What To Do About That Rapey Song

This is a post about Christmas songs. And Shel Silverstein. And sex. And good wholesome naughtiness. All, I hope, without the side effect of sermonizing too much. Guess we’ll just have to see how this goes.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, who performed it with his wife at parties, according to Wikipedia. In 1949, it was featured in the movie Neptune’s Daughter starring Esther Williams and Red Skelton. You know this song, of course. It’s a duet, a clever weaving of two monologues: a woman who says she has to leave, and a man who is seducing her to stay.

Lately it’s gained a bit of notoriety. Not because it’s about sex, because that’s actually a recurring theme in winter songs. Let It Snow celebrates the fact that the weather outside is frightful, so good thing we’re inside and together and hey, how about it? Walking in a Winter Wonderland is a little tamer, but even then they’re looking forward to a little necking in front of the fire. Evidently the human response to cold weather is to have sex (which makes sense; at least it’s warm).

But Baby It’s Cold Outside, while pretty much the same theme as Let It Snow, is quite a bit edgier. It’s known as “the date-rape song” thanks to lines such as:

The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)

I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)

I’ve disliked the song for years for that exact reason. It makes me anxious, not cozy.

I’m not alone in this feeling. Seems like we could just let it die a quick death, but it’s hard to kill Christmas songs. Last Christmas by Wham!, anyone? Instead, several people are scrambling around doing damage control.

This article from the Washington Post is an example of one perspective. It maintains that at the time the song was written, it was all about women’s empowerment because a woman staying overnight with her lover could expect to come under fire from society. And that is a point. The woman in the song is obviously reluctant to leave, and keeps pointing out all the people who are going to be scandalized if she doesn’t go.

The problem with this patch-up is twofold:

  1. He never offers to protect her from any of the vicious fallout she’ll receive for staying the night with him.
  2. Lady, please. If you don’t want to go, grow a vagina (as the egalitarian saying goes) and say Yes. Stop saying No if you don’t mean it. That confuses good men. (Men unlike your lover who—if you ask me—will ditch you as soon as the family pressure comes bearing down for him to make you an honest woman.)

Others, finding that explanation insufficient, have decided that the song is a total loss as-is. They’ve rewritten it to illustrate proper sexual consent. One version features lyrics like this:

I really can’t stay (Baby I’m fine with that)
I’ve got to go away (Baby I’m cool with that)

My mother will start to worry (Call her so she knows you’re fine)

I ought to say no no no (You reserve the right to say no)

 

Okay, so I admire the effort… but it’s like drinking flat root beer. Instead of a predatory lover, now you’ve got somebody who:

  1. Doesn’t want her to stay at all but is too nice to say it outright
  2. Is missing all of her flirty hints by earnestly supporting her rights

Either way, the song gets increasingly awkward as it goes. At least in the original song, you’ve got some sizzle and fun.

That’s the problem with sanctifying things. They’re unobjectionable and a good example, but boring. Like characters in kids’ shows, who always make the right choices. Sometimes you’ve just got to be a little naughty for interest.

Shel Silverstein, for example, was a master at writing funny, somewhat macabre, poetry. Kids like them because, well, they’re so wrong.

For instance, Abigail who loved the beautiful pony, but her parents wouldn’t buy it for her. She said she’d die if they didn’t, and they said that nobody ever died from not getting a pony, but guess what? She did die. And her parents were very sorry. The author’s note at the end said, “Show this to your parents if they won’t buy you something you want.”

Or Clarence, who bought new parents. And if your parents nag you or get tired or yell at you, it’s because they’re wearing out and you need to buy new ones too.

Obviously these poems teach a terrible moral. But the kids know it’s wrong and enjoy it.

One reason why the original Baby It’s Cold Outside is (was?) fun is because of the tension of “I must go” and “I want to stay.” It’s naughty.

But that brings us back to why it’s a toxic song for our culture. Even today, sexual consent is widely misunderstood. Several times after Trump’s infamous description of sexual assault, I saw people (men and women both) defend it by saying that women bought Fifty Shades of Grey (the extremely horribly written trilogy about a dominant/submissive sexual relationship), so how can they complain about what Trump said? It’s like people don’t get the difference between consenting sex and sexual assault.

