Predation is not “romantic”

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Yeah I’m going to be that person. It’s the time of the year again when we all must unfortunately endure a Christmas anthem that normalizes relationship coercion. Though heralded as a romantic duet by some, there is nothing romantic about “Baby It’s Cold Outside” after understanding its implications. One only has to read or listen to the lyrics to understand its deeply problematic implications. Throughout the song, the man singing continues to pressure and coerce the woman, who is just trying to leave and return home after spending an evening together. Under the guise of the excuse “it’s cold outside” the man continues to counter the woman’s every excuse to leave.

However, I believe the song’s issues extend further than a misogynist refusal to listen to and respect the desires of women, into coercion and force. What on Eearth is meant when the woman asks “Say what’s in this drink?” Even if it isn’t meant to imply that the man in effect drugged her, immediately after she asks this question, she breaks her pattern of excuses to state, “I wish I knew how to break this spell.” This sounds very suspicious to me. Regardless of whether or not you believe his intentions are to initiate physical interaction with her, the song unarguably depicts a man refusing to take the choice of a woman seriously.

If the lyrics aren’t enough to convince you, let’s examine the history of the song. A little known fact about this Christmas carol is that the original 1944 sheet music has the male part labeled as “wolf” and the female part labeled as “mouse.” Talk about a predator-prey type of relationship. During the duet in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, the woman continues to attempt to escape, and the man touches the woman continuously, attempts to kiss her while holding her down, hands her the drink, and emotionally manipulates her, all in an attempt to get her to stay.

While this could be chalked up to “bad directing” it speaks volumes that the song so fluidly works with such a scene. In an attempt at humor, the movie then switches gender roles in the duet with two different characters, and it’s still pretty disturbing, with the man frantically trying to avoid the woman’s attempts to become physical with him. The scene ends with him looking wide eyed, with the woman on top of him, and her switching the lights off. If you think I’m exaggerating please watch it.

In an era in which we are finally beginning to recognize the frequency of sexual harassment, this song seems to perpetuate the idea that at best it is okay to question personal choices of women, and at worst attempt to coerce them. I’m sure this article might be met with the eye-roll, “feminists ruin everything” or “leave my favorite Christmas song alone.” If that’s your reaction, maybe you’re not used to continuously being questioned and coerced by men enough to be able to recognize the all too unfortunate reality presented in this song.