- Eleanor Antoniou
Free Britney: it’s time for the misogyny to end
Britney Spears has been trapped in a conservatorship for the past thirteen years, which has legally blocked her from making her own decisions, and denied her the freedom to be her own person ever since. Britney has become like a real-life Rapunzel, locked away in her tower and subject to the desires of others. Yet here it is not an evil stepmother who is controlling her, but something far more uncomfortable. It seems that misogyny has reigned over Britney for more than a decade: would a man in Britney’s position ever have been placed under these same conditions for so long?
A conservatorship is typically used for elderly people, who are unable to safely make decisions for themselves, and involves the legal appointment of a person to manage the personal decisions and finances of another. After Britney’s struggles with mental health, her father was appointed as the conservator of her person and her estate when she was just 27. Yet now it is unclear why the conservatorship is needed at all, especially considering that Britney has been releasing music and playing in sold out shows globally throughout this time, something which someone truly in need of a conservatorship would surely be unable to do.
Currently, Britney is facing a court battle against her father, stressing that she wants his control removed completely. In the New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears, it was reported that Britney never wanted her father to be involved as a conservator in the first place. She was denied a choice in this from the start, even being refused the right to hire her own legal representation, until now. On the 14th July this year, Britney spoke out in court for the second time in two months, stating, “I would like to charge my father with conservatorship abuse.”
Britney has finally been permitted a voice, speaking about the “cruelty” of the conservatorship that has oppressed her for so long. She described being refused things as basic as coffee, her driver’s licence and a bedroom door, not being allowed to choose what to eat, as well as being forced to have psychological tests and blood tests whilst she was on tour, with freedom falsely promised in return for her compliance.
In another disturbing revelation, Britney described the IUD which she has been made to keep against her will. “I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” she told the court, but her conservators have not permitted her to have the IUD removed. This heart-breaking statement from Britney reveals a much deeper problem: the conservatorship is being abused here as a means to control a woman. Britney’s forced contraception brings to mind other attempts across history to police the reproductive rights of women, such as anti-abortion legislations or the Chinese government’s recent use of IUDs, abortion and sterilisation to reduce birth rates among Uighurs (an ethnic group in Central and East Asia).
Controlling the reproductive rights of a woman is something that should not belong in the twenty-first century, and it is all the more shocking that someone as high-profile as Britney has been subjected to such a misogynistic method without the world realising it for so long.
Britney, however, has not only had to fight a battle in the courtroom. Since she first appeared in the public eye as a young teenager, Britney has also battled against the misogyny of the media and the paparazzi. Her ‘breakdown,’ which led to the conservatorship, was fuelled by the toxic vultures of the tabloids, who tore apart a young girl for their own amusement. Britney’s body has been repeatedly scrutinised and objectified, and her mental health became a frequent, tasteless joke during the 2000s, with the media propelling the narrative that Britney was a loose woman gone mad.
There was an ongoing public debate in the tabloids about the status of Britney’s virginity, and after her breakup with Justin Timberlake, he was praised for sleeping with Britney, basking in his masculine triumph, whilst she was painted as a heartbreaker, a girl gone wild and a slut. Britney was obsessively sexualised yet simultaneously shamed for her sexuality, expected to tread the fine line between ‘sexy’ and ‘pure.’
As well as this, Britney was shamed by the press as a bad mother, as single moments taken out of context were twisted out of proportion to vilify her. The reports of her driving with her baby on her lap fail to mention that perhaps this was the only option available to her when her car was surrounded by photographers, who would not give her the time or space to put her baby in his car seat. Heartbreakingly, this narrative built by the media can only have contributed to Britney losing custody of her sons.
It is hardly surprising that, after years of enduring the paparazzi’s harassment with polite, sweet smiles, Britney began to experience difficulties with her mental health. Who wouldn’t feel like hitting the paparazzi’s car with an umbrella after being incessantly followed and harassed? Not to mention her ex-husband had just blocked her from visiting her children. I’m sure many of us would have shared Britney’s anger and grief at that moment, yet the photos from this night were printed without context, intended only to highlight Britney’s flaws and define her by these. The paparazzi nicknamed Britney as a ‘train wreck’, a narrative which is rarely applied to men, and propelled her further towards a breakdown, because images of her in distress brought them even more money.
Britney’s mental health issues and personal struggles became a cruel running joke in the media: she was having a ‘meltdown,’ she had gone ‘crazy.’ Following Heath Ledger’s death in 2008, the same year the conservatorship began, celebrity news blogger, Perez Hilton, asked ‘Why wasn’t it Britney?’, and even printed this phrase on t-shirts.
All of this shows that the tabloid world is built on criticising, attacking and judging women, tearing apart their actions and their bodies for profit. In Britney’s case, this can only have fuelled the continuation of a conservatorship that she does not want. Meanwhile, Britney has also faced misogyny from the men closest to her, who have placed her in the conservatorship against her will.
Britney was once a woman who was powerful in her own right, the most loved and most famous pop star in the world. It is almost as if the men around her, and the male-dominated tabloids, couldn't bear to see a woman flourish. They seemed to want to bring her down and enjoy seeing her fail. Now, they have taken Britney’s power and freedom away, stereotyping her as a ‘mad woman’ and a ‘train wreck’, degrading her in the public eye, and exploiting the resulting reaction from Britney to trap her in a position in which she can only be vulnerable to further abuse. The conservatorship has confined her for too long, and we can only hope that the court will listen to Britney’s pleas this time so that she can finally be free and in control of her own life, as she should have been for the past thirteen years.