It’s not sex that’s the problem. It’s sex that’s forced on someone who doesn’t want it.

Baby It’s Cold Outside is about someone who wants capitulation, not consent. I don’t trust the man and his dismissive answers to her concerns, his smooth compliments, and his pleas for her not to disappoint him. I’m not convinced he’s going to let her leave if she insists.

Since this song is played over and over every single year to a society that can’t keep sex separated from sexual assault—well, I think it’s a problem. Explaining it away just justifies to all its listeners that its okay for a man to “wear a girl down” (another lyric in the song). Merely rewriting it to “clean it up” kills the thrill.

I see two options:

  1. Rewrite it creatively, so that there’s still tension but not that of a predatory male and a wavering female. Good luck with that.
  2. Just stop playing the dang song already.

And the second option is, really, the best option. Glad we had this discussion.

Now, since it’s cold outside, I think I’ll turn the lights down low and see if my man and I can warm things up. I’m pretty sure he’ll consent.

Speaking of Spiders: Some Marriage Advice

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This past weekend, my husband and I got away for an hours-long date. As we were driving home sometime after midnight, I gazed at the stars over the Blue Ridge Mountains. We talked about spiders.

It was wonderful.

We’d driven two hours, eaten Indian together, enjoyed a two-hour show by my favorite indie band (all hail Carbon Leaf), and were on our way back home. We’d discussed his work, my writing, kids, school stuff, plans for holidays, church obligations, an article I read about teaching boys about sexual consent, the 24-disc Eisenhower biography he just finished listening to, the food we ate, the parts of the show we liked, and the boy named Wayne who was generous enough to ask gawky me to slow dance at my last middle school dance.

We still had an hour of driving time to go. So DJ told me about the radio program he’d listened to about some highly-developed spiders. It was interesting—part of the reason I fell in love with DJ was that he knows something about everything—and while he talked, I looked out the window at Orion and thought how happy I was.

If you’re married with little kids, you might be trying to smile and say how great that is that we could get away for all that time. Meanwhile, you’re lucky to get a couple of hours out every three months or so. Assuming the babysitter plans don’t fall through.

Yeah, don’t bother to be nice. Go ahead and bare your teeth. I know the feeling. We had our first child nine months after we got married, and have never lived close enough to family to have any of them pick up babysitting for us. Our dates for years consisted of hiring a teenage girl, eating out, then driving up and down Rt. 11 until after bedtime so we at least didn’t have to put kids to bed. Weekend getaway? Never done it. A week away? Unheard of.

But now I can see something we did right.

During those closed-in years when we had little kids, we could hardly even finish three sentences without interruption. We kept trying anyway. In among kids and work and spiritual meltdowns, we talked about books we read, thoughts we had, opinions we were chewing on. We’d lie in bed at night, sleepy, and talk about theology. While driving up and down Rt. 11, we’d play each other songs we’d discovered, or relate a funny conversation with a distant friend. We didn’t have time for long, leisurely conversations, but we filled what time we had.

And one day, we didn’t have such little kids anymore. This Friday, we left the house at 4 in the afternoon and didn’t get back till 1 in the morning.* We didn’t have to spend any of that time getting reacquainted. The connection we’d shared before life got so intense—that connection was still alive.

So my point isn’t that to keep your love alive, you need to get away without kids, because that’s not really an option for some of us. My point is to fill up the spaces of busy life with conversation, staying connected, never losing sight of each other.

And maybe some night, you’ll be driving together with your love. Maybe you too will gaze out the window as he talks, and see a shooting star trail down the sky. Meanwhile, he’ll tell you about highly-developed spiders.

And you too will be happy.

*Plan assumes you have generous friends who will pick up pizza for your kids’ supper, and neighbors who are always willing to be on call if necessary.

Earning Enough Grace

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Photo: Danielle Ayers Jones (DanielleAyersJones.com)

That title is supposed to give you whiplash. You can’t earn grace, much less “enough” of it. If you’re not actually sure what else you do with grace, or if you’re trying to find somebody who understands why this is a big deal to you… may I suggest a novel I wrote?

