Britney Spears 12 year conservatorship has stripped her of control over her person and estate. But does the pop icon actually need such supervision? Nora reflects on the recent Framing Britney Spears documentary and digs in on the sexism, double standards, voyeurism, and abuse that have haunted her career.
#FreeBritney has been swirling around the internet for years, and since the release of The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears, the hashtag is reaching an even larger audience. The Hulu special documents the abuse Britney Spears has faced throughout her career and into her conservatorship.
Spears has been in a conservatorship for the past 12 years, granting a conservator the legal right to control her person and her estate, stripping her of her rights. Conservatorships designate a person, official, or institution to manage and protect the interests of those who are unfit to take care of themselves, typically used to assist elderly people.
This conservatorship has resulted in legal battles, attempting to decipher whether or not it is in her best interest. Jamie Spears, her father, has controlled her money and her person since the beginning of the conservatorship, even though he was not a steady figure in Britney’s life until her rise to fame. Britney’s lawyer has made it clear that she wants an impartial institution to rule over her finances, but her father has refused to step down from the position. As of February 12, 2021, a judge upheld the decision to allow Jamie Spears to remain Britney’s conservator.
The conservatorship would not have been possible without understanding Britney’s career journey, which has been mired in misogyny since she was a child. The documentary includes a clip of 10-year-old Britney performing “Love Can Build a Bridge” on Star Search. In the interview following the performance, the host, Ed McMahon, tells Britney she has “pretty eyes” and asks if she has a boyfriend. When she answered with a “no, sir,” he propositions the child if he could be her boyfriend. This clip is emblematic of America’s obsession with Britney’s sexuality, virginity, and purity throughout her entire career.
Britney’s rise to popularity was an anomaly, as her fame came under the time of boy bands—where the industry thought girls couldn’t sell records. After the release of her second album, Oops!… I Did It Again—which became the fastest-selling record ever by a female artist, selling over 20 million copies—she was constantly bombarded with interview questions about her body and virginity. She was presented as the “all American, girl next door” in the press, but was simultaneously ridiculed for her outward sexiness and scandalous outfits.
Wesley Morris, a New York Times critic, interviewed in the documentary, outlines the culture Spears was coming to fame under—the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, which prompted new cultural discussions about sex and how we view “slutty” women. This bled into how the public viewed Britney through her interviews. She was asked about her “sexy Lolita look,” and had television hosts talk about her breasts.
Interviews were consistently used as a way to objectify and sexualize Britney, instead of focusing on her music and career—a stark contrast to how boybands were treated in the same era. While Britney was dating Justin Timberlake, their relationship was a tabloid frenzy; the public wanted to know everything about their relationship, and Spears often fielded questions about her virginity.
The height of Britney’s slut-shaming came after her breakup with Timberlake when he publicly accused her of cheating on him. Timberlake was able to control the narrative, spinning it into a male revenge fantasy, and skewing her public image into one of an unfaithful, cheating “slut” who was at fault for the demise of the relationship.
After her marriage to Kevin Federline, the birth of her children, and the beginning of Britney’s downfall, her social class became a new lens for judgment. Federline was ridiculed in the media as “white trash,” feigning in comparison to Timberlake. Britney was painted as a slobby, unfit mother, unveiling a narrative that even though she made it, at heart she’s still poor, white trash.
Her messy hair in public, unpresentable outfits at convenience stores, unflattering, unposed photos, her short-lived marriages—were all framed as a reflection of her socioeconomic roots, and after all her success, was still seen as being unfit for high society. However Britney decided to present herself, she was fervently trashed in tabloids.
The public documentation of her downfall was highly profitable for tabloids, which only stoked the fire for constant paparazzi. This also acted as a way to feed into the misogyny and class judgments she was already facing, by questioning if she was a good mother. Britney’s struggles with her personal and family life, coupled with the constant bombardment from paparazzi, took a significant toll on her mental health.
In 2008, Britney was promptly placed on a 5150, a California law code for the temporary involuntary admission to a psychiatric hospital. It is at this time that Jamie Spears filed for and was granted a temporary conservatorship over Britney. He used her mental health issues, coupled with her drug abuse, to deem her unfit to take care of herself and her own money. It was evident that Jamie’s control over Britney’s life was another ploy to profit from his daughter without her consent, just as the tabloids had long been doing. He only became a steady figure in her life once he was able to control her finances.
Britney’s only request to the courts was for a neutral third party to control her finances, but the courts did not grant this request. Soon after, the conservatorship was made permanent, with Britney’s forced consent. It has been an uphill battle for Britney to get a neutral third party to be her conservator ever since.
Her father has the right to make deals for Britney’s career and earns profit from her albums, merchandise, and performances. From 2008 to this day, Britney has been living the life of a busy pop star, with no say or control over her being.
With the rise of social media, Britney has been able to take control of her own message. She uses Instagram to detail her life consistently. Her sudden disappearance from the social media platform in 2019 sparked speculation about her safety and well-being under her sole conservator, Jamie. In May of 2019, Jamie forcibly admitted Britney into a psychiatric institution, this couple with her Instagram absence sparked the #FreeBritney movement.
In 2019, Jamie Spears stepped down as the conservator of Britney’s person but remained the conservator of her finances. The #FreeBritney movement continued, without any recognition from Britney until 2020, when she petitioned for a bank to become the sole conservator of her estate and publicly acknowledged the informed support from her fans.
The documentary concludes with the November 2020 court ruling granting Britney’s choice of a bank as the co-conservator of her $60 million estate, a small win for Britney. Jamie could potentially be removed in the future, but he still remains a co-conservator.
Britney has been described as a “high-functioning conservatee,” which in and of itself, goes against the legal ruling for justifying a conservatorship. Britney’s story of conservatorship cannot be told without detailing how the patriarchy has fed upon her, from her start, enabling her father to take advantage of her while the media and the public ripped her apart.
It’s fortunate that Britney is finally able to tell her own story through the use of her social media platform. I support Britney in her fight to end her conservatorship. I strongly encourage any of you who have not viewed the film to do so, as it was a moving detail of the struggles Britney has faced. I am forever #FreeBritney.