In the new documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” we are taken through the tumultuous celebrity ride of the 90s pop star with the same name.
From gargantuan sales of the hit single “Baby One More Time” to the development of the #Free Britney movement, we are given an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at one of the most secretly guarded public figures.
In this story, reported on by the New York Times, a powerful confluence of factors creates the perfect storm leaving Britney vulnerable to the same misogynistic framework that gave rise to her stardom as a young, beautiful, confident, and powerful woman working within a male-dominated music scene.
We are drawn into the humanity of Britney’s journey, not just viewing the unfolding of events through the lens of celebrity. We are brought back to the infamous photos of Britney shaving off her hair, to Justin Timberlake alluding to infidelity, to claims of her negligence as a mother. While the details may be different, more women than not may be able to relate to accusations of the same kind.
Is it really that rare for women to be slut-shamed?
How often do we tend to condemn mothers for falling short of the mark? Isn’t it still common practice to judge women based on their appearance and sexuality? To this very day, those same benchmarks are weaponized against women: beauty, motherhood, and sexuality.
For those of us old enough to have grown up alongside Britney, we are now able to revisit that narrative through the eyes of adulthood; a narrative that was created by a tabloid industry hungry for scandal-ridden photos with a lust for money and disregard for the truth; playing on the tension created by a modern-day “virgin Mary” who was both innocent and pure whilst confident and sexually robust.
The first cracks in Britney Spears’s sweetheart image came during her public breakup with then-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake. In Justin’s hit song, “Cry Me a River,” he alludes to Britney having cheated on him; this accusation resulted in a tremendous amount of public backlash.
Was this surprising? Or, had we already subjected young women to a pattern of blaming them for sexual indiscretions in the wake of Monica Lewinsky?
Since the release of the documentary, Justin has issued an apology to Britney on Instagram, saying:
“I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn or did not speak up for what was right. I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny…The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success. It’s designed this way.”
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But, as we know, this incident held Britney’s feet to the fire causing her sexuality to become a cross for her to bear.
Shortly after this time, Britney entered a relationship with Kevin Federline, marrying him and giving birth to two kids. The media coverage of her intensified and her every move as a new mother was captured on film.
The documentary discusses how images of Britney beginning to struggle under extreme media scrutiny were released and questions around her mental health began to surface. (Even as late as the early 2000s, mental illness was often treated as a character defect rather than a health issue worthy of compassion and empathy.)
The harsh public conversation around Britney’s perceived shortcomings as a parent underscores the ingrained expectation that women are simply not permitted to grapple with motherhood.
In 2003, Britney was placed under the legal care of her father, Jamie Spears. Over the last two decades, the public began questioning what they outwardly saw from Britney in contrast to the court’s rulings that she needed a conservator.
On the one hand, Britney had been working vigorously, setting up shop in Las Vegas and releasing new albums and products. On the other hand, she had been assigned a conservator to manage her personhood and estate.
There are those who wonder what accounts for this discrepancy. As of the date of this article, Britney continues the legal battle to have her father removed as full conservator.
The #Free Britney Movement has come about in response to the growing belief by some of Britney’s fans that she is being held captive against her will under her father’s legal control. These flames were further fueled by a string of cryptic posts on Britney’s Instagram account, which were interpreted as calls for help.
Perhaps, the encroachments on Britney’s freedom began long ago as she rose to fame in a culture that placed women in a delicate and dangerous balancing act with strict parameters for permissible behavior.
Be sexy but not too sexual. Show us you’re confident but not too powerful.
Make sure to be exciting but stay innocent like the girl next door.
Despite having made a career using her voice, many in the #Free Britney movement believe she is being silenced. We can only hope that Britney will be able to share her side of the story one day.
And, Britney, when the day comes, know that we are here eagerly awaiting to hear you once again.