HAVE you heard the good news? Feminists, it’s time to pack up your things, fold away those angry banners and close that app that you were about to post a thread on critiquing the state of the modern patriarchy.

Mark the date in your calendars now, because on November 8 this year, gender inequality will be over. This is the day when John Legend’s new album, A Legendary Christmas: The Deluxe Edition, will be released, featuring an updated version of Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Performed by Legend and Kelly Clarkson, the new version of the song includes lyrics which are now suitable for what various media outlets have described as “the Me Too era”.

The original song, written in 1944 by Frank Loesser and since performed by numerous celebrity duos, has faced criticism in recent years for lyrics which could be seen as undermining the female character’s consent. For example, when the woman sings “say, what’s in this drink?” and the man responds “no cabs to be had out there”, or when she says “I really can’t stay” and he replies “baby, don’t hold out”.

Others have argued that the woman’s protestations – which largely revolve around what her parents, siblings, neighbours and even her “maiden aunt” will think – are a reflection of a time when women were expected to be chaste and well-behaved, and that the song’s implication was that she didn’t sincerely want to leave.

The “drink” lyric has also been defended by Loesser’s daughter Susan, who has said that this was a common phrase used jokingly at the time to suggest that the drink must be strong, as opposed to any more sinister meaning.

The National: Frank LoesserFrank Loesser

As an antidote to all this semantic uncertainty, Legend has penned some new, crystal-clear lyrics along with Natasha Rothwell of the HBO series Insecure.

Now, according to an interview with Legend in Vanity Fair, when Kelly Clarkson asks “What will my friends think ... ”, he will answer “I think they should rejoice”. When she continues “ ... if I have one more drink?”, he’ll reply “it’s your body, and your choice”.

Call me a cynic, hard-hearted, hard to please – I am all of the above – but, whichever way I look at it, that seems to me to be a uniquely ridiculous and cringeworthy piece of songwriting. I’m not sure if it’s because one of the lyricists is traditionally a comedy writer, but this could almost be a parody of what people think feminists expect songs to sound like.

Honestly, it couldn’t be any more on-the-nose if, after singing the lyrics “baby it’s cold outside”, Legend added: “Here’s my hand-knitted pussy hat and my ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-damental Rights’ poncho.”

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Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe it is important to consider the messages being sent by popular songs and pop culture, but is the cause really helped by suggesting that women expect to be coddled and patronised in pursuit of those aims? And isn’t there something distinctly gimmicky about inserting an actual feminist slogan into a Christmas song that was criticised for its gender politics?

To be honest, I’m not even sure whether to see Baby It’s Cold Outside as any more of an obvious example of those questionable ideals than thousands of other songs which could be pointed to, many of which were written far more recently than 1944.

But if it is to be understood as a particularly menacing anthem, I’m doubtful as to what can be achieved by giving it a sensitivity revamp. In fact, if the song is bad enough to merit changing the lyrics, it seems that using its popularity for financial gain isn’t that sensitive at all – sprucing it up with some feminist-friendly refrains isn’t going to change that.

Rather than progressing the conversation on consent and “rape culture” in any meaningful sense, it seems the one goal this song is likely to achieve is raising the blood pressure of the sorts of people who fill their days railing against “political correctness gone mad” and “woke” millennials. While I won’t lose any sleep over that particular outcome, the fact that such a reaction could have been so obviously predicted leaves me feeling even more cynical about the whole endeavour.

In other updates to the song, when Clarkson insists “I’ve gotta go away”, Legend will offer “I can call you a ride”, and when she adds “my mother will start to worry”, he’ll confirm “I’ll call a car and tell ‘em to hurry”. (Personally, I think “tell your mum to get a new hobby” would have been more appropriate, if we’re really serious about this adult woman’s right to choose.) The normalisation of pushing past women’s boundaries, of viewing a lack of consent as a challenge to be overcome, a blurred concept to be debated or a lie to be disbelieved, is and has long been endemic in our culture. Challenging the ways in which those messages have proliferated through mainstream entertainment and media is a serious and important task. My concern is that efforts like Legend’s in this instance, valiant as they may be, tend more towards diluting that seriousness than amplifying it.

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This is a hazard not only of this song but of various other attempts by the entertainment industry to create content suitable for “the Me Too era”. I must emphasise those scare-quotes because I am reticent to allow the movement against sexual harassment and violence to be painted as a new fad which emerged in the last two years — but from a marketer’s perspective, that’s exactly what “Me Too” means. Everything is marketable, including caring about sexual coercion and gender inequality.

This is not to suggest the songwriters in this case don’t actually care about these issues, but the fact that this song can be produced and distributed on a major label means that more factors than the sincerity of the writers have gone into making it the reality that we’re all now pondering over and sharing on social media.

Regardless of motive, getting people talking about consent and healthy relationships is clearly a positive step, but too often I feel that much of the depth and complexity of these conversations is lost in attempts to neatly fit a particular set of ideals into a storyline or, indeed, a song.

It’s as though someone sitting at the top of a big boardroom table somewhere – probably a man – decided that since women are so sensitive “these days”, they better start selling content with the positive, educational messages about equality that the ladies are crying out for.

I can’t speak for all women, but for my part I can say that in asking for better representation, in challenging problematic messaging, I was never actually asking for TV episodes to become Personal and Social Education (PSE) lessons or for songs to become serenades of allyship from men who are definitely feminists and don’t you forget it.

It is undoubtedly the case that pop culture must have a hand in countering, undoing, or at least not replicating harmful attitudes around women, sex and relationships.

The second part of that learning process, which is clearly still a work in progress, is that it is possible to do that with nuance, intelligence and artistry.

There are those who are already doing just that, and I have to believe that both John Legend and Natasha Rothwell have enough talent in them to manage it too. It just so happens that this is not it.

At the end of the day, perhaps the most pressing question is: couldn’t they have just written a new song?