“I want my life back”: Why do we continue to justify the Britney Spears conservatorship?
Britney Spears has spent the last 13 years living under a conservatorship; her life has been controlled by her father and team of lawyers. Now, she shares her emotional experience of conservatorship abuse and pleads, “I want my life back”.
In 2008, Britney Spears’s life was placed under a conservatorship. After suffering a public mental health breakdown, the singer’s personal, economic, and legal decision-making power was ceded to her father, Jamie Spears, and a team of lawyers that she was unable to appoint herself. She was not even present in the courtroom when the conservatorship was granted by the Californian legal system. From that moment on, Britney Spears’s life under the conservatorship has been considered a perplexing enigma that has captivated the public’s interest and is rarely commented on by the Spears’s family, or Spears herself. The court-ordered agreement is commonly granted for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions and unable to take care of themselves. Yet, since the development of Spears’s conservatorship, she has headlined a global tour that profited $131 million, performed a four-year residency in Las Vegas, appeared as a judge on X Factor US, and released four successful albums. Now, for the first time in thirteen years, Britney Spears has been granted the opportunity to address the court directly, and have her experiences heard and her wishes finally understood. And she wants her life back.
“I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated,” Spears disclosed to the Los Angeles courtroom on 23rd June 2021. She indicated that she no longer wants her father in control of her affairs and intends to charge him with conservatorship abuse. “Somebody’s done a good job at exploiting my life,” she continued, and “the people who did this to me should not get away”. Her account of life under conservatorship was shocking, revealing her experiences of suffering from financial and emotional abuse, and being isolated, and medicated. From decisions such as the colour of her kitchen cabinets, to whether she is allowed to be driven around in her boyfriend’s car, the conservatorship has stripped Spears of her rights and fundamentally restricted her life. Indeed, until recent years, Spears was not aware of her right to challenge the conservatorship, highlighting the boundless power and influence of those in control of her life.
The conservatorship has forced her to use birth control to prevent her from getting pregnant and prohibited her from getting married: “I have an IUD inside of myself right now, so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out, so I could start trying to have another baby, but the so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out, because they don’t want me to have any more children”. The denial of her reproductive rights elucidates so many wider issues regarding women’s agency, and the prevalence of patriarchal legal systems that facilitate our exploitation, and the denial of our autonomy. As Yousra Imran at Gal-Dem wrote after Spears’s court hearing, “At the crux of Britney’s conservatorship is her father’s exploitation of the period during which her mental health suffered; he uses her 2008 breakdown as the primary justification to control her affairs”. Having control over what she posts on social media, it has been widely speculated that her team attempts to make her appear ‘unhinged’ through her aberrant posts in order to justify the conservatorship to the public.
At the hearing, it was ruled that Britney Spears could appoint her own lawyer to further her legal battle, however, the conservatorship remains in place for the moment. Yet, we must question: why was Spears’s conservatorship justified for so long? If she were a man, would their rights have been so incontrovertibly stripped from them following a mental health crisis? Are there other women living under conservatorship arrangements that we have failed to hear about — that have not aroused such public interest — and why have we not?
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