Many of us have been following the #FreeBritney saga as it unfolds, but the implications of her treatment are so much deeper than just the troubles of a famous pop star.
In 2008, Hollywood celebrity Britney Spears was twice placed on a psychiatric hold for three days. Ever since her infamous public “breakdowns” which included shaving her head and swinging an umbrella at paparazzi, she has been under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears.
What was initially temporary, was turned into permanent conservatorship within a year after the petition was filed, whereby Spears’ father and her other conservators controlled all her financial, economic, legal, and personal decisions.
As a consequence, in 2009 the #FreeBritney movement was started by her fans who were concerned for her overall well-being, after the court’s decision to go ahead with the conservatorship. The movement began trending again in 2019, when Spears checked into an undisclosed hospital, after reportedly struggling to deal with her father’s long standing illness.
Many fans believed that she was sent to the hospital against her will.
#FreeBritney however brings up a lot of questions, apart from the 39-year-old pop icon’s conservatorship issue, because it demonstrates the way women can have their bodies and finances controlled, without being able to advocate for themselves.
If Spears, a woman with privilege and a platform where she can voice her concerns, can face her life being completely taken over, what does it mean for women with absolutely no privilege?
Many women are subject to having their bodies legislated and not having choice over their decisions to have or not have kids, or having their finances controlled by parents or partners, all while they are left helpless and at the whim of those who control them.
On a similar thread, looking at Spears’ conservatorship, its details, and the length of time in which she has had her life controlled, it becomes clear as to why it needs to be removed.
A conservatorship, according to the California Courts official website, is where a “judge appoints an individual or organization to care for another adult who is deemed unfit to care for themselves or to manage their own finances.”
Although her mental state in 2008 may have warranted a temporary conservatorship according to the courts, why has it continued for 13 long years? And most importantly, why was Spears not allowed to discuss her conservatorship with the public?
It gets even more interesting if we look at her career trajectory, after her conservatorship.
Given the state of her mental health deterioration and to an extent where she “needed” to be placed under conservatorship, one would assume that she was in no condition to take care of herself, let alone continue having a successful career.
Instead Spears went on to release four albums, headlined a global tour that grossed $131 million, and performed for four years in a hit Las Vegas residency.
Her conservators seized control over her life, whereby she couldn’t make a single decision for herself, and continued to hold on to it for 13 years, all while making money off of her and her career, and painting the outward picture that everything was fine.
The degree of the conservatorship was ruthless to the point where she wasn’t allowed to drive with her boyfriend and was forcibly kept on birth control despite expressing interest in having more children.
When she requested to see a doctor for the removal of her birth control, she wasn’t even allowed to do that.
In June 2021, for the first time, Spears publicly addressed the court and called for an end to the “abusive” conservatorship. “I just want my life back,” Spears said.
She even vowed to put her career on hold until her father was removed from the conservator position.
"I don't think I can live a full life," she said.
"I feel ganged up on, I feel bullied and I feel alone."
This whole issue has now created several conversations around the toxic nature of conservatorships, and some lawmakers have been inspired to look into the issue of conservatorship deeply after seeing Spears’ treatment.
It was sheer abuse of power by her father and a wealth management company that stole 13 years from Spears’ life. It was also reported that Spears was not even aware that she could end her conservatorship.
"Ma'am, I didn't know I could petition the conservatorship to end it. I'm sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn't know that," she told the judge, during her testimony.
A celebrity like Spears, with such a large supportive fan base, was subjected to a cruel situation whereby she had no say over her own life. It makes you wonder about those women who aren’t Spears, and continue to have their rights taken away from them in many other forms. They can’t speak up and advocate for themselves, under conservatorship or not.
With Spears having a voice, there is a chance of her being finally free from her conservatorship, but she likely isn’t the last person to be controlled in such a manner.
It took a megastar like Britney Spears for the lawmakers to even start talking about these things, and definitely not soon enough. But for the most part, it goes on to show how indispensable the lives of women are, especially those who aren’t a famous pop icon.
July 14, 2021 is the date of Spears’ next hearing, which could allow her to begin to take steps towards ending her conservatorship.
Although matters are a bit complex because of how complicated ending conservatorships are, it stands as a ray of hope for freedom and attaining the basic human right of living by one’s own will.
Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analysing them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on Instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.