Login Dark

Opinion: Britney Spears’ howl of rage is one we all need to hear - CNN

Author: CNN

Source: https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/27/opinions/britney-spears-the-woman-in-me-thomas/index.html

Image of Opinion: Britney Spears’ howl of rage is one we all need to hear - CNN

Editor’s Note: Holly Thomas is a writer and editor based in London.She is morning editor at Katie Couric Media.She tweets @HolstaT.The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.View more opinion on CNN.CNN—Britney Spears’ recently released memoir, “The Woman In Me,” opens with a succinct but devastating bit of family history. Her paternal grandfather dispatched her grandmother Jean to an asylum.Jean was consumed with grief following the death of their three-day-old baby.She was put on lithium in the facility and subsequently shot herself over the grave of her dead child.“Tragedy runs in my family,” Spears observes.Given what follows, it’s hard to argue.Spears’ own story is a howl of rage that appears more justified with every chapter. Born in 1981, she describes her childhood in Kentwood, Louisiana trying to avoid her “mean, apathetic, and cold” father Jamie, and waiting tables from 8 years old between efforts to break into show business.In 1997, at 15, she was signed by Jive Records and swiftly commodified as a pop superstar espousing hollow family values.In 2007, a bereavement, a vicious custody battle and the paparazzi’s relentless hounding saw her start to unravel.Like a monster who’d been lurking in the shadows, Jamie reappeared.We all know what came next.The ridicule that met Spears’ 2007 “meltdown” has since been reevaluated. We’d like to think that nowadays, the public and the media would have a more nuanced, sympathetic response (though for the record, “If Britney survived 2007…” merch is still on sale).By Spears’ own admission, her behavior was concerning, but she remains adamant that it didn’t remotely merit what followed.Either way, we have a language for mental health crises that didn’t exist then, plus (slightly) more empathy for famous young women.Unfortunately, that’s only half the battle.In Spears’ chilling account, she says her father exploited that period of unrest to secure his position as conservator of her person and estate for 13 years.Empowered by California law to govern the most prosaic, minute aspects of her life and work, he subjected her to a regime so punishing that she writes: “I started to wonder if they did want to kill me.” Her mother, meanwhile, rode the crest of her public humiliation — and stratospheric fame — to promote her own book. The specifics of Spears’ situation were bizarre.But her central problem of being gaslit into submission was embedded in hyper-normalized and potentially dangerous ideals.Once Spears realized her conservatorship was inevitable, she begged the court not to appoint her father to oversee it.“Anyone off the street would have been better,” she writes.Her pleas were ignored.She recounts how Jamie — who she describes as an abusive, previously bankrupt alcoholic who’d been absent from her life for years — was deemed more capable of running her life than she was. Positioned as a doting father, Jamie’s depiction of his daughter as incompetent was accepted despite his lack of qualifications, and the fact that his colossal salary and those of his attorneys were allegedly funded by Spears’ own exceptionally demanding work.The fact that Jamie was able to reenter and quickly dominate Spears’ life with apparently minimal difficulty shouldn’t surprise us.Though familial estrangement appears to be on the rise, cutting off family members still carries immense shame — and was far more taboo just a decade or two ago.As the media storm around Meghan Markle’s father has recently demonstrated, public efforts to “reconnect” tend to garner support, or at the very least, attention.And Spears wasn’t set up to object.Having been marketed as a virginal American sweetheart from her mid-teens, Spears was compelled to offer proof of her wholesome family ethos throughout her early career.In a now-notorious 2003 interview, Diane Sawyer asked the then-21-year-old to justify her breakup with Justin Timberlake (who, Spears claims in her book, cheated on her and dumped her by text). Unaware of the details, Sawyer told Spears she’d “upset a lot of mothers in this country.”Another journalist in 2004 preempted a question about how supportive her mother was with the leading remark: “I just love seeing you with your mom so much and holding hands in magazines…” Once she became a mother herself, Spears’ aptitude was under constant scrutiny.In a 2007 interview that was meant to focus on her album “Blackout,” she recalls Ryan Seacrest asking: “How do you respond to those who criticize you as a mom?” Again and again, she was coerced to portray her family as irreproachable bastions of support, and taught that any resistance would be interpreted as incriminating.The exhausting responsibility of being accountable to such absurd standards since childhood, followed by the constant refrain that she was a hapless, immature wreck under the conservatorship, resulted in a self-fulfilling, “Benjamin Button”-like effect.“I became a robot… a sort of, child robot,” Spears writes in “The Woman In Me.” “I had been so infantilized that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself.” In 2019, in a cruel echo of her grandmother’s fate, she says she was put on lithium during an involuntary stint in rehab.The catalyst?She’d objected to a dance move in her Las Vegas show.Spears’ determination to escape this torturous cycle — and her conservatorship’s termination in 2021 — should be irrefutable proof of her fortitude. And yet, her Instagram page, which Spears sees as a lighthearted forum to explore self-expression, has repeatedly been the subject of concern trolling.Observers called the police to her home after she briefly deleted her account in January, and again in September after she posted a video of herself dancing with knives (she later said they were fake).Both times, the authorities left without incident.As Spears explains in her book, dancing and messing around — in outfits even she acknowledges are “bad” — are her rebukes to years spent being trussed up by other people.After what she’s been through, the freedom to express herself feels like the least she deserves.In her remarkably prescient 2001 single, “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” the lyrics of which appear to have inspired the title of her memoir, Spears sang: “All I need is time, a moment that is mine, while I’m in between.” At 41, with a decades-long career already in the rearview, she can hardly be characterized as a girl in the literal sense. Nevertheless, her desire to play following years of chaos and exorbitant premature responsibility is relatable to anyone who knows the pain of a stolen childhood.The assumption that our relations have our best interests at heart doesn’t always bear out.But as Spears’ story shows, it can be remarkably hard to disprove.

Subscribe To Our NewsLetter