Discussing and understanding rape culture is relatively new to me; it’s mostly in just the last few years, and largely thanks to my bloggy feminist comrades, that I’ve come to realize that societal norms contribute to the romanticization or normalization of rape. This new awareness has led me to spot evidence of rape culture in places I don’t expect (including, sometimes, even feminist blogs! Ahem).
For example, take the holiday song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Two years ago, I set up a Pandora holiday station on my office computer to get myself in the Christmas mood. While I worked quietly at my desk, familiar songs came through my tiny computer speakers. When this song came on, I noticed how blatantly date-rapey (not a real word) it was. And I was kind of horrified.
I’m not sure why I only then noticed it for the first time. Maybe it was my newly-strengthened ideas about the treatment of women in our culture. Maybe it was the fact that I was hearing it in my cubicle, which was a sensory deprivation chamber compared to the gatherings and parties at which I was used to hearing this song. Whatever it was, it hit me hard, and it still hits me, and I haven’t been able to enjoy that song the same way since.
Perhaps, like me, you often conflate this song with its sweeter, cozier, gender-neutral cousin, “Let It Snow.” That song basically says: “It’s snowing out; let’s pop popcorn and make out by the fireplace. Then I’ll go home.” “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” on the other hand, is about a woman who is trying to leave a man’s place, but he coerces her into staying by exaggerating the weather outside, by creepily complimenting her, and as a last ditch effort, warns her she might die if she leaves his house. Not to mention that the structure of the song is that each bar starts with her objections, followed by him interrupting her.
Just so you don’t think I’m crazy, take a closer look at the song. A full set of lyrics can be found online, but I’ll pull out the quotes that really jumped out at me that day.
Say, what’s in this drink?
The answer is “no”
My mother will start to worry/my father will be pacing the floor
At least I’m gonna say that I tried
Mind if I move a little closer?
What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
Your lips look so delicious
How can you do this thing to me
What if you caught pneumonia and died
My first thought was that I had “ruined” the song for myself. It’s the same feeling I had when, during my freshman Psychology 101 class, my professor told us about the social-psychological concern that Barbie dolls were harmful to little girls. At first I was a little offended. But I had a Barbie! Barbies were fun and I turned out fine. There’s that initial resistance when you’re forced to think critically about something you once enjoyed.
But there are two considerations: one is that I haven’t ruined anything. Those things were already problematic, and were from the start; I didn’t make them that way. I’ve only recognized them for what they are (and always were). Second is that any positive memories I have of something from before I understood what it meant don’t have to be seen as tainted. The hours I spent with happily playing make-believe with some stupid dolls were still good times. Just like how any time I spent with family, or even by myself, in front of the Christmas tree while “Baby It’s Cold Outside” played in the background were still nice, cozy moments. I can just look back on them now with a greater understanding, even if it’s not a good one.