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B-Sides: Is She & Him's Gender-Swapped "Baby It's Cold Outside" Less Date Rape-y Than the Original?

Zooey Deschanel and M Ward in a promo shoot for their holiday album. She is wearing a santa hat and he is reading a book.Regardless of what you celebrate, December in the US means hearing holiday music just about everywhere you go. And if you spend your time in gentrified shopping districts or "hip" martini bars (that's where kids hang these days, right?) you're bound to hear a shitload of renditions of "Baby It's Cold Outside." I doubt the sexual assault message of this ever-present holiday jam (about a man trying to get a woman to spend the night at his place against her will, and then maybe drugging her to ensure it happens?) has been lost on anyone reading this. Dubbed the "Christmas Date Rape Song" by Urban Dictionary, "Baby It's Cold Outside"'s sex-predator-y lyrics are no secret. In fact, Frank Loesser's original 1936 version labeled the two singing parts "wolf" and "mouse"—not exactly a casting call for a dream date. (For those of you still not convinced—or distracted by the song's musical charms—review the lyrics here. Especially the "what's in this drink?" section.) On their latest album A Very She & Him Christmas, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward cover the creepy (yet catchy—creetchy?) classic with a twist: Deschanel is the "wolf" to M. Ward's "mouse." Does this make the song any less of a problem? She & Him singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" I'll admit: I want to like "Baby It's Cold Outside." The tune is infectious beyond reason, and if the lyrics weren't so thoroughly "sketchy" (to use Urban Dictionary's word for it), this duet could be kinda fun. Who doesn't want to have a holiday party with their crush (minus the date rape)? Ergo, I really want to like this gender-swapped She & Him rendition. After all, perpetrators of reported acquaintance rape are almost always men, so maybe having a woman sing the predator's part could be subversive instead of offensive? Well, no. While subversive may have been what She & Him were going for with this cover, putting a "new spin" on a song about a possibly drug-filled, boozy night of nonconsensual sexual activity by casting a woman as the would-be rapist still leaves you with a song about a possibly drug-filled, boozy night of nonconsensual sexual activity. Simply put: It's still creepy (and this is coming from someone who loves gender-bendy cover songs way more than your average listener). So, as much as I like hearing Deschanel tell M. Ward "Beautiful, please don't hurry," this is out of my holiday rotation (along with all of the other "Baby It's Cold Outside" covers—yep, even this other Deschanel version). If only America's shopping districts would follow suit. Previously: Hunter Rapper, A New Album from Boris

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Comments

38 comments have been made. Commenting is set to read-only for this post.

What Christmas Tunes Are Really Saying

Interesting! Never had I recognized the patriarchal and violent undertones of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Although I love traditional Christmas tunes, regardless of the ideas they reinforces and messages they send, it's still important to point out what these songs are telling us. So thank you!

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A Very Rapey Christmas

I have the same relationship to this song. The first line is almost of sweet, one person asking the other to stay and cuddle, but then it devolves quickly into the creepy. It's the "Hey, what's in this drink?" line that made me recoil. I never thought it regarded date-rape drugs (though you never know), I thought it was more the wink-wink sentiment of a worldly man serving a naive woman alcohol without her understanding what it is. Which, ultimately, is the same thing. And I agree, having Zooey Deschanel sing thing the "wolf" (excuse me while I shudder) part doesn't make it less creepy.

And really, though I know I'll likely be in the minority on this, isn't Zooey Deschanel creepy enough already?

Different reading

I have a different reading of this song. I think if you look closely it's clear that the woman wants to stay, she's just worried about what other people will think.

I think the lines "Well Maybe just a half a drink more" and "At least I'm gonna say that I tried" strongly imply that she's already made up her mind to stay, she's just being coy. To me, the coyness is reinforced by the way the song is sung.

As for the "What's in this drink?" line, I think it this context it can be read as "Damn boy, this tastes strong!"

Seems to me like this song is about an innocent game of cat and mouse that men and women often play, whether the roles go one way or the other. I can see how it could be read differently, but ultimately I think its a stretch to call it Rapey.

