Higher Ground: Baby, no means no

Dec 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Baby, you know this song, performed by the greats from Louis and Ella to Nina to Mariah to Tony Bennett and Michael Bublé. Even Will Farrell took his turn with it.

It's a duet between a man and a woman, originally written as "Wolf" and "Mouse" in 1944, by Frank Loesser. The "Mouse" wants to leave, and the "Wolf" insists she stays. Like a creepy man, he dribbles out pathetic reasons for "Mouse" to stay, and Mouse eventually concedes to "just a half a drink more."

She quickly asks, "What's in this drink?" to which the Wolf replies, "No cabs to be had out there."

He keeps arguing with her, through "no, no, no!"s, and pulls out more pathetic reasons for her to stay, including that she'll be "hurting his pride" if she goes.

"The answer is no!" she says again.

"But baby, it's cold outside."

And then he pleads, "How can you do this thing to me?"

The song was first captured in the 1949 film Neptune's Daughter. In one scene, performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán, the man is obviously, physically forceful as he sings the part of Wolf. What's interesting is that in the same film, the song is also performed by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, with Garrett in the role of Wolf. Both ways, Wolf comes across as predatory.

And even though Mouse's protestations get stronger, and run the gamut of polite society's excuses — concern about gossip, her mother, her father, extended family, and that the man has her under a spell (whatever's in that drink, perhaps?)

She also says she has to go, and that she must go. She says "No."

The song harks back to a time when date rape wasn't yet named, and apparently it was OK to put something in someone else's drink. Or perhaps this playful pressure is what passed for flirtation, or courting.

Perhaps in a former time that's all it was. You know, back in the days when it was requisite for a woman to marry her impregnator no matter the circumstance and suffer in stoic silence as the husband did unthinkable things.

While the song may be a holdover from another time, so are the rest of our holiday classics — yet this is the only one that applies pressure to a woman to do something she doesn't want to do.

Today, we no longer have to live that way, nor celebrate that way of life. Perhaps we can value it as part of our collective American nostalgic past, the same way we laugh at vintage magazine ads with doctors recommending cigarettes, sugar recommended as a diet aid, and men spanking their wives for making a less than perfect cup of coffee.

But we should be aware as we listen each year that it's not OK to spike a gal's drink. And it's never OK to not be clear about what you're pouring or giving to someone else, whether alcohol or other substance. It's downright creepy, and even if a sexual assault does not take place, a mind rape does: Drugging someone without their knowledge and consent is not cool, not part of the holiday spirit, and should be retired to the days when drinking beer was advertised as an appropriate way to help a mother care for her child.

And when a lady says "no," she means "no."