As anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world, it’s unexpected to see a Chasidic women’s indie band being covered on every news station in the NY tri-state area. Perl Wolfe and Dalia Shusterman make up the band Bulletproof Stockings, which performs music for all women, by women, is making men feel excluded all over the globe. When Dalia and Perl met, it wasn’t over bonding about finding husbands or the perfect sheitel. It was about making music without alienating their beliefs. Since forming the band in 2011, they’ve created a strong community of women, both religious and secular. What’s really causing a stir about their music is not that women are singing, but that their audience is preferred to be women-only. On August 7th, their Manhattan show at Arlene’s Grocery was one of the most talked about music events of the week.
I was thrilled when the duo agreed to speak with me about finding pitch in a community that normally doesn’t have female musicians. For women everywhere, they’re living proof that women can go out into the world and succeed, and that it’s a man’s duty to respect that. Even so, their project isn’t entirely focused on religion. While their tunes do have personal meaning that reflects their beliefs, it’s important to note that their modesty doesn’t effect how totally and awesomely punk their mission is. As Perl and Dalia put it, their music “is for all women, regardless of sexual orientation, religious affiliation, race, or interest. You just have to be a girl, and into what we’re doing… as long as you’re a women and you want to have a good time, and want to be a part of the sisterhood.” Their goal is to give women a safe space in a rock ‘n roll setting, and that’s something all women who have ever wanted to go to a show untouched and unbothered can really admire and appreciate.
Most Chasidic communities don’t have much exposure to pop culture. How did both of you start listening to indie music?
Perl: My parents were into us being cultured, so we were not as strict. We had a television. I went to the movies with my family, we listened to classical music and some oldies. I wasn’t religious for most of my teens. I listen to a lot of secular music. There were times when I was in high school and they would make it more strict, for me to get along in my school.
Dalia: Doing it [music] in this way is the best because I’m able to marry both worlds. Once I became religious, I would think “What in the world…,” I would daven [pray,] and think “what am I supposed to do with all this music?” HaShem kept putting me on stages. Thank g-d I was a wife and I became a mother. I was definitely busy with great things, but I still had this music. [Bulletproof Stockings] is the miracles of miracles.
Perl: No. There are women who make music, but not in the same way or capacity. None of it [their music] is crossover. They’re more folk. The lyrics tend to be more overtly religious. Some of them we’ve put on for the first time.
Dalia: We’re able to make a platform for other women to get out.
The mitzvah of Kol Isha is what motivates you to play shows strictly for women only. How do you feel about men listening to your recorded music?
Perl: It’s not an issue at all. It’s not on the women at all, according to Halacha (Jewish law). If a guy had to listen to it, he’d have to leave. It’s not on us. We’re allowed to make a living. We’ve chosen to do this women-only thing because we see, through being Frum (religious,) we see the value in women having time with other women. It’s not to say men and women can’t socialize, but it’s not something our community does casually. We’re not trying to discriminate against men, as much as we’re trying to give other women the ability to experience empowering women in our environment.
Did you feel that shutting down Arlene’s Grocery to men was simply for religious reasons or was it a call for sisterhood?
Dalia: We didn’t put any title or signs. People who know how to operate just understood. and they respected. We were worried, for monetary reasons. We really made the case. we were going to bring the women. Thank g-d, they came. They packed the room. Everyone was nicer. No one is battling with each other to prove how “Mate-able” they were. I’m assuming women are most relaxed when together [with other women]. It was just women hanging out and having fun. A total girl party. I heard one of the audience members say, “yeah, little girls club. It’s cute. I like it.” It was universal sisterhood.
Did you expect such a huge social impact?
Perl: For women, we’re not surprised. We understand how empowering it is. This [The Arlene’s Grocery show] was a very diverse crowd, which was good. Women react very strongly because of the rock music aspect and [we gave them the space] to be able to dance and release that energy. As far as media, we were hoping we’d get to sell out. We had no idea the magnitude of this. During rehearsal, we couldn’t even look at our phones anymore. It was non-stop notifications. Wall Street Journal released a tsunami of press.
Do either of you identify as feminist and what does that mean for you, especially as observant Jewish women?
Dalia: I don’t know if we even need the title. It occurs in Judaism. Women are seen as leaders. It’s in the way we run our households. There is no question what women bring to the table. There is also the notion that social change, or the meshiach, [messiah] is going to come through the women.
Perl: What we’re working towards, it’s going to be through the women. I know a lot of people were assuming we were doing it this way because of something we were against. People were arguing both, that we were being kept down by men and that we should apologize to the men. For us, it’s not about having to prove anything. We’re women. Let’s embrace that. We’re naturally super cool. This is casual for us. Find a way to use that and make your mark in the world.
Dalia: Secular society wants to blur whatever lines they can. Why blur them? Celebrate what distinguishes you from everyone else. There is no need to try to fit a mold. This is not an amorphous. There is a trajectory. This is just a starting point.
The next Bulletproof Stockings’ Ladies’ Night Out will be Wednesday, September 10th and Bar Matchless. It’s at 557 Manhattan Ave in Brooklyn, NY. Any women and all women are invited to join and experience what a female safe-space is like at a rock show.