Problematic for a different reason

I agree that the woman in the song is playing coy rather than actually wanting to leave. As a rape survivor, I find this more problematic than the inapt "date rape" allusion. Playing coy reinforces the notion that "no" actually means "yes," which is much more the dynamic I hear in the lyrics of this song. The knowing nod to the mouse's feigned refusals teach listeners (of all genders) that a woman's objections are a mere ploy to get a man under her thumb.

As the above comment suggests, "At least I'm going to say that I tried" is NOT [one hopes] what a woman is thinking when pressured for sex. To suggest this song is about date rape, taking into account that line, would be to suggest that women who are met with unwanted advances concoct some elaborate post hoc rationale instead of trying to stop the unwanted advance ("I might give in, but if anyone asks, I'll say I tried to stop him"). I do not think anyone here is supporting that perspective, but if we carefully review the lyrics as the writer suggests, this line exposes the mouse's game for something much more insidious-- the notion that women themselves do not even know when "no" means "yes."

I can definitely see both.

I was listening to and contemplating this song just this morning. The part that made me wonder whether it's about something more sinister than "playing coy" is "The answer is no." (The version I know doesn't even have the "What's in this drink" line, for which I'm grateful, because, um, WOW.) You're absolutely right, though, Law Feminist: Even if the mouse (gross) wants to have sex and is just worried for her reputation, the song sends a "no means yes" message.

As a side note, I'd never seen that Amanda Hess piece before; it's great. Sadly, there are way more date rape anthems than she names, though I have heard that "Possum Kingdom" is about vampirism rather than rape (could be both)...

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Vampirism, eh? That's a new

Vampirism, eh? That's a new one to me. I had heard, and admittedly from no terribly reliable source, that the song was about Ted Bundy.

I think the worst thing about date rape in popular music is not songs exclusively dedicated to the topic (or to the topic of "convincing" an otherwise unwilling woman to have sex), it's the songs that are not really about date rape but make small, often unnoticed references to it, the kind people sing along to without realizing what they are saying.

The song was written almost a

The song was written almost a hundred years ago... of course we don't care what our "maiden aunts" think now, but back then they did. I think it's a rather lovely story of two people successfully rebelling against the uptight morals of their time and not giving a care... I don't see a single coercive thing in it. Both characters knew what they were doing.

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Zooey

I agree completely on the thinking Zooey Deschanel is creepy. And while I laughed at this song it was more of an awkward laugh then actually thinking it was funny.

I cannot get over the fact that the parts were written for wolf and mouse though. That's sick.

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I can understand the

I can understand the skepticism of the line "hey what's in this drink?" but considering that the song was written in 1936, do you honestly think that they had date rape drugs 75 years ago?

why can't that line be taken innocently? Why does it have to be malicious? I've had men make me drinks before and I've asked what's in them before. Why assume that they were trying to date rape me?

In context

Whitney,

I certainly wasn't assuming that men you know who've made you drinks were trying to rape you. However, the "what's in this drink?" line, when read within the context of the song (a song that depicts a woman—constantly interrupted by a man—who says "the answer is no" and is met with pushy refusals) *could* mean that the woman in the song is being plied with alcohol or drugs in an attempt to get her to spend the night.

Potential drug presence aside (though, for what it's worth, I'd bet that men absolutely did drug and rape women in 1936), I read this duet as problematic. That's open for interpretation, of course, but I do think the line in question needs to be read in context.

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Mickey Finn?

Are we all not familiar with slipping someone a Mickey? That phrase comes into play in 1915, according to the Micky Finn Wikipedia page. Without a doubt, the threat of being offered a drugged drink by someone who wants to take advantage of you would have been on the mind of a 1930s song writer. It's definitely creepy to be written as a playful line sung coyly - a bit of gallows humor about the inevitability of being raped if you go to a man's house alone for a drink? Yikes, dude.

