3 Profoundly Sexist Issues With Britney Spears's Conservatorship, Explained By A Psychologist

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Britney Spears posing in black lace dress on step & repeat

Over the past several years, with the details emerging about the nature of Britney Spears's conservatorship, there has been a growing concern.

Like many, I've observed the media portrayal of the pop star since she became a sensation many years ago.

Fans have been speculating for years that Britney has been a bird in a not-so-gilded cage. They pointed to her appeals for help through the limited vehicle of her social media accounts. Thus, the #FreeBritney movement was born.

In the latest of the Britney Spears conservatorship news, she made her testimony in court last week. The world finally heard her pleas to the judge directly — her long-anticipated account of her experience of this legal arrangement and her desire to contest its confines.

While the public has yet to understand — and may never have the full story about — the intricacies of Britney’s experience, competencies, and limitations, what's clear is that there are very heavy undertones of sexism that color Britney’s rise to fame and current legal context.

RELATED: Britney Spears’s Lawyer Has Made $3 Million From Her Conservatorship Yet Never Told Her She Could End It

Here are the 3 most sexist things about Britney Spears' conservatorship.

1. There's a perpetual denial of her agency.

During this conservatorship, Britney has been allowed to work or forced to work, depending on the time and sources. In either scenario, there's a denial of her organic agency.

Whether she wanted to work or not, there's a clear conflict of interest in saying that she's not competent to make medical and financial decisions for herself, while also indicating she's competent enough to perform on tour, create music, and host a residence in Las Vegas.

She's been objectified sexually, physically in the form of labor, financially exploited, and used emotionally as a prop to shore up the egos of the people around her.

A hallmark of sexism is objectification, which by definition, denies the subjective agency of the person being objectified, and aligns with the entitlement of the perpetrator.

Britney even alleged that she's been drugged.

In a conservatorship, subjects are supposed to be educated about the process and their agency appropriately represented.

It's not clear to what degree she's been given access to legal support, but the press and fans alike have alluded to a fear that every aspect of her life was controlled by her father, Jamie Spears.

During her court appearance, Britney stated, "I cried on the phone for an hour and [Jaime Spears] loved every minute of it. The control he had over someone as powerful as me as he loved the control to hurt his own daughter, 100,000 [percent]. He loved it."

Their relationship is long documented as one ripe with power struggles. Parents who utilize authoritarian or power-based approaches to parenting, often don't respect or encourage their child’s agency, if it competes with their need to feel in control.

Britney Spears's conservatorship could very well be an oppressive and controlling tool for her father. 

In 2020, on the As NOT Seen on TV Podcast, Britney’s brother, Bryan Spears, commented, "The women in this family are very, very strong-minded and have their own opinion and they want to do what they want to do. And as much as I admire that, as a guy, being like one of two guys in this entire family, it kinda sucks man. I’m not going to lie."

Drew Plotkin, the show’s host, remarked, that such agency was, in fact, "kinda constitutional."

This brief dialogue underlies a mindset rooted in misogyny and sexism that women who actively advocate for their own wants, needs, and limits are "difficult" if those needs compete with those of the men around them.

In other words, the tenets of sexism demand women to be acquiescent, and without interest or ability to demonstrate any self-possessed agency.

2. She's depicted as "crazy."

For centuries, women have been declared "crazy" as a weapon of misogyny to invalidate their reactions to very legitimate — and often environmentally-driven — struggles.

It's well documented that Britney Spears experienced a torrent of harassing interactions with the paparazzi, geared to provoke her in the hopes of capturing a revenue-generating image or video.

This is a form of reactive abuse, often employed to manipulate the victim into looking like an explosive or unstable person in the dynamic.

Britney also experienced slut-shaming in the media and was forced to grow up fast, as her career may have interrupted typical adolescent developmental milestones.

Both could engender symptoms of trauma, as could growing up with a father who struggled with his own addictions and has been accused of demonstrating abusive and aggressive behavior.

There's been speculation that Britney suffered post-partum depression, bipolar disorder, and other diagnoses.

Instead of empathy and a focus on care, Britney was vilified and devalued in the court of public opinion. She lost custody of her children, was prevented from visitation for a time, and all of this happened with the public’s prying eyes and their daily commentary.

She was repeatedly bullied, mocked, and her possible trauma was minimized.

Her coping strategies may not have always been constructive, but the rush to take away Britney’s rights and longevity of this case could represent undue penalization without the appropriate opportunities for her to reclaim her life.

RELATED: Jamie Lynn Spears' Role In Britney’s Conservatorship — And Why People Say She's 'Guilty By Association'

When Britney shaved her head, the media ran with sensationalized stories about Britney’s mental health issues when shaving her head could have been an act of self-declaration and reclamation — a demonstration of a new iteration of her identity emerging.

It was one that could be seen as resilient in the face of having her identity foreclosed for so many years. However, despite working throughout many years of this conservatorship, her resilience appears to be minimized in order to continue the narrative of "crazy."

The sexist undertones that undermine the field of psychology — assuming emotions are feminine, for instance — pave the way for internalized and externalized misogyny.

This prevents empathetic and trauma-informed mental health care as the norm, especially for women, who shoulder the weight of victim-blaming, and who are shamed and called "crazy" for public displays of emotions.

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Demonstrating competence and liberation are traits typically aligned with the construct of masculinity.

Maintaining a conservatorship for 13 years, for someone so young and so clearly competent in many areas of her life seems to overlook the effects of trauma, possible post-partum depression, and imposes undue shame, isolation, and limits the path for an effective recovery.

3. There's entitlement to her sexuality.

Britney — like most, if not all, women and female celebrities — is no stranger to the sting of sexism. She was publicly sexualized throughout her career, yet shamed when she owned her own sexual energy.

The difference between being sexual and being sexualized is about who owns the sexuality.

There are few liberated women who escape the retaliative comments and shaming efforts from people who maintain an internalized or externalized set of rigid gender role expectations.

Double standards have fueled the commentary about Britney’s attire, dating and sex life, and impact on society. She was an easy mark upon which to pin the collective archetypes of the Madonna/Whore complex that color the collective mindset of a sexist and patriarchal culture.

Key figures in her life have been accused of exploiting her presence and sexuality for their own ego and financial gains.

Her sexuality has been further co-opted, as was made clear by her testimony that she's been prohibited from removing her IUD, getting married, or having additional children.

Even registered sex offenders have more reproductive liberties, as it's rare in 2021 for providers, attorneys, or judges to suggest mandatory vasectomies or chemical castration, let alone have it legally enforced.

Even parents whose children have been removed from their care due to abuse, neglect, or inability to effectively parent are not legally required to refrain from having additional children.

However, they may be prevented from retaining custody or legal rights.

While the motives of the conservatorship for such a restrictive reproductive position are not fully known, exerting governance over the bodies of women related to reproduction is a long-standing practice within the sexist and misogynistic family and legal systems.

Even after Michael Jackson was accused of sexually abusing minors and observed holding his own child over a balcony, it was not mandated that he get a vasectomy.

Mothers are notoriously judged with a higher standard of parenting. The double standards in Britney’s case are loud.

RELATED: Britney Spears Cried 'For Two Weeks' Over Documentary — Let’s Stop Capitalizing On Her Trauma

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, PACT Therapist, and Founder of Modern Intimacy, a group practiced in Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. Listen to her podcast, Modern Intimacy, and follow her on IG: @drkatebalestrieri.