The 13-year conservatorship battle is reflecting the worrying reality for women’s autonomy within the music industry.
Words by Alice Stevens
The New York Times documentary, “Framing Britney Spears”, revealed an insight into the shocking reality of Spear’s ongoing court battle for freedom. The documentary follows Spears’s rollercoaster of a career, reflecting the media’s horrific treatment of the star through sensationalised tabloids regarding her family life, sexuality, and motherhood. This traumatic treatment undoubtedly led to her temporary psychiatric hold – a moment that would change the course of Spear’s freedom for the next 13 years.
Currently, Spear’s is living under a court-sanctioned conservatorship that allows her father complete control over her estate, finances, and essentially, her life. The conservatorship is a legal decision enacted for those who are incapable of making their own decisions, usually for the elderly or those who cannot care for themselves or manage their own finances. Her father, Jamie Spears, was granted control over her estate and finances which includes; restricting visitors and controlling business opportunities. Andrew Wallet, Spear’s co-conservator has also been found to call her situation a “hybrid business model” by booking shows and opportunities she may have previously missed, such as her residency in Las Vegas. In August of 2020, Spear’s lawyers filed a case for Jamie Spears to be removed as conservator, stating that Britney “strongly opposes” her father’s control, and would like an impartial third-party individual instead. Many fans believe that Britney was forced into the original arrangement due to fearing losing further access to her children. This fear however became reality due to the media’s horrendous portrayal of Britney as an unfit mother and sensationalization of her private life, where in 2019, Spears was granted 30% custody of her two children.
This insight into the music industry has revealed the misogynistic reality for many female musicians within a male-saturated business. Even before her rights were legally restricted, Spear’s experienced a huge amount of control within her career and was found to be pushed to record highly sexualised music videos to help maintain her image and sell further records. The documentary reveals the sexist attitudes made by the media, especially with regards to her break up with pop-star Justin Timberlake. Timberlake weaponized his famous single ‘Cry Me A River’ to portray Britney as unfaithful within the relationship, whilst also partaking in radio shows that outwardly present misogynistic attitudes towards Spears… Unsurprisingly, the music industry is no stranger to perpetuating sexist and chauvinistic attitudes towards women. In 2014, the artist Kesha filed a lawsuit against music producer Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, accusing him of sexual harassment and abuse. In 2015, Kesha revealed that the abuse she experienced by Dr. Luke was, in fact, visible to Sony Music Entertainment, and they instead decided to conceal his misconduct. Her fight to void the contract with her abuser blatantly emphasises the acceptance of sexism within the industry.
The ongoing battle for conservatorship highlights a much larger issue of power and choice for women within music, raising many questions of autonomy and infringement of rights. It has become clear that women within the music industry do not have equal access to autonomy, from forced sexualization for sales to incompetence regarding sexual abuse. Interestingly, when female artists subvert the male gaze and express their own sexuality – they are met with disgust and outrage, such as Cardi B’s track ‘WAP’. The media’s intense scrutiny of female artists has created an inhospitable environment where abuse is accepted. This leads us to question: if the victims within this narrative were male, would these court cases still be ongoing or even necessary in the first place? And if Jamie Spears did have his daughters well being as his priority, would accepting a residency in Las Vegas be appropriate?