What to Do With Britney Spears’s Rage?

The last few years have been ones of reckoning, and two of the topics under review were, first, how we treated our pop stars at the turn of the century and, second, how we understand women’s rage. To simplify and generalize, the collective conclusions were, respectively, not well and we don’t really. 

Those two conversations have been on a collision course in the public since Britney Spears’s testimony against her conservatorship during a July court date, and especially this past week. Britney’s rage is on display in post after post. She’s said she wants to sue members of her family. She wanted to “slap” her mother and her sister. Even though she says she plans to post less and deletes her posts, more come. She is furious at what they did to her. 

What the family did to her was commit her to a court-ordered conservatorship, headed in part by her father, Jamie Spears, that controlled her finances and movement after she had a public breakdown. The court freed her from it this November after enormous online pressure and with the help of a new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart. She is still embroiled in legal action over their financial entanglement (The latest accusation: Jamie impelled a security firm, Black Box, to spy on her by monitoring the contents of her phone, iCloud, and secretly recorded her in her room—which her father’s lawyer has denied outright. A judge decided Wednesday that allegations will be argued in an evidentiary hearing in July.) 

Overall the #FreeBritney movement, a group of fans who long believed the pop star was being held in the conservatorship against her will, won, and Framing Britney Spears, the New York Times television documentary released on FX and Hulu about her situation, galvanized an even wider audience to demand her freedom. But it was really her shaking frustration and anger in a leaked court testimony that shored up support for her. The world was finally able to hear her rage.

On her socials over the months following that testimony, the star thanked her fans and expressed ambivalence about the reappraisal at work in the documentary, which devoted a lot of the time to the reason she was entered into the conservatorship in the first place before making an argument as to why it might not be suitable anymore. She only watched some of it, but said that “from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in…I cried for two weeks and well….I still cry sometimes!!!!” While the content makers made content, she didn’t seem interested in rehashing the past. All she wanted, it appeared, was to be free from her current cage. 

If the coverage of Britney’s life and music in the early 2000s was a test at handling the success of a woman, now her situation is a test for how we accept woman’s rage. Without the conservatorship, Spears’s dispatches to the world have grown more voluble—especially with regard to the public back-and-forth with her sister, Jamie Lynn Spears. It’s easy to get caught up in the fight, which began in earnest as the younger Spears sister began to promote her recent memoir on talk shows. It escalated to statements exchanged on social media and, on Jamie Lynn’s part, in interviews she’s given, including an appearance on the popular Call Her Daddy podcast.

At present, the lawyers are sharing their own exchanges on behalf of their clients. Rosengart, Britney’s attorney, sent a cease and desist over Jamie Lynn’s book, that reads in part:

We write with some hesitation because the last thing Britney wants is to bring more attention to your ill-timed book and its misleading or outrageous claims about her. Although Britney has not read and does not intend to read your book, she and millions of her fans were shocked to see how you have exploited her for monetary gain. She will not tolerate it, nor should she.

You of all people know the abuse and wrongdoing Britney had to endure during the conservatorship, after initially growing up with a “ruinous,” alcoholic father. In fact, your own book reportedly states that your father “spent most of my life in that cycle of ruinous behavior. His bouts of drinking caused me periods of torment and sorrow.”

As I have previously stated, having endured a 13-year conservatorship that stripped her of civil rights and fundamental liberties, Britney will no longer be bullied by her father or anyone else.

Britney was the family’s breadwinner and she also otherwise supported you. Publicly airing false or fantastical grievances is wrong, especially when designed to sell books. It is also potentially unlawful and defamatory. 

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