But why assume he wants to

But why assume he wants to drug and rape her? That's being paranoid to me. I'm a survivor of sexual assault, and I certainly don't think that all men want to take advantage of me, drug and rape me when they offer me a drink or want me to spend the night with me. Why assume he's a predator? It's like you're saying that when a man is interested in a woman and he pursues her, he must have ulterior motives if he's being somewhat pushy. It just seems anti-men to me.

Once again, it's about the context of the times in which it was written. Of course a woman is going to be coy, it was the 1930s! It wasn't proper for women to stay the night at a man's house when they were not married. So of course she's going to say no at first!

I think you're being

I think you're being deliberately obtuse, Whitney. This isn't just any song about a man offering a woman a drink and wanting to spend the night with her. It's a song about a woman saying no repeatedly to a man who keeps pushing her to say yes, and the question of her drink being drugged is raised *in the song*, not just inserted by commenters here. It's not about all men or all seductions, it's specifically about the man and the seduction in this song.

Obviously the entire conceit of the song--that women really do want sex but have to turn it down for the sake of their reputations, but they can be convinced if the man is persistent enough--is a function of the period in which it was written. But it was problematic then, and it remains problematic now, when the song is still being performed as written.

Just because *you* and the

Just because *you* and the writers at Bitch here interpret it to be "date rapey" doesn't make it fact, and I am very free to interpret it the other way, and I'm not the only one. You see it as one thing, I see it as the other. That does not mean I'm being "deliberately obtuse." So anyone who disagrees is wrong now? And obtuse?

And no, the question of her drink being drugged is NOT raised in the song, that's how it's being interpreted by you. Are you going to tell me you've never asked someone what's in your drink before? She's not saying it with a tone of apprehension or worry, she's asking like anyone else would ask what's in their drink. You know, like the ingredients? Not like, "omg I think you're going to drug and rape me WHAT'S IN THIS DRINK?????" Its being inserted by the commenters in order to support their argument. Obviously they've been drinking, and he's making them for her (which is what men did back then), so she's naturally curious what kind of drinks they are. I don't see why everything has to be malicious.

Whitney, you're actually

Whitney, you're actually being obtuse. Not anyone who disagrees. Just you.

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In defense of the song...

I've always had a problem with the "date-rape" interpretation of this song, and a while back I read an analysis on Persephone Magazine that really hit the nail on the head: http://persephonemagazine.com/2010/12/listening-while-feminist-in-defens... As such, I think that--while interesting to listen to--this cover is actually worse than the original: the original song could easily be about a woman trying to mentally reconcile her desires with societal expectations of propriety, but the woman's male "mouse" counterpart has no such proprietary standards to reconcile... and thus there really is no other interpretation for this version than the acquaintance-rape-y one that has become the standard.

Room for interpretation

Thanks for that link, Keely! While I still interpret this song as being about a nonconsensual evening (the "mouse" has always sounded so reluctant to me, and the "wolf" is so pushy!) it's interesting to read another take on it. Slay Belle makes a good point that the "mouse" lists external reasons to want to leave (implying that maybe s/he would actually like to stay), though I still think it sounds like that mouse would rather be in a cab on the way home than spending the night at the wolf's house drinking mystery nog.

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This article leaves out one important detail

The song premiered in the film Neptune's Daughter, and was performed once with Ricardo Montalbán as the wolf and Esther Williams as the mouse and another time with Betty Garrett as the wolf and Red Skelton as the mouse. Whether it's date rapey or not, it was introduced as gender-neutral.

Gender neutral?

I've seen that movie. Yes, they did the song twice. But I'd hardly say that the song was presented in a way that is gender neutral.

The first version, where Ricardo Montalban sings with Esther Williams, is played "straight" since it conforms to the expected view that the man must seduce the woman. The second version, where Betty Garrett sings with Red Skelton, is clearly played for laughs. It's not seen as a serious example of seduction. it's seen as a joke because a woman would *never* be so forward as to try to seduce a man. You can't remove the context of societal roles where the man is seen as the seducer and the woman as the one who must be seduced. Just switching roles does not make it gender neutral.

I do agree with some other comments that the song is not so much about "date rape" as it is about reinforcing "rape culture." The ideas it promotes--a man must pursue a woman, a woman must be coy even if she really wants to stay--reinforce the "no means yes" idea which is one of the key parts of rape culture.