My ebook will be released soon, but meanwhile, you’re welcome to check out The Fellowship. This interview with my friend Danielle discusses what the book is, why I wrote it, and how I made a heavy subject approachable.

Danielle and I met when I was still in deep in my own Fellowship culture. We lived with three other young women for six months. They challenged my ideas, teased me, dragged me into conversations about topics I didn’t think we were supposed to talk about… and mostly, they plain liked me despite myself. That wasn’t the first time I ever experienced grace like that, but it was the first time I really recognized it.

So it was particularly fun, all these years later, for blogger Danielle to interview author Sara.

Read Part One: Earning Enough Grace

Read Part Two: Earning Enough Grace

And linger to browse Danielle’s blog, where she reads, cooks, thinks, homeschools, and takes beautiful pictures.

New Book FAQ

Well, it’s more like a FAQIAPWAM (Frequently Asked Questions I Assume People Would Ask Me). I haven’t had anybody ask me all these questions, so I made some up.

Q. Why did you choose to write short stories?

A. Because I thought they’d be easier than a novel. (Pause for overwrought laughter.)

Q. Do they involve the same characters as in your novel?

A. No, they feature new characters in new settings.

Q. I loved your novel…

A. Thank you!

Q. … but its subject matter is a little heavy. Do you tackle the same issues in your stories?

A. No, the stories are much lighter. Substantial enough to make a good read, but without the difficult moments in my novel.

Q. What are the stories about?

A. They’re about ordinary people in ordinary life, making decisions that affect the outcome of their day—or their whole lives.

Q. So, not to be offensive, but ordinary people aren’t very exciting.

A. I’m not offended. After all, you’re pretty boring. Haha, just joking! The fact is, ordinary people aren’t boring; we’re all a complex mix of good and bad, wise and foolish. These are sympathetic and funny stories about people you feel like you know.

Q. I’m not convinced. Tell me about some of these ordinary people who aren’t boring.

A. Well, there’s McKee and Cheryl, who take a wrong turn in an unfamiliar town and unknowingly leave a very lasting impression. Or there’s Makayla, whose husband Hunter drives a big expensive truck even though all they can afford to live in is a trailer—plus she’s got a few issues from her first marriage that she hasn’t exactly fixed up. And you’ll want to hang out with Paige Parker—wife, stay-at-home mother of four, superspy, music tycoon, and fantasy wizard warrioress. Other stories involve discovering love in a canoe, Uncle Bobby laid out on the porch, and five pizza recipes.

Q. Hm, you’re right, sounds intriguing.

A. I thought you’d think so. For my longtime “knew-me-back-when” readers, the final story has a distinct Tales from the Creekbank flavor. You’ll like it.

Q. Will it be available in print as well as ebook, like your novel is?

A. As an independent author, I pay for everything. So I’m selling it as an ebook first, and will release it in print when funds allow.

Q. When is the release date?

A. I’m still wrapping up details, so for now it’s “November.”

Q. Will this make a good Christmas gift?

A. Absolutely. Amazon allows you to give an ebook as a gift. If you need a different format, I sell those too.

Q. I bet it would make a good birthday gift, too. Or just a friendship gift. Or maybe an inexpensive splurge on myself!

A. It’s like you’re reading my mind!

Q. So what about the dromedaries who can’t behave? What are the titles of the stories?

A. Oh, come on. You know what I’m going to say.

Q. I have to get the book and see for myself, right?

A. Enjoy! (I really think you will.)

New eBook Release

Confession: my announcement actually has nothing to do with criminal camels. I bet you already knew that.

I’m just puzzled dromedaries can’t behave is the mnemonic device I use to remember the titles in my new short story collection.

That’s my real announcement.

I’m launching a new ebook next month.

Six original short stories that will make you laugh, probably won’t make you cry, and will remind you of your own world.

I’ll be posting Frequently Asked Questions to talk more about it. But you’ll definitely want to get a copy, trust me.