(Screen shot from the first film interpretation of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” in “Neptune’s Daughter,” 1949)
The “Courtship Script” is a set of assumptions–with a long history and widespread social acceptance–about how heterosexual men and women go from being strangers, to lovers and/or long-term romantic partners.
In its most basic and caricatured form, the Courtship Script goes something like this: Boy meets girl. Boy desires girl. Boy chases girl. Girl may or may not desire boy back, but either way, she rejects his advances, and “plays hard to get.” Boy persists in hot pursuit, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Eventually, girl gives in to his devotion, submits to his penetrating desire, and surrenders to the love/sex she actually wanted all along.
There’s no question that many men and women find some version of this basic Script “hot” and “romantic.” There’s also no question that it flies in the face of the new standards of consent—sometimes called “yes means yes” or “affirmative consent”—that are fast becoming consensus on the liberal side of the political spectrum.
What happens when a newly-evolving standard of consent flatly contradicts widely-held notions of romance and eroticism? Do we de-prioritize romance, sexual tension, seduction and eroticism (which I refer to loosely as “Eros”) in the name of safety? Or do we develop new notions of Eros that fit with our evolving standards of emotionally-safe, non-coercive sex? And what do we do about the fact that, for thousands of years, it was precisely the unsafety of Eros–its adventure, forbidden temptation, wildness, unpredictability, tension, and transgression–that made it so damn hot?
I don’t believe there are easy answers to any of these questions. I do believe, however, it’s crucial that we start discussing them more widely.
There is perhaps no better entryway to understanding the Courtship Script, and the problems with it from a consent perspective, than by examining the annual controversy that occurs—right around this time of year—over the holiday classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser in 1944.