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“Framing Britney Spears” Sheds Light on Misogyny in the Media

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important to shed light on women’s issues such as misogyny and sexism and how they affect our lives. The New York Times special “Framing Britney Spears” explores this as we learn more details about Spear’s life, rise to fame, and media portrayal as a pop sensation through her formative years. The documentary also dives into the fan-lead #FreeBritney movement that calls to end the conservatorship that her father has over her.

Spears has had a long time in the spotlight as a contestant on the popular competition show “Star Search” and a member of “The Mickey Mouse Club”, a variety show where she starred in skits alongside other child stars like Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling.

Spears gained notoriety as she grew as a performer, earning her lots of media coverage and airtime. Although this helped with exposure, these outlets would make comments about her body or assumptions about her relationship status. 

The documentary shows a male interviewer commenting on Spear’s chest size, asking the singer about implants at the age of 16. This blatant disrespect and harassment was something that male pop stars at the time weren’t facing.

Even her former stylist, Hayley Hill,  recalls the striking difference in how Spears was treated compared to her male counterparts. “I worked with all the boy bands, all of them, and not one of the boys was ever under any scrutiny,” she says. 

These invasive questions and demeaning remarks didn’t get any better with her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Spears’ virginity was often questioned as she was a role model for young girls and was expected to adhere to that standard of innocence. 

After the breakup, Timberlake took over the narrative implying that Spears cheated on him. For his “Cry me a River” song and music video he essentially started a Britney smear campaign. Timberlake would boast about sleeping with Spears on radio shows and would publicly shame her.

The documentary included a 2003 ABC’s “Primetime Thursday” interview clip of Diane Sawyer and Spears. Sawyer asks the singer, “You did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?” Once again, shifting all of the blame on Spears.

Whether it was internalized misogyny from female spectators or harassment from male interviewers, Spears -like many women - was the victim of sexist or defaming remarks throughout her career. This ultimately harmed her image as she was often made a punching bag for tabloids and other media outlets. Her relationship with the paparazzi also changed, as most of them saw her suffering as a cash grab.

Early in the documentary, it alludes that Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, was more concerned about the money that Britney’s talents and ambition could bring in for the family. Since 2008, Spears has been under a legal conservatorship meaning that her dad has been in charge of all of her finances. 

This decision was made after the singer entered a rehabilitation facility for less than a day. Spears told lawyers that she didn’t want her father to be her conservator or the person to decide her medical care, but the conservatorship was still enforced and still hasn’t been lifted. 

Since 2008 the songstress has had multiple successful albums, was a host on “The X Factor”, and has even had a four-year Las Vegas residency, where she earned nearly $138 million. Although her work over the years has been highly reputable and revered, she is still made out to be incapable of taking care of herself by her conservators and even members of her family.

With the #FreeBritney movement fans hope to see the day Spears can regain autonomy over her estate or have an agreement that is reflective of her wishes. Although her father considers the campaign to be “a joke”, Spears still wants a different party overseeing her conservatorship. Garnering support from celebrities such as Cher to Paris Hilton and even organizations like American Civil Liberties Union, fans won't rest until the singer is fairly represented.

The tarnishing of Spears’ public image can be attributed to the sexism she faced early on in her career, as every move she made as a female pop sensation was criticized. Behaviors that were reactionary of her mental health were painted in a misogynistic light, as it was considered only female hysteria. Spears received no respect for her dignity during those trying years, as she wasn’t taken seriously by most of the public.

As a long-time Britney fan, certain parts of the documentary were hard to watch as you relive some of Britney’s saddest moments, but it was insightful of the backlash she faced and how that played a role in the decline of her reputation. Like many women, Spears has been a victim of sexism throughout her career and faced great scrutiny which led to her not being taken seriously. It was truly inspiring to watch other supporters bring awareness to the issue of her conservatorship, as the #FreeBritney movement continues to grow. 

Taylor Green

Millersville '23

Hi, my name is Taylor Green. I'm class of 2023 at Millersville and I'm a Digital Journalism Major and a Strategic Public Relations Minor. I enjoy shopping and listening to music and anything from the early 2000s.
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