aunts mind is vicious
      W: Gosh your lips are delicious
      M: But maybe just a cigarette more
      W: Never such a blizzard before

      See? Wolf is actually kissing Mouse on the lips. Does Mouse push Wolf away? No, Mouse decides to stay for “just a cigarette more.” Doesn’t mean Mouse is down for sex but there’s some degree of intimacy going on here and Mouse sticks around for more of it.

      In fact, I’m pretty much on board with the idea that under 2010’s social mores Mouse is still quite aware of what’s going on here and nevertheless sticks around for more. The “what’s in this drink?” line is troublesome by modern standards but I take the point that in the 1940’s when the song was written, Rohypnol was not exactly a commonly-known, much less readily-available, substance with which a drink might be spiked. Booze is in the drink, a fact of which Mouse is quite aware.

      So to circle back to your question: it defies probability and all we know about human nature that rape and/or not-quite-rape-but-still-sexual-assault is more or less common now than it was back in the 1940’s to any significant degree. Just the same as it also defies human nature that people then had, and today continue to have, consensual, booze-fueled sexual encounters while fretting about the social consequences.

      What has changed is that nowadays, 1) there’s no particular reason why Wolf has to be a “he” and Mouse a “she,” and 2) if Mouse were to give an unequivocal “no,” we’d demand that Wolf back off. But Mouse never does that and instead flirts back and kisses back and has that drink and has that cigarette and by the end of the song, in tight harmony with Wolf, sings “But baby it’s cold outside!” which I read as indicative that yup, they’re going to Do The Deed.

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  14. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that the song portrays something close to the worst kind of sexual-assault-adjacent behavior that men perpetrate on an absolutely regular basis in every city and town in the world, basically every day. (I think the argument that it does is pretty hard to refute.)

    Does it follow that something must be “done” with the song …from the fact that it *portrays* such a scenario? Are we that feeble-minded, that portrayals of abusive situations now need to be banished from the culture? In my view, that it conjures the situation as interesting enough for there to be a song about it, sung from two perspectives, each contributing to the overall presentation of the scenario but each also conveying a different first-person sense of it, suggests that the composer and lyricist were aware that there was something notable enough about this kind of scenario to at least ask some questions about it. And that was in the 1940s.

    It seems to me that, since it’s a damn catchy tune with a good arrangement and interplay of voices, what needs to be done with the song is that station managers (and that’s really who the question of What Is To Be Done must be directed at) should keep playing it, and the rest of us should have honest conversations about both its portrayal of the situation (and we can say if we think that the catchiness of the tune implies endorsement, but others can disagree…), and about the kinds of situations it portrays separate from the portrayal.

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