I read in the paper recently that the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has come under heavy criticism for what some consider its promotion of sexual harassment. An Internet search reveals that the debate over this song, written in 1944 by Frank Loesser and which publicly debuted in the 1949 film, Neptune’s Daughter garnering an Academy Award nomination, has been raging for several years. (I had been blissfully unaware.) A Salon piece from 2012 goes so far as to ask, “Is ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ a Date Rape Anthem?”
No. No, it is not.
The context for the song in the film has the suave and debonair Ricardo Montalbàn, trying to coax the beautiful Esther Williams to stay with him perhaps for the night or at least well into the evening because “it’s cold outside.” Esther is tempted, but like any self-respecting lady, she is not going to throw away her reputation for one night of . . . how would they have phrased this back then? . . . carnal delight. In fact, she would not risk her reputation on even the suggestion of such an impropriety, and Esther sings her concern about what her mother, father, brother, sister, AND the neighbors would think.
Meanwhile, in the room next door, Betty Garrett is trying to convince Red Skelton to stay a little while longer because, after all, “it’s cold outside.” One could argue that this scene, in which the lady is pursuing the gentleman, is a parody of the wolfish Ricardo Montalbàn’s pursuits. In any case, Ricardo wants Esther and Esther wants Ricardo, but her message to Ricardo, herself, and the audience is “Wantin’ ain’t gettin’” and ultimately, he respects her and the norms of the day. (It occurs to me that perhaps sexual harassment is rampant now, at least among certain segments of the population, because there are no norms for our day, but I digress.) In any case, watch the original clip from the movie below and judge for yourself. And please note that it is NOT a Christmas song!
It’s a good thing the critics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” never listened to “Go Away Little Girl,” in which the singer tells a younger woman that she better leave because she’s “much too hard to resist” and to go away “before I beg you to stay.” The song, originally sung by Steve Lawrence, was a top record in 1963, and was later covered in the 70s by Donny Osmond. It was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and I’m pretty sure that they were not promoting sexual harassment or pedophilia, and of course, the line about “before I beg you to stay” indicates that the girl, young as she might be, has the final say in the matter.
It’s a really good thing, those critics haven’t listened to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap sing “Young Girl.” This chart-topper from 1968 includes the stanza, “Young girl, get out of my mind; my love for you is way out of line. Better run, girl. You’re much too young girl.”
Now that one does seem a bit creepy and I remember thinking so at the age of 11 when the song came out.
I doubt that there is any way to measure this, but I suspect that significantly more girls than boys bought those records. An older man with cash, confidence, and an ability to keep his shirttail tucked is still considered attractive after all. I also suspect that those “young girls” were 14 and the “older man” for whom they pined was a junior in high school. In those days, a guy might flirt and flatter and even push, and girls knew how to parry flirting and flattering and they knew how to push back. Regardless of whatever “moves” we employed, we knew that coercion was never to be one of them. That’s because those days included the ideal of a lady and a gentleman. In those days, shame was real and respect was genuine. In those days, we believed in ideals even when we failed to live up to them. Hopefully, these good things from the old days will be included in the new days to come. If not, we’ll have many more laws and lawsuits, but not an increased regard for the women in our lives or for our neighbors or for ourselves.