Originally published December 9, 2018.
Folks. If you exit from a conversation with me claiming that it’s not worth it because all I want to do is prove I’m more “woke” than you on something you suddenly decide is unimportant, then you’re seriously missing the point, just like calling me an SJW in a pejorative manner misses the point.
Being woke isn’t a victory. Mostly it’s horrifying. And I don’t work at being socially aware to claim superiority. I do it for two reasons:
I do it because the person I’m working on the most is me. None of us is perfect, and as a cis-het-presenting white male, I need to be constantly evaluating myself, discovering my own problematic behaviors, and striving to do better. For a long time I’ve concentrated on moderating how I speak in the SCA; this is just an extension of that.
I also do it because as a cis-het-presenting white male, I consider it my job to be on the front lines, fighting sexism, transpbobia, homophobia, racism, classism, etc, and it’s my job to support minorities of all kinds in their fight as well. I pull aggro. I speak up. I make myself a target. And I do it on purpose.
Personally, I don’t feel that I can choose a type of systemic oppression to fight; I feel that I have to try and eradicate them all. That’s me; I don’t make choices for other people, but suggesting to me that all I’m trying to do is score points on something that’s “not important” doesn’t make me feel any worse than when you call me a social justice warrior. As if that’s a bad thing. All justice is social justice, folks. We are all called to fight for it. I’m proud to say I do.
Now, the point of this post is not to discuss problematic Christmas songs, but I’ll say this: I love the the music of “Baby it’s cold outside”, especially the covers that evoke the big-band heritage it comes from. Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews, belting it out in front of a few dozen horns, some saxaphones and clarinets, and a drummer, and it’s fantastic. I love it. I’m transported.
But only provided I ignore the words. Because there’s only two contexts the lyrics belong in: the historical one, and the modern one.
Historically, it’s about a woman who has to pretend that she’s being coerced into staying at her gentleman friend’s apartment, because in the culture of the time, she’s not allowed to have her own sexual agency. 1944 was not a time when most women could openly choose to sleep with whomever they chose.
And let’s be clear – 1944 isn’t that long ago. My father was alive in 1944. It’s barely been in my lifetime that people generally stopped thinking that husbands were allowed to force their wives to have sex with them.
And modernly, it’s a description of sexual harassment, at best, and rape at worst.
Either way, the woman in this song is subjected to the Patriarchy inflicting harm.
We need to be aware of these problems. We must evaluate such things critically, in our current context, because, well, that’s the context we live in. Why should sexual mores of the 1940s be treated one way, and the Confederate soldier memorials of the Jim Crow era be treated differently?
Because, remember folks – Jim Crow didn’t end till at – least – ten years after this song debuted.
We’re not talking ancient history here. And maybe that’s why it’s so hard.
Read this. It’s important. This kind of behavior didn’t suddenly become problematic. It’s always been a problem.