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Op-ed: Britney Spears: A Symbol of Femxle Unfreedom

Britney Spears is a cultural icon, and has been since the ‘90s. But her killer dance moves, unique voice, and dazzling outfits don’t show all that the singer has had to go through. Britney is a symbol of femxle unfreedom: constantly watched, and constantly ridiculed. 

The New York Times released a documentary episode on Hulu titled “Framing Britney Spears,” detailing the singer’s rise to fame, difficult periods, judgement from the media, and her current situation in a conservatorship under her father’s control. Since Britney rose to fame, she has been denied freedom from the press and judgement from the media. 

Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash

As a teenager, she faced comments about her body from old men, constant criticism that she wasn’t acting her age, and judgement all around telling her she wasn’t doing what she should be, although she continued to gain success and fame. After her breakup with Justin Timberlake, Britney was villainized by tabloids, blaming the entire breakup on her, and painting her as promiscuous, and the media once again judged her for her body. 

Following a messy divorce where she was denied full custody of her children, Britney faced mental health struggles that were ridiculed by the media rather than empathized with. An image of her bald with an umbrella raised in her hand has become iconic. At the time, she was depicted as “crazy” and “losing it.” In actuality, she was dealing with a deeply personal struggle, and was never allowed the time or opportunity to have a personal life that the media wasn’t involved in and judged her for. 

This is a pattern we see among celebrity womxn: being judged and ridiculed for their actions, rather than sympathy. During the ‘90s and early 2000s, we saw the same type of pattern among Monica Lewinsky and Janet Jackson. Lewinsky was ridiculed for the affair she had with Bill Clinton, while he was at fault as well, and Jackson was blamed for her nipple being exposed during the halftime show after Justin Timberlake ripped a piece of her clothing off. In each of these situations, womxn are forced to take the blame and judgement for actions that they’ve made, while men who’ve done similar, more harmful things are excused for their actions. 

For example, Kanye West is often thought of as a genius despite his harmful actions, such as his comments about slavery and misogyny toward womxn like Taylor Swift. Many often point toward West’s bipolar disorder as an explanation of his harmful actions. Why is it that we can excuse Kanye’s harm, but not sympathize with Britney’s nervous breakdown?

woman raising her hands in victory
Tirachard Kumtanom/Pexels

The answer to this question is complicated, but it comes down to a sexist culture. The entertainment industry essentially gives the media the permission to watch femxle celebrities, give them an unhealthy, damaging amount of attention, and then judge them when it becomes too much. This same standard is not applied to men, who are often allowed their privacy and are not “watched” the same way womxn are. Sure, their personal lives are talked about, but men are rarely stalked the way celebrities like Britney were, and their personal lives are rarely made a conversation that the entire world gets to participate in. Womxn like Britney are ridiculed and judged for their own actions, as well as actions that other men have a role in, too. However, the men involved in these situations do not take the blame the way womxn do (case in-point: Justin Timberlake). 

Britney Spears is a symbol of how female celebrities, and even womxn in general, don’t get to live their lives without constant judgement. From her start as a teenager, Britney has had people’s opinions of her thrown on her over and over again, facing backlash, ridicule, anger, and incredibly harsh judgement on a daily basis. Now, we’re finally waking up to it: is it too little, too late?

will.i.am - Scream & Shout ft. Britney Spears

Photos: Her Campus Media

Sana Mamtaney (she/her) is a second-year student at American University studying journalism and political science. She loves writing about social justice issues and how they affect our daily lives. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, watching reality TV, and listening to Hozier and One Direction.
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