I recently came across the Seattle punk band Childbirth’s second studio album, Women’s Rights. It was set forth in 2015, but resonated with me as if it had come out yesterday. Manifesto-like and assertive, Women’s Rights voices urgent issues in the most catchy, ingenious way possible. Its chaos is contagious and carries a revolution in itself, inciting rebellion with the call to arms on “Let’s Be Bad,” proclaiming, “Let’s be bad / It’s a lady’s right!”
As urgent as the revolution comes across, it radiates a shockingly casual attitude. When Childbirth encourages women to behave “bad,” it means ordering white wines and wearing tight skirts. When we hear about girls acting “nasty” on “Nasty Grrls,” it’s for dipping food in ranch and not wearing bras. When a mom is illustrated as “cool” on “Cool Mom,” the coolness stems from dressing like a slut and buying her daughter cigarettes. The album encompasses miniature rebellions throughout, just in the everyday life of being a woman. In “You’re Not My Real Dad,” patriarchy is refused and retaliated against on a small scale — in a household. Still, while everything appears to be on a micro level, all of these miniscule victories accumulate to the grand revolution that is Women’s Rights. On this resistant anthem, all of the refusals and retaliations are as powerful as any anti-patriarchy rebellions: “No, I don’t want to get you a beer / Stop trying to help me with my homework!”
Reverberating through this revolution is a deep understanding of what it means to be a girl, especially on the most basic level. On “@Julia Shapiro,” the band reminisces on youth, as gossip circulates throughout the song about other girls and their use of bras and tampons and the ways in which that defines them. “I’m just a girl in the world / She thinks she’s hot shit / And I’m over it.” Plenty of people mock girls for this strange culture that permeates pubescence, but Childbirth have no trouble painting this picture for us, expressing no embarrassment when singing, “Well I’m so angry at my mom / Why won’t she just bring me Starbucks?” Then, “Tech Bro” portrays issues that come later in life, when encountering men who speak down to women on the daily. “I’ll let you explain / Feminism to me / Tech bro, tech bro / If I can use your HD TV,” proves the carelessness that Childbirth is all about. While showcasing the common problem of “mansplaining,” Childbirth messes around with it, letting the man do it in exchange for a television. Women are oppressed constantly… we may as well try to benefit from it somehow.
Childbirth doesn’t hesitate to confront LGBTQ+ issues either. “Since When Are You Gay?” lightheartedly plays with cruel reactions that occur when coming out as gay, including, “Oh so you’re gay now too? / Just because being gay is cool,” and “Don’t you know you are pretty enough to have a boyfriend?” The song’s listing parallels the band’s listing in “How Do Girls Even Do It?,” a song off of their debut album It’s A Girl!, which centers on straight people questioning the technicalities of lesbian sex. Childbirth takes on two perspectives in this track — the straight person, asking, “How do you do it? / Do you like to scissor?” and the lesbian woman, uncomfortably replying, “I don’t really feel like talking about it right this second… / Maybe I’ll explain it to you later.” Through this ridiculous, but realistic, dialogue, the band is able to depict the weird ways straight people treat LGBTQ+ people, especially women. “Since When Are You Gay?” taking on the perspective of a straight person reacting to someone’s coming out works in the same fashion. Childbirth is the muckraker of straight people, exposing their vile behaviors toward LGBTQ+ folk.
Women’s Rights defies all expectations, in the world of music and the world of politics. It is very rare that two overlap nowadays, and because it does, it will probably never be mainstream. This isn’t a bad thing; its inclusive, reckless feminism refuses to be commercialized or polished or catered to an audience. Incorporating serious issues into music isn’t easy or palatable to the general public, but Childbirth have mastered their craft as a comedic, careless punk band, in a way that perfectly disregards the listener. You can either love it or hate it; it’s not designed for a specific reaction. However, it can be said that their whimsical protest somehow manages to both assuage and exacerbate the political climate.