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Original artwork surrounding Britney Spears conservatorship trial
Original photo by Alana Macmahon
Culture

Baby one more time…Free Britney

People can take everything away from you

But they can never take away your truth

But the question is

Can you handle mine?

They say I’m crazy, I really don’t care

That’s my prerogative

I used to wonder how free a young Brtiney Spears truly was if the validity of her art was under constant scrutiny of her virginity. Internalized misogyny is a natural reaction to the infantilization and sexualization running rampant on her Rolling Stone’s 1999 cover, an impossible ideal to achieve. I resented how that cover sold both burgeoning sexuality and innocence at once, reinforcing a narrow range of sexual expression. But she is not a Kardashian profiting off of photoshopping and dismissing plastic surgery rumors; she is not in control of her fortune. Now after hearing her plead for her life back it’s clear during all those hours and hours of choreography in her youth there was dance, there was music, there was girlhood blossoming into womanhood, there was beauty, there was freedom. It’s not her fault her ideas and dreams were perverted by us. She is a pop genius and has worked tirelessly from a young age to support her family but this wasn’t enough: they needed control.

The Hollywood machine drains talent especially from young women then casts them aside, so we the public can laugh at their downfall for double the entertainment. I was sickened that her family and her management were content to let a sixteen-year-old be hyper-sexualized, that no one protected her from intrusive interviews and pervy paparazzi feeding an insatiable public. But where Britney sees abuse her brother sees “working together as a family to keep it all going. One person may be on stage and doing this, but it’s a sacrifice from everybody.” His laughter at the conservatorship and the “strong minded” women in the family is a thinly veiled front to cover the fact that her family leeches onto her talent, her dedication, and her money while she is the only one who is being denied personal freedom. While anyone subjected to such rampant vileness would have a mental breakdown, the “dementia” claim that the courts approved showed that the lack of protection I thought I saw in her teenage years was the exact argument her father is using to justify his control over his beloved daughter. A judge laughs off requests for her father to take his sobriety tests and remarks “who is she to ask this of her father?” So, anyone who is not Britney Spears is even more voiceless in the in-justice system that reinforces power structures of class, race, and gender.

Many believed the Instagram videos, another forced performance. After all, why wouldn’t she be the “happiest she has ever been” with her mansions and cars, free of the turbulence of her shameful teenage years? Though she is the breadwinner, she cannot control who enters her home. She cannot leave her home to seek medical care or to just have fun, so this idolized lifestyle is really a golden prison for our idol. She can’t drive, vote, marry, or speak publicly about the conservatorship. It’s like she is still a teenager, asking permission to ride in her boyfriend’s car. Afraid of her father. The epitome of patriarchy [AM1] is fearing walking alone, living alone such that we seek protection and security within family but patriarchy in the home is a vulnerability like no other. But she has never submitted, she has fought behind the scenes for years and now she’s told the court, the very court that dismissed her before and sentenced her to confinement, her truth with such clarity.

She is fearless for saying “no” to performing now until she has the control and reaps the benefits from her work because the cost of saying “no” before was lithium. Misuse of bipolar disorder treatment a modern-day hysteria pill for tolerating mistreatment and staying in a predetermined role. Now she doesn’t even have music as an outlet for expression, modern-day Ariel. Nothing new considering a history of the husband’s word sending women who refuse to submit [AM2] to psych wards for rebellious words, chloroform to be molded into a formation of their design, killing the spirit of the feminine so divine just because it strayed out of their lines. When we are all conditioned to expect punishment for expressing agency that is no agency at all. A desire to deviate from working 24/7 to support everyone else results in being medicated, new ways for her freedom to be sedated.