But I do appreciate that someone else has seen that old movie and realizes that switching roles in the song is not some new idea. It's definitely been done.

Well, actually it was

Well, actually it was *originally* written by Frank Loesser to be performed with his wife at Hollywood parties in the 1940's. She was apparently quite angry when he sold it to MGM. You are correct, though, that it's first appearance was with woman singing the "wolf" and a man singing the "mouse." And, after watching the clip it seems really, uh, rapey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHYqKEAehPU

Overall, though, I agree with the interpretations that it's meant to be more about a woman who wants to stay but is worried about society's expectations. Especially considering that it was written to be a cute duet between a husband and wife team.

Lost musical is the real story, a winter animal tale - of sorts

Frank Loesser penned this classic in 1944 and performed it as a duet with his wife at a party, signifying to guests that it was getting close to the time they should depart. However Loesser, whose successes with Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying were still years in the future, repurposed the song for an aborted 1946 musical called That Damned Winter, in which the fictional town of Penobscroggin, Maine was confronted with the worst blizzard in 150 years, leading the formerly placid citizens of the picturesque New England hamlet to engage in violence, murder and ritual cannibalism.
In the play, the song was performed in a plaintive, minor key, with the lead begging his love not to leave, lest she freeze to death in the howling wind outside or alternately be absconded with by the nefarious Tucker family next door, the only Penobscroggin family not to appear to suffer from the icy famine, although several of their neighbors had gone missing. She leaves anyway and disappears, with only a shoe to mark her passing, but in the emotional finale returns alive in the spring, having been sheltered during the winter by adorable woodland animals, which then viciously and hungrily attack the corpulent, slow-moving Tuckers.
Despite an impressive book by playwright Thorton Wilder, That Damned Winter lasted only one performance in an out-of-town tryout in Sacramento, at which several descendants of the Donner Party began a riot during intermission. After the debacle, Loesser, disheartened, burned the score to the play, saving only “Baby,” the rights to which he sold to film studio MGM.

Considering that you linked

Considering that you linked the "wolf and mouse" bit to Wikipedia and there is zero reference to back it up, I'm going to be skeptical about that. I can go in there and edit it if I wanted to, so I wouldn't necessarily believe that. I'm kind of like "really Bitch?" for linking to a Wikipedia article that can be edited by anyone.

Wikipedia link

First of all, when it comes to anecdotal information like duet labels on a lyrics sheet, I have no problem linking to a cited, well-rated Wikipedia article (which this one is). However, if you need convincing, here is the page from A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life: A Portrait by His Daughter where the "wolf" and "mouse" parts can be found. (It's the same book that was cited in the Wikipedia article.)

Hope that's helpful!

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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Then why not link directly to

Then why not link directly to that? I could honestly go back right now and edit that Wikipedia article and delete the "wolf and mouse" if I wanted to. And delete that reference. I would have liked to see a more direct link than an editable Wikipedia page (and expected it).

I always took it as a bit empowering.

I thought it was implied pair actually had sex - granted, I'm more used to some of the later versions, like Dean Martin's, where the second drink comment is replaced with "maybe just a cigarette more" and the "après l'amor" connotation that used to have - but I'm not sure that matters. Either way, in the last verse "mouse" sings:

I've got to go home (now)
Say, lend me your comb (how'd that hair get mussed?)
You've really been grand (Ooo... a considerate lover?)
But don't you see
There's bound to be talk tomorrow (already!)
At least there will be plenty implied (imagine if she spent the night!)
I really can't stay (the night)

Basically: "It was fun, but I can't ACTUALLY spend the night." (I'm a "good girl".)

Isn't it possible that "wolf" and "mouse" were a little tongue-in-cheek?

Not saying the idea that she's concerned for her repuation isn't part of patriarchy and that playing coy doesn't give mixed messages on "no meaning no" (although I'd argue that this is teasing within the context of a known relationship where that can have a place), but within the historical context... I'd say it could be read as borderline subversive: "mouse" has her way with the "wolf" and then goes home leaving him still begging her to stay.

