Whose Meaning? The Debate over “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

person carrying sign that reads "Even my dog knows what no means"

With renewed attention on harassment, sexual assault, and the importance of consent, the classic Christmas song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has generated renewed debate. Incorporating what we know about literary meaning, they are both right and wrong.

Detractors, including some who have convinced radio stations like one in Cleveland to ban the song, have suggested that it is a “rape anthem,” recognizing in the dialogue one partner pressuring the other to spend the night, despite the person continually saying “No.” This failure to take “no” as a final answer renforces, for those opposed to the song, “rape culture.” Some defenders of the song argue that it is a celebration of women’s sexual liberation when viewed in the context of its recording, when social retribution for spending the night with a man would be fierce. (See one early version from the 1949 movie Neptune’s Daughter below, including a gender reversal in the second half.) Continue reading “Whose Meaning? The Debate over “Baby It’s Cold Outside””