Christmas songs. Love them. Loathe them. Love to hate them. Don’t really care for them until post-second glass of mulled wine when you are brought close to tears by the poignancy of Mistletoe and Wine… Whatever your opinion, Christmas songs are not something we can easily avoid. They are an unquestioned tradition of the festive season and each year we are deluged with the same old songs persuading us to embrace the holiday spirit. I often wonder whether anyone actually thinks about the lyrics to these songs in the midst of all the merriment? It is not until we look abit closer that these classics may actually generate a cause for concern. To argue this case I would like to (re)familiarise you with the song, Baby, its Cold Outside…
This song was written in the 1940’s by Frank Loesser, a duet for him and his wife to sing at family parties. Many versions and updates of this have been seen through the years, perhaps the most notable version to the twenty-something generation is the Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews classic of the 1990’s. While always being aware that Tom Jones made this song rather creepy, my opinion was mainly influenced by the fact that he has a slightly melted-looking face, he sang ‘sex bomb’ and relentlessly wears far-too-tight leather trousers. However, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I reflected upon the actual song, and came to the realisation that the lyrics are somewhat repugnant.
This song is about a woman who is visiting a man in the evening for a few drinks. As it gets late, she tells him that she wishes to leave and go home as she does not want to stay the night. Her decision is met with dismay and resentment by the man, seen with the questions, ‘beautiful what’s your hurry’, before subtly asking her to ‘listen to the fireplace roar’, as a way of persuading her to stay. While at the beginning he appears to be rather miffed that he is going to head to bed alone, as the song progresses his responses grow in intensity. Her continued resistance seems to fuel more sinister responses from him.
Woman: I ought to say no, no, no, sir
Man: Mind if I move a little closer
W: Say, what’s in this drink
M: Oh baby, it’s bad out there
W: At least I’m gonna say that I tried
M: What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I hardly need to elucidate… Does he come on to her even after she repeatedly says no? Has he put something in her drink? Does he care more for his pride than he does for her? To add grounding to these assumptions it is crucial to mention that in the original the man and woman were given the names of ‘wolf’ and ‘mouse’ respectively. If this doesn’t send out gigantic red warning flares, I just don’t know what else would? I shall just go ahead and ask the rather blunt question that this article has been hinting at… can we go as far as to say that these lyrics appear to describe something similar to a date rape?
This reaction may seem rather extreme. This could be so, as duets of this song often take on a much more jovial feel, with characters in role playfully interacting and harmlessly flirting. However, I think to disregard the meanings behind this song entirely is rather foolish. Even if it does not appear to everyone as that extreme, it still shows women and men in a certain light, playing certain roles and projecting certain expectations. It has achieved the status of a seasonal classic without any real questions being asked and I just do not think this is right.
It is important to discuss the more recent updates of this song, how it has changed and adapted to appeal to a wider, younger audience. Perhaps there is recognition of how outdated this song is and an attempt to correct this has been made. The recent version, by She&Him in 2011 is perhaps pivotal in this sense. For example, lead singer Zooey Deschanel sings the traditional male part, and Matthew Ward plays the part of the person who wishes to leave. Does this make it better? I really don’t think it does. Just as it is not ok that a man pressures a woman into staying, it is also not ok that a woman pressures a man. In the spirit of equality the same logic applies, and even though this is not as popularly discussed, this still identifies with similar concepts of coercion, a lack of respect, even deceit? Even with this folky quirky revamp, I do not think that this song has been redeemed. Is it just me?
Analysing this song does make one question what we are actually listening to in the broader scheme of Christmas-related things. Is it over-sensitive of me to see ‘Santa Baby’ as an illustration of the way women can use their sexuality to get what they desire? Unfortunately, in this song, as in this darned society, material wealth is desirous, and this equates to happiness. Is it then hypocritical of me to love Fairytale of New York, a song that rallies gender-related insults between two former lovers, the most obvious being ‘you’re an old slut on junk’ with a response of ‘you cheap lousy faggot’?
While over-analysing practically all situations is an annoying tendency of mine, (please don’t tell me it is a ‘girl’ trait though) I think I have raised a few pertinent issues. For example, the right that women and men have to make their own decisions without challenge, and the respect that women and men should have for one another with regards to consent. Tactfully ignoring these issues, twisting them, or dismissing them purely because they are situated in a merry song is just not the answer.
I am not suggesting that we boycott Christmas songs as this would be a rather sad state of affairs. Perhaps what I am trying to say is that we should be more aware of what we are listening to. Taking a moment to think about this is important; how does the song display the roles of women and men? Does this song flag up any issues that should be addressed? If we do this then maybe songs that send such terrible messages will be met with the criticism they deserve.
On a lighter note, it is probably best to remind ourselves that some songs, especially around Christmas (and Eurovision) don’t actually mean anything at all, and reading into the lyrics would simply reaffirm this. For example, the lyrics of ‘I touch your face while you are sleeping’ in Stay Another Day are pretty unfortunate, but honestly I think they are rather innocent. It has to be said though, that this specific argument is quite possibly corrupted by the pity I feel for the members of the band East 17. One must feel sorry for four guys whose moment of fame captured them in tartan baker boy hats. Oh, I digress.
So, in light of this discussion, when Baby it’s Cold Outside comes on the radio, perhaps you might casually change the song. This won’t change opinions, it might not really matter at all. However, a firm belief of mine is that awareness is the first step to influencing peoples decision, making them think about their position on things. So, this small act might actually help a political soul, such as yourself or mine during the festive season. Perhaps then you and I can happily Step into Christmas.