I smell intelligence

Thank you Daisy for actually listening to and analysing the song as (usually) sung, as opposed to the lyric sheet (usually censored: "comb" to "coat"). Increasingly it seems songwriters are not allowed to assume the listener can assimilate subtle messages, from the dance of love, to the nature and source of real prejudice (like Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing").

The result is the inane, plasticised, music, inoffensive to lazy minds and without radical messages - or the true eroticism of this lovely little classic- we see everywhere.

Got sympathy with Saddam's comment too (tho' course he spoils it elsewhere):

"Some of you should expend your energy against ACTUAL threats, such as which exist in violent, dysfunctional parts of the world, as opposed to obsessing over the context of a 70 year old song." - including the threat of violence to real women such as yourselves.

That isn't date rapey. To a

That isn't date rapey. To a lot of people, men and women, a big part of being turned on is the game of convincing and being convinced. That's why the 'mouse' gets more to drink, in order to have a reason to stick around long enough to be convinced.
Notice that the mouse is only concerned with what other people would think, not with what the wolf wants to do, meaning that the mouse probably wants it, too.
And who sites urban dictionary as a reference for an article? Only the most professional journalists with the most important talking points, I'm sure.

Uh...

"Notice that the mouse is only concerned with what other people would think, not with what the wolf wants to do, meaning that the mouse probably wants it, too."

So, because no explicit mention is made of not "wanting it," we can freely interpret that the "mouse"/woman character "wants it, too"? You're on dangerous ground, my friend. The "mouse" wants to go home. If someone says, "I want to go home, I really can't stay," that means they want to go home. You seem to be suggesting that the mouse must say, "I do not want to have sexual contact with you" in order to not be expected to engage in sexual contact, and that sexual contact is therefore expected unless clearly denoted as unwanted. It doesn't work that way.

I understand that in particular, real-life situations, a literal transcript does not always tell the whole story, and I understand quite well the flirting game. But the fact is that this is a popular, widely-covered song spreading the message that what someone says is not what they mean. And that can be very problematic.

She only wants to go home

She only wants to go home because she's worried about what others are going to say and think, which she expressly states.

Red Skelton and Betty Grable

Red Skelton and Betty Grable did a reverse version in 1949 that can be found on youtube. it seems less creepy, somehow.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCfnOVmJ_So

Rape-y???

I re-read it and it and the lyrics several times. I think Kelsey Wallace is simply wrong. Sure the song can be read as a bit creepy, but in no way can you read that it's "date rape-y."

Wallace takes "a song about a POSSIBLE drug-filled, boozy night of nonconsensual sexual activity" (my emphasis/her words) and spends the whole article stating why it's about date-rape. Nowhere does she say that Frank Loesser wrote it to perform at a housewarming party with his wife (nor that she was upset that he sold the song)—though Wallace is happy to point out the roles of mouse and wolf—and doesn't support her argument with any of his other lyrics (the man wrote over 700 songs).

Who uses Urban Dictionary as a source? Bing Crosby and Doris Day never performed the song together.

And a Wikipedia article that

And a Wikipedia article that anyone can edit.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

If only this were a traditional Muslim song sang during Ramadan, you all would be screaming that we need to be more tolerant and respectful of "their culture," and "their religion."

Thanks for the laughs, ladies.

Seriously, the song is about a guy who wants his date to stay over, rather than depart and have to endure inclimate weather before finally reaching home.

Why is it inherently assumed that there's some "date-rape" drug in the drink ? Might it be merely a little vodka poured into orange juice ?

Such hysteria ! Landsakes !

If he was planning to RAPE her, he would just do it, rather, than just sitting around politely attempting to persuade her to stay by her own volition.

Some of you should expend your energy against ACTUAL threats, such as which exist in violent, dysfunctional parts of the world, as opposed to obsessing over the context of a 70 year old song.

At the very least, go challenge modern day rap musicians for the misogyny which exists in their culture and songs.

Otherwise, you're all just a bunch of Donna Quixotes, fighting windmills....