#FreeBritney: A Movement for Mainstream Media

The hashtag has taken over social media- but what is it all about?

EBHS junior Maggie Schneider tells the Hub: “Britney Spears was demonized in the public for having a mental health crisis while the people around her who were talking about her business to the media were viewed very differently.”

EBHS junior Maggie Schneider tells the Hub: “Britney Spears was demonized in the public for having a mental health crisis while the people around her who were talking about her business to the media were viewed very differently.”

Alefiya Presswala, Bear Hub Staff

Most people know the iconic 2000s hits ‘Toxic’ and ‘Oops! I Did It Again’ by pop star Britney Spears. One has probably heard of or can recall Britney’s so-called ‘meltdown’ in which she shaved her head and attacked paparazzi. But what about the events that led up to this? Or what happened after?

 

WHAT IS A CONSERVATORSHIP?
Under a legal conservatorship since 2008, Britney Spears has not had full control over her personal life or her career for over a decade. A conservatorship is a legal concept in the United States, where if a person is deemed mentally unstable or unable to make sound decisions for themselves, a legal guardian is appointed to oversee that person’s daily life, financial decisions, etc.

 

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE CONSERVATORSHIP?
Following a divorce from her husband, Kevin Federline, in 2007, Britney was all over headlines, with Federline claiming that she had been acting strange and possibly abusing substances. Paparazzi followed her around and captured upsetting photos of Britney sobbing, shaving her head, and smashing the windows of a paparazzo’s car. These photos were spread around rapidly, on every platform possible. To some, it was obvious that the paparazzi were violating the privacy of a human being during a vulnerable moment, but to most, there was no doubt that Britney Spears was spiraling.
In January 2008, after being admitted to a psychiatric ward, Britney was declared a ‘conservatee’ under her father, Jamie Spears, and an attorney, Andrew Wallet. Under the conservatorship, Spears and Wallet are able to: control Britney’s assets, restrict visitors, negotiate business deals, talk to her doctors about treatments, and manage all her finances. The irony is that throughout this conservatorship in which Britney has been deemed too unstable to make her own decisions, she has still released new music and performed for thousands every night.
In March 2019, Adam Wallet resigned as co-conservator, and Jamie Spears followed in September 2019, filing temporarily to step down as conservator of his daughter because of his health. Jodi Montgomery, a “care manager” was appointed as Britney’s temporary caretaker.

 

WHAT IS THE #FREEBRITNEY MOVEMENT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
As Britney’s case has become publicised once again, so has the #FreeBritney movement. The #FreeBritney hashtag has taken over social media as hearings take place, and fans and supporters of Britney have taken to the streets to protest outside of LA courthouses. Because the conservatorship is the main injustice that the movement is fighting against at this moment, it’s easy to forget what other injustices against Britney they represent.
It’s not a coincidence that the media was so quick to target Britney after the divorce. Since the start of her career at age 16, Britney has been sexualised, from weirdly posed album covers to being asked crude questions at interviews. Following his breakup with Britney in 2002, Justin Timberlake was the first to profit off of her. Timberlake never missed a chance to slander Britney’s name; he painted her as a cheater, a crazy woman, and used many expletive words to describe her during multiple interviews and concerts. Timberlake went on to do this for years, even decades, after the breakup. In fact, one of his first hit songs, “Cry Me A River” was about Britney. The song’s music video, which featured a Britney look-alike, painted her as a horrible person, while depicting him as an innocent, heartbroken boy. It’s no wonder that it was so easy for Britney to be deemed unstable in the public eye: the media had been setting up this reputation for years.

During the recent hearing of the conservatorship case, supporters of Britney Spears gathered outside a Los Angeles courthouse, chanting ‘Free Britney’.

In the most recent hearing, the financial company Bessemer Trust was appointed co-conservator along with Britney’s father, as per Britney’s requests. Britney Spears’ next hearings will take place on March 17th and April 27th. Hopefully, she’ll get the freedom she deserves.
Today, the way Britney Spears was talked about would be completely unacceptable. Thankfully, the conversation around mental health is much less stigmatized. However, it’s still important to acknowledge the hundreds of other women besides Britney Spears in the music and acting industries that have lost their careers due to the misogyny in mainstream media that allows larger platforms to take advantage of women’s issues. It’s easy to get swept up in dramatic headlines and revealing photos, but it’s also easy to start speaking out against these violations.