‘Is She Really a Musician?’

Hira Humayun '17

Assistant Features Editor

On Friday Feb. 27, the Wurtele Center for Work and Life held a panel discussion in the Campus Center Carroll Room regarding women and other marginalized groups in media and the struggles they face balancing their identity while trying to remain authentic. Moderated by Ally Einbinder ’10, a Smith alum from the Wurtele Center, the event began at 7 p.m.

Einbinder introduced the event by giving a personal account of what prompted her to arrange the panel discussion. She spoke about the difficulties of becoming a female musician and how those difficulties she eventually led her to start her own band. “I didn’t see an easy point of entry,” she said, adding that her gender was a “lens through which music is filtered or consumed.”

Co-moderator Sam Chaplin then introduced the panelists. First was Meredith Graves, a singer from the band Perfect Pussy, the founder of record label Honor Press and a writer for various publications, including Pitchfork. Next was Suzy Exposito, also a musician and a writer for publications such as Rolling Stone, Bitch Media, Pitchfork, Rookie Mag and MTV Iggy. Third was Mitski Miyawaki, a musician who transitioned from orchestral music to punk rock and has toured the United States and Europe following her punk record release. The final panelist was Imogen Binnie, musician, writer and contributing writer for various magazines and the author of the novel “Nevada,” published in 2013.

Once the panelists were introduced, Einbinder posed the first question, regarding the title of the panel: “How do each of you define authenticity?”

“It means different things to everyone,” but went on to explain that when she thinks about authenticity, she thinks about images she has to live up to in order to be considered “authentic” rather than a “poser,” said Graves.

“It takes an institution to back the idea that something is authentic,” Exposito said. She agreed with Graves that people in power monopolize the idea of what is authentic. “Whiteness is a form of capital,” she explained, delving into how true authenticity for artists belonging to marginalized groups doesn’t sell to people in power whose definitions of “authentic” do not coincide with the identities of the artist.

“The thing about talking third, what I say won’t be authentic,” said Miyawaki, getting a laugh from the audience. She went on to say that artists from marginalized groups have to stick to an idea or image in order to sell, which takes away from their authenticity. “It’s almost like you’re not allowed to be a person, you’re an idea…you can’t be authentic as long as you’re a performer.”

Binnie spoke next, beginning with, “I think authenticity is a trap.” She asserted that the central culture of colonialism – seeing something, wanting it and thus taking it – prevails in society, and that the concept of authenticity is used to sideline the products of marginalized people.

“Nobody wants to deal with the Other… we can’t be our authentic selves in order to jump in and be heard on pop radio,” said Exposito.

“How authentic is a manufactured boy band? Even white manufactured boy bands aren’t accused of lack of authenticity,” remarked Graves.

“People like us who aren’t white cis-men are always questioned about out authenticity,” said Miyawaki.

Einbinder’s next question was about the choices the panelists made in branding their creative identities. All expressed that branding took away from who they really were in order to appeal to an audience. The final question was about a post-gender future of music. All the panelists expressed distaste. The consensus was that that would pave the way for further misogyny and lack of representation. Graves said, “we need gender recognition before we can be post-gender.”

“It was really inspiring to see all these women sharing their voices,” said Cadence Miskimin ’17 at the post-panel reception, which featured music from WOZQ. Einbinder said of the event, “I feel like this is what I hoped for […] They surpassed my expectations, I couldn’t have asked for better panelists.”