What the #FreeBritney Movement Can Tell Us About How Women In Public Life Are Treated
If you’ve watched the harrowing New York Times documentary on Hulu called “Framing Britney,” you probably came away being feeling sad, disturbed, and angry. The thing about “Framing Britney,” is that beyond just being about a famous celebrity, it tells a larger story about the treatment of women in public life. The way that Justin Timberlake was treated in contrast to Britney Spears by the media is infuriating to say the least. The documentary made perfectly clear the two separate worlds that women and men navigate in the public eye.
Much like Britney Spears, another woman in public life has been held to impossible standards, been made for the pun of many jokes, and constantly blamed and scrutinized by a circus of vultures: Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is no secret to women who are in public life and have to deal with unique societal challenges that are imposed on them because of their gender identity.
One of the most disturbing interviews shown in the doc was an interviewer asking a 17-year-old Britney Spears about her breasts. Interviewers like Diane Sawyer asked Britney Spears what it was that she did wrong because of her relationship coming to an end. Obviously, it was the woman’s fault, so let’s just skip everything else and ask her what exactly it was that she did wrong. An episode of Family Feud asked the question of what it was that Britney Spears had lost, with the top answers being her hair and her mind. This is the type of pressure that was exerted on a young woman simply for being in the public spotlight.
Hillary Clinton, while in a completely different arena than pop music, has faced similar standards and questions. She was blamed for an affair that her husband had with Monica Lewinsky. She was blamed for not divorcing him. Again, it was her fault, she’s the one who did something wrong. Chuck Todd suggested she was “over-prepared” for a presidential debate, Matt Lauer played soft-ball with Donald Trump in an interview while he interrupted her and continually questioned her judgment, and Chris Matthews joked about slipping a “Bill Cosby pill” in her water before interviewing her.
It’s a story that women in public life, and women in general are all too familiar with: they are objectified, held to different standards, and more harshly judged and criticized than their male counterparts.
Britney Spears has been trapped in a conservatorship in which she is essentially treated as a minor. Her father retains control over her estate and her person, to the tune of millions of dollars that she earned with her own performances and work. The New York Times documentary drew more attention to this as well as invigorating the #FreeBritney movement.
The documentary was about more than just Britney Spears, it was about the way that women are treated in public life. The way in which the system both propped her up and then savaged her, is a story that too many women are familiar with — women in every industry — from politicians to celebrities, to working professionals in everyday life. Misogyny is a power structure that extends far beyond personal prejudices — it is a systematic form of power which seeks to oppress women, to prop them up and then knock them down. Over and over again. And people have had enough.
The Women’s March after the 2016 election signaled that maybe, on a massive scale, more things were about to change. That the #FreeBritney movement is gaining traction extends far beyond implications for just a pop star. It is a reflection of the way we treat women as a society, and how we reckon with that treatment.
Britney Spears, Hillary Clinton, and countless numbers of women are still standing despite the treatment they’ve received from the media and the public.
The real question is whether or not America is big enough to own up to its problems and mistakes.