Last week, the entire nation awaited Britney Spears’ own words as she gave testimony in front of Judge Brenda Penny in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Spears did deliver an address of her own words, and more than anything else, fans and ardent supporters of the #freeBritney movement were shocked, dismayed, and disgusted. Among other things, Spears revealed in her lengthy statement (which you can read a full transcript of here) that her conservatorship had mandated she have an IUD implanted in her, preventing her from having more children. Aside from everything else we learned from this testimony, the bottom line is clear: Britney deserves the right to control her life, and her own body.
Our media age is inundated with discussions and arguments about what it means to have bodily autonomy and the so-called reproductive rights debate. More than anything else, these arguments usually ignore the basic fundamentals of biology and adhere to tired narratives on the race and gender of the apparent “oppressors” in power making the rules. But never before have we been so clearly and abruptly confronted with what the genuine fight for bodily autonomy looks like, until now.
The Most Horrifying Part of Spears’ Conservatorship
The thesis of Britney’s address was clear: She wants an end to the extremes of her 13-year conservatorship, and she’s suffered through what many of us can’t even comprehend.
In one especially moving section, Britney summarized why she should be allowed the basic rights and freedoms the rest of us take for granted every day: “It's been a long time since I've owned my money, and it's my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested. Again, it makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me with their own two eyes, make a living for so many people and pay so many people — trucks and buses on tour on the road with me — and be told I'm not good enough. But I'm great at what I do. And I allow these people to control what I do, ma'am, and it's enough, it makes no sense at all. Now, going forward, I'm not willing to meet or see anyone. I've met with enough people against my will. I'm done. All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his f***ing car. And I would honestly like to sue my family, to be totally honest with you.”
“All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his car.”
Britney also revealed that she was watched day and night, even while naked, by management, that she was on a harsh prescription of lithium which made her feel “drunk,” and that she was forced to do tours, take appointments, and had no say whatsoever in her brand, her dancers, or even the minutia of her day-to-day life. Her father and her management micromanaged every detail, to a devastating extent.
As if managing her exercise schedule and diet weren’t enough, the most heartbreaking statement came when Spears revealed that she still dreams of getting married and having a baby: “I would like to progressively move forward and I want to have the real deal, I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. 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 this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children — any more children. So basically, this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”
That’s an understatement, honestly. Spears, a multimillionaire, a global and cultural icon, isn’t even allowed to fulfill the most inherent desires or to have what almost every woman dreams of.
A Terrifying Precedent
In reality, the sterilization or controlled reproduction of seemingly mentally ill women is nothing new in America.
While this isn’t to comment on the nature of Spears’ mental health, it speaks to the true invasiveness and injustice of her conservatorship — that a 39-year-old isn’t able to get married or have any additional children, which she’s expressly said she wants.
In the 20th century, over 60,000 people were sterilized in over 30 states. The majority of these women — poor, white, black, and disabled or mentally ill people — were dubbed “feebleminded” or unable to assume responsibility for themselves (sound familiar?) and were consequently subject to the “science” we now know as eugenics.
Between 1997 and 2010, around 1,400 women in California prisons were forcibly sterilized.
Shockingly, forced sterilization is actually still practiced in the U.S., and in other parts of the world (most notably in the persecuted Uighur minority region in China). Between 1997 and 2010, around 1,400 women in California prisons were forcibly sterilized. The reasons behind these procedures are much the same as they were in the 1900s — that the women in question were unfit to be parents.
Spears’ conservatorship most likely maintains the facade that she would be an unfit parent, despite the fact that she already has two sons, but the real rationale is more disturbing. As it almost always does, it comes down to money. Marriage and raising children, which most of us take part in every day with little to no afterthought, would take Britney out of production, as it were, setting back her tours and performances, reaping less profit for her family and her management.
Bodily Autonomy in the “Reproductive” Rights Age
The “reproductive” rights argument is rarely held by its proponents with an authentic desire to listen and is heavily predicated on one, the concept that no “reproduction” has actually yet occurred when it comes to discussions on choice and anti this or pro that, and two, that the child in question is completely, entirely part of the mother it gestates in and not its own distinct person with rights.
In Britney’s case, we have an actual reproductive issue — her desire and her natural right to reproduce, but being prevented and held back from the joy and fulfillment that love, marriage, and kids bring to so many.
Britney should have the right to her own body and the right to have as many children as she wants.
Britney should have the right to her own body and the right to have as many children as she wants without the interference or draconian tactics of a harsh conservatorship controlling her body through an IUD. In this instance, her bodily autonomy is completely violated, without concern or thought for her feelings as a woman and a mother.
We talk a lot about reproductive rights in most instances where children are already present, however much we disagree with the issue of weeks or trimesters or missed periods. This culture is not kind to the idea of children invading our space or even to successful, independent career women wanting children, but it is quick to label nuanced, complicated issues as injustices or oppression. When we immediately fly to these tactics, it’s almost harder to see injustice for what it is, even when it stares us in the face.
I’ve written pieces about Britney Spears before. I grew up with her in my house, throughout my childhood and my teenage years, and continue to admire her as a performer and as one of the foremost pop-culture figures of my generation. Call that superficial if you will, but the woman is talented.
As I read her testimony, it was this portion specifically that resonated within me in a way I almost can’t explain — the idea of wanting children, having every means and ability to provide for them, and being refused by arbitrary figures in suits who sign the checks, monitor social media profiles, dole out the pills, schedule the performances, etc.
Many of us understand that having kids and wanting marriage and a home are primal, fundamental, and healthy instincts for us as females. Having those most basic desires needlessly stripped away is perhaps the cruelest and most heartbreaking takeaway from Britney’s testimony.
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