Santa Baby, Santa Buddy: Stereotypes in Christmas Music


First let me say, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I took final exams (finishing my first semester of college!!), helped host a fancy party, traveled home, and promptly began a strict and thorough house cleaning regime! But I do apologize for my abrupt and lengthy absence. I will make up for it with lots of thought-provoking and interesting reads. …I hope.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of Christmas music, and I’ve been listening to my favorite playlists pretty non-stop for about a week now. But as with everything, I try to be aware of the lyrics I am singing along to, what they  mean, and how I am affected by them. Feminist Frequency, a sassy and articulate YouTube activist, did a video a few years back on the top five creepy and/or sexist Christmas songs. Her top five?

1. Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Well, right off the bat I can agree strongly with this one. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is downright creepy, sexist, and stereotypical. Triple threat! The lyrics shove men and women into a stereotypical cat and mouse role-play, where men are sex-hungry, self-centered, and insistent and women are hesitant, second-guessing, and, well, lamely protesting. It’s the whole “no doesn’t really mean no” scenario men like to toss around. It might be romantic if it wasn’t so blatantly disrespectful! There was clearly no consent in this situation.

2. Santa Baby. We’ll get to this one later.

3. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Agreed. The line about the toys is irritating and is a theme found in several other Christmas songs:

A pair of hop-along boots and a pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben. Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk is the hope of Janice and Jen.

These songs prescribe certain toys for girls and boys—weapons, sports equipment, and building tools for boys and talking dolls for girls. “Santa Clause’s Party” includes lyrics like ‘there’s a baseball bat for Johnny, a talking doll for Jill,‘ and “Up On The House Top” has whole verses devoted to gender-stereotyped toys. Again, believe it or not, there’s a talking doll for the girl. Blehh.

4. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause—eh. Whatever. While some people may be uncomfortable with the idea, it doesn’t offend me. Whether or not Mommy is kissing Daddy dressed like Santa or Santa himself, it doesn’t really further any stereotype, nor is it sexist. There aren’t really enough lyrics in the song to support any theory of sexism. Hell, the kid could have been dreaming!

5. All I Want For Christmas Is You. This is a complete stretch. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is not inherently sexist, creepy, or gender stereotyped in any way. Her reason is that it advances the “all women need is a man” myth, except there is no suggestion of sex or gender anywhere in the song. Just because it is most typically sung by a woman does not mean all she wants is a man—it means all she wants is love.

She adds that when male singers like Michael Buble or Justin Bieber sing this song, it can sound creepy or stalkerish, but unlike “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” where the interaction between the two singers proves the situation is sketchy, reading the lyrics differently when a man sings the song is a sexist interpretation. To assume that a man singing “all I want for Christmas is you” is a stalker is to support a stereotype unsupported by the lyrics, just like assuming women only want a man is supporting a stereotype unsupported by the lyrics. If you listen to it the way it is written, this song actually transcends stereotypes and sexism in support of love. Yay!

And that brings us back to “Santa Baby.” Who doesn’t love it? It is jazzy, catchy, cute, and deadly. There is a great shoo-bop beat, but the lyrics are sexist and stereotypical, with the woman not only using her sexuality to get what she wants, but acting superficial and materialistic to an exaggerated extreme. Gold diggers. Yuck. What makes it sexist is that only women sing it. What, men can’t be materialistic and conniving too?

Surprisingly, yesterday I heard a version of “Santa Baby” sung by Michael Buble. My initial instinct was one of satisfaction and joy. Yes! A man is singing this song stereo-typically sung by only women, thereby making it less sexist. That was short-lived though. He made some key changes to the lyrics to avoid sounding gay, like calling Santa “buddy,’ ‘pally,’ ‘dude,’ and ‘poppy’ instead of ‘baby’ or ‘dear.’ He also changed several things on the Christmas wish list, stereo-typing the song even further.

  • “Sable” became “Rolex.” (Sable is a fancy fur coat, Rolex is a fancy watch.)
  • “Light” blue became “Steel” blue. Whatever that does. It’s a man’s blue now. A strong blue. (Oh, and also, an upgrade from 64 convertible to 65. Only the latest technology for Michael.)
  • “A ring” became “Cha-ching.” (What, men don’t wear rings? It doesn’t haaaave to be a marriage proposal.)
  • “A duplex and checks” became “Cannucks tix, for kicks.” (Oh no, nothing domestic for the strong man, just sports tickets.)
  • “Some decorations bought at Tiffany” are now bought at “Mercedes.” NO JEWELRY FOR THE MAN, COME ON.

Listen to the songs yourself and tell me what you think! Does Michael improve the song in terms of sexism or make it worse?


2 responses to “Santa Baby, Santa Buddy: Stereotypes in Christmas Music

  1. The popularity of this song in general is a sign that our society is still sexist. The 1953 lyrics of “Santa Baby” are apparently still relevant enough to be sung with frequency by female artists. The fact that the song must be changed for a male artist to sing it reinforces the negative stereotypes of the original lyrics. Yet the changes made to the lyrics in Buble’s version do not make them less shallow, less materialistic or less problematic. They merely customize shallow materialism for a very narrow definition of “men.” Sigh.

  2. I like the song. For the reasons you mention: jazzy, catchy, cute….. The sexiness of the song is unusual for a Christmas tune and that makes it fun for those of us who don’t usually go around singing sexy songs (that perhaps gives a hint to my generation.) Not only does this song exude sexiness but it also draws attention to the “wants” many people have (e.g. who doesn’t want to win the lottery?) but don’t feel justified in wanting. Never mind actually asking for them.
    This brings me to another point. One of the wonderful things about Christmas for little children is that they can ask for what they want rather unabashedly. To write a letter to Santa Claus listing “things” a child wants is an annual tradition. The commercials and movies where Santa opens cards and letters from children asking for everything from crayons to a bb gun makes Santa chuckle. Because Santa knows children love toys and Santa delights in making children happy. Children receive their toys from Santa on Christmas morning and it’s a completely free gift with absolutely no strings attached. This makes these gifts even more delightful.
    So, in a way, the song is a letter to Santa where the adult lists “things” an adult would have on their wish list. The person does not wish for world peace or eternal love because Santa doesn’t provide those things. In “the Preacher’s Wife” Whitney Houston is clear that Santa doesn’t bring those (a brother) kinds of gifts. The only examples of Santa providing something other than toys is in a few movies: the movie with Whoopie Goldberg where Santa brings her family back together, “The Miracle On 34th Street” where he actually finds the house for Susie. ( But, of course, her parents actually buy it.)

    Traditionally most Santa wish lists are materialistic. So why shoot down this song for being just that? I had to admit that the sexist bit brought to light by the Michael Buble version is a bit troubling. I did feel annoyed when some of the lyrics were changed to be more “masculine” unnecessarily. Men do wear fur coats and jewelry. A man could certainly be happy with “a duplex and checks”. The whole sports event ticket thing is obnoxious. And the idea that a “light blue” car needs to become a “steel blue” car because light blue is whimpy is sexist.

    But I have to admit, it sounds better. So perhaps I am sexist. Sensitive guys who like pastels are a welcome retreat from machismo. But Michael Buble’s strong, chiseled voice makes “steel blue” sound positively dreamy. By the same token, that voice could make fur coats and jewelry sound masculine and sexy.

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