Let’s Talk About #FreeBritney and Misogyny in Pop Culture
Exploring the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary and the lasting damage of normalized misogyny
I remember seeing the magazine headlines displayed prominently on the grocery store check-out lines in 2007. They read, “Britney’s Meltdown” or “Britney Hits Rock Bottom,” almost in a celebratory way — like the tabloids had spontaneously struck gold. I was ten years old at the time — a very impressionable age — and my opinion was shaped by what the media fed to me.
I remember feeling uneasy as the photos of Britney Spears shaving her head and the video of her striking a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella permeated the news cycle. Reporters, journalists, and TV personalities alike had framed Britney out to be a maniacal and twisted woman, and that is what quickly became the norm. The keywords “Britney” and “2007” held so much weight going forward, and mentioning them in the same sentence created a vivid picture of what the media painted her out to be: “unhinged.”
For so long, I took their word for it. After all, Britney was behaving in a way that seemed to be the polar opposite of the “all-American girl” role that pop culture claimed her to fit into. However, as we trekked our way into the mid-2010s, things started to change for the better. It was finally becoming acceptable for women to be allies and not enemies. Pop culture icons like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande, just to name a few, lead the way in incorporating the feminist movement into pop culture. Suddenly, society began to reexamine its deeply-held misogynistic beliefs of how women should behave, what they should wear, and how they should be perceived.
I found myself rethinking Britney Spears’s “meltdown” in recent years, and have been prodded to examine it further after watching the newly released New York Times Presents documentary, “Framing Britney Spears.” Watching it from the lens of a soon-to-be twenty-four-year-old woman myself, I was utterly appalled and felt sick to my stomach. The Britney that the media depicted as “wild” at the time was simply a woman, not too far from my age right now, who was navigating her life under an intense spotlight to the best of her ability. Yet every move she made was scrutinized, and worse, used against her in the worst way possible.
As a young woman seeking creative control of her musical direction in the late 90s and early 2000s, Britney was ridiculed for every decision she made in her personal life — which had absolutely nothing to do with her music. She was openly asked questions about deeply personal matters, such as her virginity, and upon her breakup with Justin Timberlake, her image was spun in a way that painted her out to be unfaithful, which was another media speculation that became a fact with no support.
Britney was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. The media told her who she should be, and any expression of her sexuality earned her the label of a “slut.” However, when Britney married and had children, she was then labeled as an “unfit mother” because she accidentally tripped on a New York City sidewalk while holding her son. If this infuriates me, I can only imagine how it makes Britney feel.
A talented, smart, and kind-hearted woman was completely wrung through the mud in the early years of her career, only to become a laughing stock by the entire world when she eventually snapped. As I look back at Britney’s infamous “2007 breakdown,” I no longer see a breakdown. I see a pained woman who has spent her entire life appeasing others reach a natural breaking point. And, even during this intense cry for help, the media pushed her down even further.
Let’s face it: the media always wanted this from Britney. They pushed her buttons and questioned her every move until they got what they really wanted: a reaction. A headline. A “celebrity downfall.” They pushed Britney to her limit, and we all sat back and agreed that she was the one at fault.
On behalf of everyone who perpetrated this terrible narrative, I want to apologize to Britney. Had she been famous in this day and age, she would have faced nothing remotely close to the backlash that she did in her day. Britney is a trailblazer who paved the way for women in pop culture to follow, and, even more importantly, opened up the floor for these candid discussions about normalized and internalized misogyny.
Britney should not be bound to her conservatorship. After all she’s been through, she deserves to live the rest of her life freely with her loved ones, doing whatever she feels called to do. Gone is the time for assumptions and labels of who she “should be.” Women are not puppets who can be manipulated to do what others deem to be acceptable. Britney took the brunt of the world’s force against her, and now it is our job to make things right for her, as well as future generations of women to follow.
It’s time, once and for all, to #FreeBritney.
Originally published at https://rawreveries.com on February 10, 2021.