The documentary Framing Britney Spears is a reminder of our role and the primary motivating force of this breakdown which is the patriarchy. While Justin Timberlake was encouraged to brag about and laugh off his relations with Brtiney, she needed the label of virgin to protect herself from further hyper-sexuliation and abuse in the media. Taking away her choice to use this label and stripping her of its protective identity was in many ways the catalyst for all this suffering and now he’s so shocked, so appalled that any woman would not have control over her own body when he was the first one to violate her autonomy. Just like her family and her managers, her suffering was the fuel burned to launch his career. And we enabled his success at her expense and again with Janet Jackson by shaming these women, the whispers in our homes and the magazine covers gave life to the reverberations of patriarchal suffering. While the documentary inspired mass comments on his Instagram which resulted in his formulaic apology, everyone including Justin knew the implications of answering “Did you Fuck Brtiney Spears?” and how the answer of “yes” would elicit from us congratulations and sympathy for him but shame and hatred for her. It has always been a “win” for men and something girls “lose” except now with hookup culture you’re “prude” for not wanting to “sexually liberate” yourself by volunteering your body as an object so men and “nice guys” alike can finish (first and last!) while inexperienced teenagers and young women are put in abusive situations and are left to suffer the lifelong consequences alone, silenced.

The documentary reminds us why Britney was spot on when she said we wouldn’t believe her. We laughed at her in 2007 at the damage we caused. To this day, she is forced to attend therapy in public where paparazzi can fuel conservatorship content. Privacy for female celebrities does not exist. Roe V Wade was based on privacy, hence the calls to strip women of privacy. However, when it comes to bodies of people with uteruses, it is also a matter of equality and equity. While it may take two to tango, men will never be forced to bear a child against their will and risk death for the sake of generating our future workforce. Britney, like many Americans due to financial reasons, location, state policies, and or discrimination based on race, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, is denied access to appropriate health care. No lawyer, no manager, no family member who is benefiting from the conservatorship would want her to become pregnant thus she cannot go to the doctors to remove her IUD against her personal wishes for marriage and trying for a baby. Nationally, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three time[AM3] s more likely to die during childbirth in America. So whether a woman like Britney wants to try for a baby without needing her father’s approval or a teenager wants to have an abortion without parental consent, they should bodily autonomy. Instead an alcoholic father has control over his daughter’s reproductive health because of breakdown 15 years ago while men with daily mental breakdowns like the former president have the power to nominate Supreme Court justices and support legislators in controlling our reproductive organs. The courts still work to trap Brtiney Spears while Bill Cosby walks free on a technicality. 

While the documentary was effective in generating buzz regarding the mistakes of the past, especially to people who were both intentionally and unintentionally ignorant of them, it was almost too effective in aiding our collective learning as it came at the cost of retraumatizing the documentary’s “subject.” Not only is the “subject” a human being still in an unimaginable situation, no mother would want her children to see the lowest points of her life summarized in an hour and fourteen minutes. While we can watch a documentary and go to bed, there is no rest for Britney as her entire everyday existence is removed from her control. While the documentary may have been a painful reminder for some and brought light to the situation for many others, it was our story of our mistreatment. It’s not Britney’s story, that story she shared with us last week with the coherence and conviction of speaking inner truth that was stolen from her through forced medication. Now controversial commentators and congresspeople are seemingly advocating for Britney. Tulsi Gabbard said it best in her tweet; “I have never been a fan of Britney Spears’ music or her lifestyle when she was younger… ” After making it clear she still sees music made by teenage girls as “silly” and reinforces the responsibility of teenage girls to never fall out of line,  she can express approval and support for Brtiney now that she is a woman who has been thoroughly traumatized. We still hold her guilty for her lowest points in a way male celebrities are never held accountable for, but she is right; she has done more than enough. 

Candace Owens was also “appalled” at Framing Britney Spears yet was a leader in shaming Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion for WAP. It is important to recognize that while white girls have a “fragility” and “innocence” that needs “protection” is itself infantilization and a tool of patriarchal control, girls of color are seen as women of color as they never benefit from this perceived innocence, an innocence that white women have racially weaponized. However, from a patriarchal standpoint this need for “protection” is itself infantilization and a tool for men, managers, and fathers, to control women like Britney, let alone the flood of hate when this perceived innocence is “lost” to “promiscuity.” If you can’t handle a WAP and support those who own their sexuality for themselves not for the male gaze, then shut up.

