I don’t like Christmas music.
(It’s okay, take a minute. I’ll wait for you to stop hyperventilating and/or to pick up your laptop from wherever it landed. I suppose I should have put a “trigger warning” first to prepare you. Sorry about that.)
I don’t like Christmas music because I’m Jewish and my family was observant when I was young, so I don’t have the same personal connection to Christmas that the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population seems to. We celebrated Hanukkah and it was always made very clear to me that trees and Santa and mangers and red and green M&Ms were for other people, not us. Even so, I don’t remember ever being bothered by the onslaught of Christmas when I was a child. I probably didn’t pay much attention to something that I knew didn’t apply to my family, but I also don’t remember Christmas being shoved down everyone’s throats the way it is now.
I don’t like Christmas music because I never had a reason to. When I was growing up, I didn’t know who the Little Drummer Boy was, I figured Rudolph had just used way too many tissues and I thought the Tannenbaums were a family from our synagogue. The only Jesus I knew about was Ivan DeJesus, the former Cubs shortstop who was traded for Ryne Sandberg.1 I had always been taught that the holy nights were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and I thought that Silent Night was just the prayer that all parents made before they went to bed. The only song title that made any sense to me, as a child living in Chicago and then New York, was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
I used to get more upset with the constant associations with Christmas in commercials and practically every show on television when I was a teenager. I tend to believe that I’ve become more patient as I’ve grown towards adulthood. I don’t get as angry about being bombarded with all things Christmas once the clock hits midnight on the first of November (if not earlier). I certainly don’t hit the radio’s “off” switch with quite as much authority anymore. My family visited Disney World during the week before Thanksgiving and, even though it looked like Christmas had vomited all over the Magic Kingdom, I remained fairly relaxed.2 Christmas is the primary holiday for our country’s most prominent religion and, at its heart, Christmas brings joy to millions of people. I’d rather spend my energy creating joy for my family rather than changing my name to Ebenezer Scrooge.
All that being said, one of the songs I mentioned earlier has always struck me as… creepy.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” describes two people who have just spent an evening together. The woman is leaving and the man wishes she wasn’t. The call-and-respond nature of the music would have you believe that the pair are having a conversation but the actual lyrics3 show that, while the man and woman are speaking to each other, the man is not doing much listening.
The first paragraph is fairly tame:
I really can’t stay (Baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go way (Baby, it’s cold outside)
The evening has been (I’ve been hopin’ that you’d drop in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hand, they’re just like ice)
Woman: We’ve had a nice time but it’s late and I have to get home.
Man: I had a nice time too.
We can see the faint signs of trouble in the man’s focus on the temperature outside, even if the he hasn’t said anything too obvious. By the second verse, though, the man is absolutely putting on the pressure.
My mother will start to worry (Hey beautiful, what’s your hurry)
And father will be pacing the floor (Listen to that fireplace roar)
So really, I’d better scurry (Beautiful, please don’t hurry)
Well, maybe just a half a drink more (Put some music on while I pour)
Woman: I have people waiting for me and I’m ready to go.
Man: Let’s see what else I can do to keep you from leaving.
Verse three is more of the same, followed by this exchange in verse four:
I oughtta say no, no, no sir (You mind if I move in closer)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (And what’s the sense in hurting my pride)
I really cant stay (Oh baby, don’t hold out)
Oh, but it’s cold outside.
Woman: I’m very uncomfortable with this arrangement.
Man: Your discomfort is not as important as my desire to have sex.
I won’t go through the entire rest of the song because I’m sure you get the idea by now. Some highlights include the woman asking, “What’s in this drink?” and explicitly saying, “The answer is no” while the man continues to make comments about her looks and his lust. At the end, when she says again, “I really can’t stay,” his response is that she should “get over that old out,” once again invalidating her pleas to be released. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we never find out if she ends up leaving or not.
I’m not bringing this up as some sort of battle in the War on Christmas. As I said, I’m much more interested in just finding ways to enjoy a day off from work with my family than I am in trying to spoil other people’s holiday. But it seems that, too often, people take things as they seem without thinking about any possible deeper implications.4 We don’t consider the potential agendas that lead to the publication of certain articles or the effects that our “opinions” might have on others. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a clear example of our culture’s ongoing dismissal of women’s rights to maintain control over their bodies. No means no, unless you can convince her to say yes (or put something in her drink so she stops answering altogether).
Fortunately, a couple from Minnesota felt similarly uneasy about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and rewrote the song to demonstrate a more appropriate male response to the woman’s lines. The new lyrics emphasize consent as the man gives the woman every opportunity to make her own decisions about how the night should end, even answering her clearly about what is in her drink. From the very first line, when the woman says she can’t stay, his immediate answer is, “Baby, I’m fine with that.” The rest of the song continues in the same vein.
Again, I’m not interested in taking away from other people’s enjoyment of Christmas and the holiday season. Far be it from me to say that I should have any authority over another person’s belief system or the choices they make during this time of year. What I am saying, however, is that we need to be more careful about the messages we are sending our children about consent and their rights to be autonomous where their bodies are concerned. Our daughters need to know how to say no firmly and clearly and to feel comfortable asserting themselves. Our sons need to understand that “no” means “no,” full stop. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. No means no and, for that matter, so does any other answer that isn’t specifically “yes.”
We’re moving in the right direction. Our most recent presidential election results notwithstanding, I’ve been hearing more and more frequently about women being encouraged to speak up for their rights and men who take advantage being held accountable. We’re hardly perfect, but the right steps are being taken. As long as we continue to analyze the messages our culture is sending and think critically about our roles in contributing to those messages, we’ll be able to help our children grow up in a safer world.
1. Sandberg became my favorite Cubs player after Andre Dawson left in free agency. The Phillies often get criticized for trading Sandberg, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career. But, as my father always points out, they wouldn’t have made it to the 1983 World Series without Ivan DeJesus.↩
2. I’ll admit, I had hoped that Trudy and I had a bit more time before having to explain to Eitan about Santa Claus but Disney forced our hands. Oh well.↩
4. See: our current political climate.↩