What happened to Britney Spears can’t happen again.
26th March 2021
As the most iconic trends of the 2000s find their way back into the mainstream, we reflect with nostalgia on the era that brought us Mean Girls, Tamagotchi’s, and arguably the best pop hits of all time. However, this glamorous decade also comes with a much darker past that is too often overlooked. The explosive new documentary Framing Britney Spears has confronted us with the shameful past of tabloid culture and blatant misogyny that characterised the early 2000s.
Although we remember Britney Spears’s reign as queen of pop fondly, we seem to forget the incessant abuse she faced from the media and the part we played in it. The documentary details the relentless bullying Spears endured by tabloids that followed her every move. They published stories criticising her sex life, parenting capabilities, and mental health. She lost all sense of privacy as the demand for these stories skyrocketed, along with the price tag of a candid photo of her. The paparazzi stopped at nothing to get “money shots” of the star, stalking her and intentionally provoking her until she finally broke. We all watched Britney Spears’s downfall as if it was an entertaining performance. So why were we so shocked at the revelations in this documentary?
The media has torn women apart for public amusement since its conception. From Marilyn Monroe to, Lindsay Lohan we have become accustomed to the degradation of women in the tabloids. This abuse from the press is planned and intentional, as if they are setting up for a climactic scene in a movie. First, they idolise these celebrities, building them up on a pedestal, before viciously knocking them down – all in the name of entertainment.
There is no topic off-limits when it comes to criticising these women. It has simply become the norm to see images and stories which objectify and humiliate them splashed across front pages. Publications like Star Magazine even had entire issues dedicated to body shaming women for their “fight with cellulite”. This sexist pressure not only had an enormous effect on the stars they berated, but also on the slew of young women, men, and children who read these magazines. Although we enjoyed the colourful gossip of 2000s tabloids, they convinced us that it was normal to treat women this way.
“The media has torn women apart for public amusement since its conception. From Marilyn Monroe to, Lindsay Lohan we have become accustomed to the degradation of women in the tabloids.”
Judged by a set of unattainable standards, these stars would never fit the mould of what the public deemed to be the “perfect” woman. Britney Spears was reduced to a sexual object at the mere age of 17, but she was also expected to be an innocent role model for the fans who worshipped her. Rather than attacking the articles that sexually objectified her as a teenager, mothers began to attack Britney for being a ‘bad influence’ on their daughters. She was expected to be desirable to the male gaze whilst also presenting as a perfect matriarchal example for children. An impossible feat.
There is no doubt that our cruel criticism of the star led to a mental breakdown that forced her into a court-sanctioned conservatorship in 2008. Despite Britney’s pleas to have an impartial conservator, the court gave her father complete control over her life. The documentary has sparked an upsurge in supporters of the #FreeBritney movement that is advocating for the star to be liberated from the agreement. It has also opened the eyes of many to how shameful our treatment of her really was.
This has held up an unflattering mirror to a society that relished in the downfall of countless women. We funded the tabloids that abused celebrities and egged them on till they pushed women like Britney to the edge. However, this is not some shameful practice that was left in the 2000s. We still feed into the misogynistic portrayal of women like Meghan Markle and Megan Thee Stallion whose abuse is exacerbated because of deep-seated racism in the media.
If we are to stop repeating mistakes from the past and learn from them instead, we must stand up against the public degradation of women. Sexism is still the “stock in trade” of the press and continues to uphold power structures that perpetuate sexist, racist, and classist myths. As many studies have found, the harassment of celebrities can be a major cultural risk factor that encourages violence against women. We must all stop accepting misogynistic attacks on women that have become so normalised and entrenched in our everyday lives. We owe it to the many women whose lives have been torn apart by the media. We owe it to Britney.
Photo by Gabriel Weinstein on Flickr