#FreeBritney: This Could Be You
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#FreeBritney: This Could Be You

Britney Spears has been going through hell for more than a decade now, and finally, people are listening. What happened to her isn’t unusual, though. In this post, we get a little serious, and explore the connection between her conservatorship and how it ties to the experiences of marginalized people.

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Britney Spears has been going through hell for more than a decade now, and finally, people are listening. The hashtag #FreeBritney has been making the rounds again after Britney Spears gave a brave, heart-wrenching courtroom address that was recorded and shared online. In the recording, she outlines many of the abuses and injustices she had to endure over the last 13 years, while under the control of her father and her other conservators.

There have been a lot of thoughtful articles and opinion pieces about the injustice that has been done to her, from a lot of important angles. Just a few examples include what her story tells us about the misogyny of the early 2000s or the exploitation of child actors in Hollywood.

In this post, I want to focus on what her story can tell us about intersectionality, and to draw parallels between the abuse she is suffering at the hand of her father and the legal system to the abuse many others suffer by virtue of being female, disabled, or working class.

The Conservatorship

If you’re not familiar with the case, here’s a quick summary: After experiencing a mental health crisis in 2008, Britney Spears was placed under a conservatorship led by her father. Legally, this meant that despite being an adult, her father was now her legal guardian.

From then until 2019, he has had nearly full control over her life and her finances. He could sign contracts in her name, make decisions about her healthcare without her consent, and use her money as he pleases. After a physical altercation with her son, he stepped down and professional conservator Jodi Montgomery took over.

In her testimony, Spears talks about a whole range of horrible experiences. This includes being prescribed lithium after her agents complained to her doctor that she was being uncooperative doing rehearsals, being denied much needed breaks from work, being forced to expose herself to paparazzi in order to attend therapy appointments, and perhaps most horrifying, being forced to keep an IUD despite wanting to grow her family. She describes feeling bullied, ganged up on, and alone.

Britney Spears and Women’s Bodily Autonomy

One of the most heartbreaking details that came out during Britney Spears’ testimony was the fact that she was forced to keep an IUD that she wanted to be removed. She talked about wanting to have more children, but at the age of 39, she has already lost her most fertile years. Even if the IUD is removed today, becoming pregnant will be a challenge.

For many women, it was a painful reminder of how, in the eyes of society, our bodies are not our own, especially when it comes to reproduction.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers reproductive rights and bodily autonomy fundamental human rights. This means that they apply to everyone, everywhere, no matter what.  

Despite international rulings, what Spears is going through is still considered legal in the US. Conservatorships make it possible to forcibly control the reproductive rights of around 1.3 million people in the United States.

The United States (and many other countries) have a gross history of forcibly sterilizing people that were deemed unworthy of reproducing. This usually meant people of color, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and other members of marginalized communities.

Supposedly, no forced sterilization has taken place in the US since 1981. However, as recently as last year there was a whistleblower complaint about women in migrant detention facilities being forced to undergo hysterectomy without their consent.

Britney and Workers’ Rights

It’s clear that Britney Spears is going through hell: she has zero control over her physical and mental health care, and she’s forced to do incredibly difficult physical labor.

Despite being under the conservatorship, Britney Spears has kept working since 2008. She has released four studio albums, been on four world tours, worked as a judge on The X Factor, and headlined her very own show in Las Vegas.

This raises the question: How can she be mentally competent enough to endure such grueling work while also supposedly not competent enough to control her own life? The answer likely lies in the fact that her conservators greatly profit from her labor.

One thing that stood out during her testimony was her focus on the amount of money she creates with her labor, and the people she is able to pay as a business. She generates so much profit, and yet she has zero control over her money.

Any person who has worked a low-paying job at an hourly wage is familiar with this lack of control over their own time. Having to ask for permission to take breaks or use the washroom is inherently demeaning, and it’s made worse for Britney since that’s essentially what she's experiencing 24/7.

An individual worker has very little power, and they can’t bargain for better working conditions. Their only way of achieving that power is by unionizing, and bargaining as a collective. It’s bizarre to see one of the richest, most powerful women in the world be reduced to the same powerlessness, at an extent that’s akin to slavery.

Britney and the Stigma of Mental Illness

The pretext for Britney’s Spears’ conservatorship is her mental health status. Her treatment serves as a clear example of the lack of agency that people with mental and physical disabilities experience on a regular basis. The ACLU is right to call it a disability rights issue.

Our society is quick to deny disabled people their agency, from methods as minor as day-to-day microaggressions and all the way to forced hospitalizations and, indeed, conservatorships.

It’s also an example of how women’s mental health status is weaponized against them as a means of control, as Julia Baird outlines for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Britney Is All of Us

What Britney Spears has been going through over the last 13 years isn’t unique or unusual.

Throughout history and still today, women and those assigned female at birth know what it’s like to have their reproductive rights denied. Disabled, neuroatypical, and mentally ill people are familiar with being denied any agency over their lives in general. Lastly, poor and working-class people know what it means to lack control over their time or the value they produce.

What’s unusual is that this abuse is happening to a rich, famous white woman. Normally, these experiences are par for the course for those living at the intersection of more marginalized identities.

So without a doubt, it’s time to #FreeBritney. But it’s time to free the rest of us, as well.

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