Political figures like Matt Gaetz are trying to use Free Britney for public approval, let’s not overlook the irony of a man being investigated for sex trafficking a 17-year old, the same age Britney has been “Miss American Dream since I was 17” the very crime Britney astutely noted tis he only thing similar in California similar to “working seven days a week, no days off.” Her “precious body, who has worked for my dad for the past fucking 13 years, trying to be so good and pretty. So perfect. When he works me so hard. When I do everything I’m told and the state of California allows my father — ignorant father — to take his own daughter, who only has a role with me if I work with him, they’ve set back the whole course and allowed him to do that to me” is the commodity he fights to control as under patriarchy our bodies are seen as objects that can be capitalized on through service and sexulization rather than vessels of strength and beauty that Brtiney’s performances exude.

Bipartisanship is a great and ever elusive ideal, but not when the blatant misogyny is being ignored and covered up by support whether feigned or legit.  Now that she is past those adolescent years in which the full force of patriarchy at those whose brains and personality are still developing, we can safely still blame her for her past while still distancing this past from the woman today who now supporting 13-years and one documentary is a prudent political move for glossing over the roots of misogyny that drive the whole thing. Now that she’s a grown woman that we traumatized and been a hostage in her own home for 13 years, we’ll advocate for the right thing now, but we still don’t condone her younger years. Everyone is quick to call out the villains of the documentary without admitting how they participated as part of the public, just like male “allies” who emphasize with “victims” as their mothers and sisters but can’t hold their brothers and friends accountable (and likely themselves too). Now that the documentary made our treatment of Britney clear, now the rest of the besides the “crazy” fans searching for clues Instagram posts are on board though they were content to believe the façade that of being the “happiest I’ve ever been” without any thought as to why a superstar capable of working and performing would desire to remain in a dehumanizing legal situation that removes any control from her daily life because she was still “crazy” 2007 Britney, just another crazy woman.

The takeaway from this egregious situation is that it’s not surprising. If Britney Spears a white cis-gender superstar who built an empire and should have everything is not safe, then no one is besides powerful men as evidenced by male celebrities from Mel Gibson to Kanye West having public episodes often resulting from substance abuse never having their personal freedom restricted in this “sledgehammer of a tool designed to protect those who really need it.” That’s because the lack of data surrounding conservatshorpics cases is intentional to evade accountability as they are often really tools for controlling women who need “protection” and their finances. Dehumanizing laws and sterilization of disabled people, stripped of their voice as escaping a conservatorship is designed to be a near legal impossibility,  are no accident of a racist, classist, ableist, heteronormative and patriarchal society dominated by exploitative capitalism. Some of us are just better racehorses. It’s not “Free Britney” because she isn’t “disabled enough” because she’s “productive” in our hyper-capitalist society – it’s dismantling these systems for Britney and the people without her platform captive in similar situations. We justify these systems for people who are disabled even though they are far from humane because they are the same ones used to justify racism. We “forget” that the compulsory sterilization of disabled people in the United States is eugenics motivated. When we infantilize women, when we send teenagers to conversion therapy [AM5] the implication is that there is something wrong with their identities and being, as if they are disabled. Because when someone is disabled, they are not able to fight back when they are controlled under these systems and rendered voiceless. But Britney is angry. While she literally can’t sleep, her power was never asleep, fighting quietly for decades against the enormous power yielded by the enforcers of the patriarchy of judges, lawyers, managers, family, and all of us. They all want a piece of Britney’s success, but she has given them a piece of her mind and now we need to continue to fight until she can have peace of mind. She had the courage to tell us and the court that trapped her that she was not heard before. She is right that she has done more than enough. And by knowing what she deserves, she has refused to let the patriarchy win. For young women she is a role model of preserving through injustices and never letting anyone diminish your inner worth. We love you Britney.

Everybody’s talkin’ all this stuff about me

Why don’t they just let me live? (Tell me why)

I don’t need permission, make my own decisions (Oh!)

That’s my prerogative (That’s my prerogative)


Artwork #2 surrounding the Britney Spears conservatorship trial
Original photo by Alana Macmahon

Alana MacMahon is junior at USC. She is majoring in environmental engineering and minoring in entrepreneurship and loves to write in her free time. Some of her other hobbies include playing the flute and soccer.
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