A curious scene will unfold this week at the popular Arlene’s Grocery, the popular Lower East side music venue. Julia Darling, the manager of Arlene’s Grocery, has agreed to stop any man from attending the performance because the band, Bulletproof Stockings, is an all-female Hasidic rock band and leads Dalia Shusterman and Perl Wolfe refuse to perform in front of men for religious reasons.
The Bulletproof Stockings also cover their hair, knees and elbows according to orthodox scripture. The ban name is a reference to the thick dark stockings worn by Orthodox Jewish women.
Notably, in a rather incongruous twist of faith, the women will allow male waiters to see them perform because they are working.
Shusterman, 40, says that Darling was at first “skeptical” about “turning away half the audience” but then decided to do it after women signed up to guarantee the audience.
I would have thought that the problem was not the ticket sales but the idea of discriminating against males. If a male band insisted on excluding women, would the establishment turn away any woman trying to enter? After all, while Hasidic, this is not a religious event and it is not be held at a Jewish facility. It is a rock event in a public business where men will be barred. The women have celebrated the exclusionary rule as the start to allowing more female-only audiences as “becoming a new movement.”
Should bars and facilities start barring the public on the basis of gender to satisfy such religious beliefs? How about non-religious beliefs or racial exclusionary policies? Where does one draw the line in such accommodation? Could for example a group exclude Muslims or Jews or homosexuals?
This is an issue that we previously discussed when Harvard banned men from workout areas to satisfy the demands of Muslim women as well as other accommodations at other universities. Conversely, cities have banned the boy scouts because they exclude gay scout leaders and were thus discriminatory organizations. Would Arlene’s Grocery sponsor a Boy Scout event that excluded gays for religious reasons?
We have also seen private businesses who have been forced not to discriminate against homosexuals such a bakeries, florists, and photographers. I have previously written on the growing collision of free exercise of religion and anti-discrimination laws. Where does one draw the line where a florist cannot bar a homosexual but a grocery can bar males? The inherent conflicts in these cases leaves us without a single cognizable rule.
This is not the first controversy for Arlene’s Grocery. In October 1997 musicians’ boycotted the store for not paying bands. Owner Shayne Doyle is quoted as saying “I have a lot of money invested in sound equipment, I have door people and sound people to pay. How do I get that money back?” Of course, barring an entire gender at the door may not be the brightest business move.
The women insisted in one interview in Israel that, while men could listen to their music and see it on YouTube, they again see no problem with the consistency with their rigid legal views: “The deal is that it’s not a women’s mitzvah not to play. It’s a man’s mitzvah not to listen.”