Beach Bunny’s Feminist Theology

Sarah Welch-Larson

Like the best punk music, Blame Game is a protest album—although instead of protesting political views, this one protests the double standards held against women. The album focuses specifically on romantic relationships, but these double standards can be found everywhere, from the workplace to the church. Blame Game questions why those attitudes exist in the first place and why their consequences have to fall squarely on the victims instead of the perpetrators. The album isn’t a sermon, but for all its truth-telling, it sure sounds like one.

Beach Bunny is an indie pop-punk band from Chicago. They’ve been releasing EPs regularly for about five years; their debut full-length album, Honeymoon, came out last spring. Now, almost a year later, they’re back with a new EP called Blame Game. In four tight, short songs, the band sharpens their righteously angry viewpoint about sexism in romantic relationships. They see sexism and bro culture—particularly bro culture’s signature carelessness—as the root of relationship troubles and the reason for inequality in relationships between men and women.

Blame Game focuses on sexism in romantic situations, but the reality is that sexism is a problem in just about every aspect of life, including the church. Bible verses and theology have been used to justify treating women as though they are worth less than men—especially interpretations of Ephesians 5:21-33 and Proverbs 31. Feminist and womanist theologians have been challenging these attitudes toward gender for decades. Instead of working from models of inequality, in which some people must submit or defer to others (women to men, people of color to white people, and so on), feminist theology works from a “relational” model. This is defined by Sallie McFague as one where people do “not ‘enter into relations’ with others but find [themselves] in such relationships as the most basic given of existence.” This understanding places people on equal footing with each other because they are already in relationships with each other. This understanding also accounts for sin as a denial of others’ interrelationships and therefore a denial of others’ value and worth within the cosmos.

Beach Bunny’s music deals with the fallout from the denial of interrelationships, although they might not use that language. The titular song, “Blame Game,” understands sexist harm as a cyclical event and calls for a break in the cycle: “Time keeps slipping away / Same routine settles in next Friday,” lyricist and frontwoman Lili Trifilio sings before repeating a litany of lines that are often thrown at women to blame them for their own suffering. (“Sorry my clothes can't keep your hands from grabbing.”) In so doing, the song expresses the frustrations of a woman who has been objectified by others. As Trifilio demands change, she becomes a subject, not an object—a subject capable of having feelings and existing in relationship with others.

Blame Game isn’t a sermon, but for all its truth-telling, it sure sounds like one.

Despite the seriousness of the topics they tackle, Beach Bunny’s aesthetics are bright and energetic. Their album covers feature explosive neons and colorful pastels, searing pinks and deep purples, with all the fire of a sunset. The energy extends to their sound as well—there is no room for slow crooning in Blame Game, because every minute is dedicated to driving guitar riffs, enthusiastic drumming, and above all assertive vocals. This is an album that was made for singing along to while driving fast with the windows down.

Blame Game’s songs are deceptively tight and spare. The words sound simple at first, which allow the songs’ respective messages to be clear on the first listen. There’s no pretension here, only the truth, told plainly, and the truth is that Trifilio is tired of the head-spinning games that come along with romance. (“Sometimes the doubt outweighs the feelings / I’m never sure who I should trust / I’m getting tired of breaking and healing / I’m getting sick of patching myself up.”) But for all their simplicity, the lyrics are precise, both in the way they’re written and in the way Trifilio sings them. Her words are short and staccato, so the meaning isn’t obscured at all.

And just as the wording of each song is precise, so too is the order of each song on the EP. As the album begins, the lyrics express their frustration with the back-and-forth that comes with romantic situations in general. (“I’m tired of dumb boy talk / Of getting close, you say you won’t [but] you do.”) But as the EP moves along, each new song reveals that the problem lies not with love, but with thoughtless and insincere romantic partners (“I’m sick of nice guys / I want someone who actually wears hearts inside their eyes”) and with sexist double standards in society (“Something here’s gotta change / We keep playing the same blame game”).

Blame Game is the kind of EP that makes the listener want to belt the songs out loud and the kind of message that makes them sit up, take notice, and commit to change. Feminist and womanist theologies both envision a world where reconciliation takes place through the restoration of right relationships, not by pretending the sin never happened. Justice is given to those who need it most. As Sallie McFague writes, God’s justice is concerned not with condemnation but with “the positive business of creating with our help a just ecological economy”—a model that ascribes power to God, agency to everyone involved, and justice especially for those sinned against. It’s a model that sings in harmony with Beach Bunny’s music.

Topics: Music