For the last several Christmases a debate is had as to whether the evergreen “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a relic of a bygone era in which plying women with alcohol in exchange for a romantic physical encounter was totally acceptable. With what we know about rape culture and the advent of the #metoo movement, it’s become a sore point with many culture historians; some say it is indeed an encouragement of such behaviour, others think it was quite progressive for its time as the woman manages to come to her own conclusion and exercised her own autonomy in the end. Others say it’s just a song.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I have taken it upon myself to tear down another standard associated with the holidays, Rogers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.”
Originally in the classic Babes in Arms, “My Funny Valentine” has been described in the past for being progressive in that the male lead assures his love that despite not fitting conventional beauty standards:
“My funny valentine…
Sweet, comic valentine…
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
yet you’re my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak,
are you smart?”
While this may read nicely at first glance, let’s reconsider the context: this is the male basically telling his lover that she’s chubby and stupid in a coy but obvious way. The next verse compounds this:
“But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine
Each day is Valentine’s Day.”
There are several things wrong with this passage. It reads as not only condescending, but possessive and controlling. His affection totally hinges on whether she chooses to change anything about herself. Whereas “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is a playful back-and-forth by an ultimately consenting couple, “My Funny Valentine” is an entirely one sided account of a relationship.
Look, I’m all for destroying conventional beauty standards and women embracing who they are, but “My Funny Valentine” doesn’t do that, try as it might. It serves, instead, as a monument to the toxic, controlling side that permeated male culture in the 1930s and 1940s. Be gone, vile song.