In Defence of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

Christmas is my favourite time of year, no question. The cold, the food, the presents…the music. But there is one song that dominates the radio waves by its absence and the thought pieces by its presence – Frank Loesser’s ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside.’ This year, in what is being heralded as a ‘post #MeToo’ era, the song was banned by several US radio stations. Glenn Anderson, a host of the radio station Star 102, blogged that the song was ‘manipulative and wrong.’ Other critics of the song argue that it pushes the boundaries of consent, that it is outdated and that it is unfit for a 2018 Christmas.

The song, written by Frank Loesser in 1944, is a call-and-response duet written for him and his wife to bid farewell to their guests at a housewarming party. But as awareness of rape culture and toxic masculinity have developed, so too have critiques of the song as an ‘ode to statutory rape.’ The general gist of these criticisms is that the song essentially describes a man getting a woman progressively more drunk and coercing her to stay the night rather than return home, under the pretence that ‘baby, its cold outside.’

However, although it is certainly true that much of the time, context is a weak defence – 1970s television stars spring to mind here – it is relevant regarding some of the song’s more controversial lyrics. The oft cited ‘say what’s in this drink’ phrase was common in 1940s and 50s popular literature and cinema, often after a character had accidentally revealed a truth or secret. Could it still be a reference to drink spiking? Yes, obviously. But the audience at the time would have been unlikely to make this connection, and I have definitely uttered the words ‘what have you put in this?’ after a friend has mixed me a particularly strong drink.

The only singer who suggests a drink, or a cigarette, is the woman, and her concern is predominantly with the suspicions of relatives and neighbours if she were to stay over at a man’s house. The overwhelming image is a women trapped, not by her lover’s advances, but by the gendered constraints placed on her by society. The idea that she might be seen in the company of a young man and the rumours that might swirl around her if, god forbid, they committed the sin of sex before marriage, would be the ‘talk tomorrow.’ If we are to be outraged by anything, it should be the scandal and debasement female singer wold face in comparison with the oblivious, carefree approach the male singer is granted in his sexuality and flirtations.

The song is outdated, not because it encourages sexual violence, date-rape or coercion, but because it is an explicit demonstration of recent history’s gender inequality. We cannot rewrite history for modern times and simply ignore the oppressions that still exist in society. ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ should be treated as many other songs from the past are treated – as a cracking tune that can provide a insight into the era it represents. Projecting modern sensibilities onto historical events is useful and can highlight flaws and characteristics of historical periods, but it should not necessarily lead to the erasure of a song that at most highlights the gender inequalities that still exist to this day.

If we want to stamp out rape culture, we could start by eradicating the victim blaming of the lawyer who used a victim’s underwear to justify the actions of her alleged attacker. We could teach boys that they are not entitled to girls’ bodies, and we could actively investigate a judge who issues fines and probation rather than prison sentences to rapists. But we can do all this whilst enjoying a festive song to remind us of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

Testosterzone

My gym is a safari of body types. There are young bodies, old bodies, lean bodies, plump bodies, sweaty bodies, hairy bodies. There are bodies lifting barbells, bodies bent over the water fountain, bodies on the running track. I know that some gyms seem to only cater for the lithe and muscular, but my gym is a true hodgepodge – I have seen kids as young as four swinging on bars whilst their parent pumps out another set, and there is an elderly gentlemen with abs of steel and hair to match who is in almost every morning. But this collection of sweating, grunting, heaving bodies is a male safari, and it is a wilderness where the rarest creature is a woman.

It is not that a woman never enters the melee. Often they can be seen in their natural habitat, the treadmill (sorry, I’ve stretched the metaphor far enough)  or even grinding out a long, painful slog on the stepper. But on weight machines, squat racks and benches, women are a rarity. I don’t have access to the membership statistics of my gym, but from purely anecdotal evidence I am often the only woman in the weights section. I am hyper-aware of my femaleness when I enter; often I am the smallest person there, lifting the lightest weights, surrounded by men slapping each other on the back and dropping their weights with a grunt and a clang. I don’t begrudge these men their bromances or their glances in the mirror – I have never been sexually harassed in the gym, and most keep themselves to themselves, churning out their sets and respecting general gym etiquette. But it is not uncommon for women to experience sexism in the gym – between 2013 and 2016, the Everyday Sexism Project received 984 testimonies from women writing about their experiences of sexism, harassment and assault in the gym. I have a friend who has been ogled so often for so long by the man next to her that she now only goes to the gym with a friend; another who was asked if she was lost when she sat down on the bench next to a group of teenager boys.

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Photo creds – my long suffering sister

These cases of sexism are not the only reason women do not venture into the weights section. In the work place, a lack of female presence can be attributed to many factors, a crucial one being unconscious (or conscious) bias during processes such as interviews. All that is needed to enter a gym is membership – the gatekeepers have little power. But society genders exercise; there is still a vague but powerful notion that weights make you ‘bulky’, and are therefore a male domain, whilst cardiovascular exercise is the way to lose weight and is therefore an acceptable form of exercise for women. Although instagram stars such as Grace Beverley, Nikki Blackletter and Alice Liveing are encouraging more women to brave the weights section, in reality there is still a warped perception of how different exercises affect your body. Not only this, but the way in which an exercise is perceived to change your body means that it can be categorised as male of female, rather than simply good for you. There is no reason why an overweight man cannot use a treadmill to improve his cardiovascular fitness, and there should be no reason why a woman who wants to be stronger shouldn’t use dumbbells to do so. For those who are still concerned that weights will make you ‘manly’ – a tricky word in itself – women simply don’t have enough testosterone for this to occur. Will your muscles grow? Yes. Will you feel stronger? Yes. Will you look more ‘toned’? Yes, possibly. But you will not end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger (and neither will most men).

The combination of a reluctance on the part of women to enter the weights section and cases of sexism mean that women who do lift weights are often in a minority of one. To look around and see only men bigger, stronger and more numerous than you heightens anxiety, makes you hyperaware and triggers something akin to a survival instinct. This is not a conscious reaction, nor is it the fault of the surrounding men, but it is nevertheless uncomfortable, as though you have walked into a meeting and silence has immediately fallen; you don’t know they were talking about you, but the nagging paranoia and tension remains.

I will continue going into the gym and lifting weights. I feel empowered, it is cathartic and I enjoy it. But I will also continue to wear headphones, to avoid benches next to large groups of men and to feel it is not my place. When the only other woman you see is in the mirror it is difficult not to feel like this, but it is my place, it is any woman’s place and I will continue to try to make it so.