From America’s golden girl to the butt of every late-night joke, pop star Britney Spears has become a media case study in the way our misogynistic society tees women up only to tear them down.
The arrival of “Framing Britney Spears,” a New York Times documentary that shed light on the media’s treatment of Britney, her public struggles and her current legal battle over the rights to her own autonomy, has sparked renewed interest in conversations regarding the way society treats women at the top.
Britney was 16 when “…Baby One More Time” blew up in 1998 and her life erupted into a media goldmine. Front-page stories about her virginity and questioning if she got implants at 18 set the stage for later media struggles, culminating in a devastating breakdown that has left her in a conservatorship co-run by her father to this day.
A year ago, I wrote a column on my desire to denounce the term “guilty pleasure” and allow us to respect female-driven art the same as any other. At the forefront, I cited my fandom for the princess of pop music, Britney Spears.
As a fan for years, the beautifully done “Framing Britney Spears” didn’t shed new light on her story to me, but the immense support in response did highlight something. At its core, this fight is about more than Britney, it’s about changing our society so that no woman in the entertainment industry has to endure the same tumultuous battle.
Quite frankly, the day to apologize about Britney Spears has passed. Society chewed her up, spit her out, ran her over and then blamed her for the mess it made. We can’t erase the damage caused but we can be smart enough to not make the same mistake today.
Britney Spears is 38. She may have sang “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” — the definitive coming-of-age song for people with taste — in 2001, but that’s no longer the case.
Women in fame receive vitriol in innumerable capacities on a regular basis. We place them on pedestals that we’ve already tipped over and then blame them when they fall from our unreasonably high standards.
Take the recent instance in which Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion got hate for singing “WAP” from a bunch of dry, unasked people. Women in the media aren’t suddenly in a golden era simply because we’re calling out the treatment of Britney.
After all, it wasn’t long ago when a 19-year-old Miley Cyrus got pegged as a “bad influence” wild-child, slut-shamed left and right all because she was coming of age in the imperfect manner we all do. You know society is topsy turvy when people are more upset with her than Robin Thicke, the then 30-something musician grinding on her during the infamous 2013 VMAs. Plus, his music sucks so there was truly no excuse for giving that man a platform.
We may be more comfortable calling out gross behavior like David Letterman’s Lindsay Lohan interview (or his Jennifer Aniston one, for that matter), but we’ve got a ways to go. I mean, there’s a swath of society that goes to Ben Shapiro for cultural commentary — we’re clearly not in a postfeminist world.
At the end of the day, change isn’t going to happen overnight. I’m not asking us to get up and rally at dawn, but let’s just be conscious of what we put out into the world. You don’t need to love every young female celebrity but it’s very easy not to add to an avalanche of hate.
If we stop giving power to a tabloid-obsessed industry, then that voice becomes a weak whimper begging to be heard. The New York Post, the National Enquirer, the Daily Mail and many more run on a misogynistic agenda to degrade women for simply being, and it’s long overdue we minimize their impact.
So to end, stream “In the Zone,” Britney’s best album, and don’t bully celebrities on Twitter. Should be easy enough.
“Framing Britney Spears” is streaming on Hulu.