Opinion by MiaDunker
Britney Spears’ music was ever present in my childhood and preteen years. My friends and I all loved her music, though I wouldn’t have considered myself a die-hard fan — I was 10. What I didn’t know at the time was that Britney had gone through a serious, highly publicized episode a couple years before in 2007, ending in 2008. Many people call this her ‘breakdown’ but I’m choosing to call it what it was — a young celebrity’s struggle with mental health and substance abuse that was not taken seriously and continues to be mocked to this day.
In 2008, Marian girls would have been anywhere from 2 to 6 years old. It’s safe to assume that a bunch of toddlers weren’t caught up on the latest celebrity drama at the time, so I don’t know if everyone our age grasps the extent to which the media publicized and made fun of Spears’ struggles with mental health when she obviously needed help. At the time, Spears had been a singer for almost a decade and had been in the spotlight since she was young. It was normalized in 2000s culture for paparazzi and celebrity news outlets to have little to no respect for famous people’s privacy, so when her mental health deteriorated in the early 2000s, it was put out there for everyone to see, speculate, and judge. Generally, it seemed that people at the time also were not as understanding or sympathetic to mental health issues as we are today.
In 2008, Spears was admitted into rehab and was placed in a temporary conservatorship by her father, Jamie Spears. Conservatorship is a system in the U.S. where if a person is not able to control their finances because of a physical or mental impairment, a guardian is chosen to do it for them. To this day, more than a decade later, despite the personal growth and improvement Spears has shown over the past 12 years, she is still under conservatorship. Spears has no control of her finances, despite being one of the biggest, most well known celebrities in the world. In early 2020, fans began to take notice, and the hashtag “FreeBritney” started gaining traction. Despite the public support to end her conservatorship, it was extended by a court on Aug. 21 until February 2021, right as it was set to expire.
#FreeBritney has shone a light onto conservatorship in the United States, and because of it, people have become aware of the flaws in the system. While conservatorship can be a good way to help people who are unable to manage their money by themselves in theory, the system can, and has been shown to, be abused to control the money and lives of the vulnerable. Without proper regulation, the people under conservatorship can be assigned guardians they don’t even know, or people who don’t even need a conservatorship can be forced to give up control of their lives if the court thinks it’s necessary. Because of the lack of oversight by the system, the elderly, as well as physically or mentally disabled people, can have their autonomy disrupted and their rights taken away.
On Aug. 19, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted that they were willing to help Britney’s case, and that, “People with disabilities have a right to lead self-directed lives and retain their civil rights.” As of Sept. 3, Britney Spears has said she supports the #FreeBritney movement, and stated she wants to choose her own conservator to handle her finances, as well as calling for reform to the conservatorship process to make it transparent and fair. The fact that Spears is using her fame and influence to make a change and improve the lives of people dealing with the conservatorship system should show anyone doubting her progress how far she has come in the past decade. As a fan of hers and a long-time listener to her music, I am glad to see people speaking out against her conservatorship. #FreeBritney goes beyond helping a well-known celebrity take back control of her life — it’s a movement for mental health rights.