How was everyone’s holidays? Peaceful and relaxing and surrounded by friends and family, I hope. If you’ll bear with me, this column will be old news by now, but I’d still like to get it out of my system.
Has the pendulum finally swung too far? So far out of the park and over the horizon that we have lost our minds and our focus?
I ask this because of the squabble over a Christmas classic that has pitted the well-meaning against the confused, the righteous against the exasperated, the #MeToo movement against the #EnoughIsEnough contingent. The holiday ado has led to some very unseasonable arguments including one I witnessed at a Christmas party between two friends who were completely convinced of their own differing opinions. It got awkward.
In case you were too busy shopping to notice (lucky you), let me offer a recap of the news: some radio and television stations across the country pulled the plug on the decades old song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You know it — the earworm you keep singing to yourself long after it has stopped playing. I’m humming it now, even as I type and try not to think about it.
It’s a duet in which the man cajoles and pleads with his date to stay, citing inclement weather. Back in the day, the song, which won an Oscar for the 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughters,” was regarded as sexy banter, a musical flirtation. Not so now. This is the era of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Les Moonves. The era of women rising.
When a Cleveland station pulled the song from its holiday rotation, a host called the song “manipulative and wrong.” He went on to note that “in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place.” Other stations soon followed suit. Pretty soon the ban had spread across the entire United States like a pandemic, and Canada wasn’t far behind. I had to look twice when I saw the CBC had joined the fray.
That, however, wasn’t the end of it. Complaints poured in, and the daughter of the song’s composer, Broadway legend Frank Loesser, blamed Bill Cosby for ruining the song. She told ABC News she understood why some women would oppose the lyrics, but “I think it would be good if people looked at the song in the context of the time. It was written in 1944.”
The song was originally composed to be performed by Loesser and his wife, but it turned out to be so catchy that numerous well-known singers picked it up, including Miss Piggy of The Muppets and, more recently, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. Some women have called it a date rape anthem, while others have defended it for empowering women. But all along the debate simmered kind of, sort of, in the background.
No more. Society has changed, grown more aware of a toxic culture that has allowed boys to be boys and forced girls to suffer the consequences. And yet, I ask again, at what point do we cross the boundary of logic into paranoia? How do we determine the degrees between reasonable flirtation and sexual harassment? I ask as a woman, yes, but also as a mother of two boys.
These questions come to mind on the heels of the new realities of the workforce that I read about over the holidays, news reports about how businesses have adjusted to the new awareness of sexual predators in the office. Companies, rattled by the #MeToo movement, have adopted strategies in hopes of avoiding problematic situations between male and female co-workers. They include booking hotels on different floors, limiting one-on-one meetings, and avoiding co-ed dinners.
The result? Gender segregation. I don’t think it was meant that way, but women, still struggling to be heard, still fighting to move up the ranks, still negotiating fair pay and opportunities, find themselves isolated once again.
This isolation is as frustratingly idiotic as the mess over “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” But in hyper-sensitive times – when we fail to see the many nuances of relationships, fail to see, too, the difference between braggadocio and outright sexual harassment – reason, balance and subtlety become collateral damage. The radio stations will soon have nothing left to play if we won’t soon figure it out.