popular feminism part 5

On the other hand, popular feminism responds to the reception of Spears by bringing to light the injustices brought upon her because of the gender role she played. This visibility can be seen within the Free Britney movement as well as the three documentaries surrounding the issue. While the grievances against Spears could be listed and elaborated until a book was written, that is not the focus of this work. But a general understanding of how Spears was punished for her performance of sexual promiscuity is important. One example of how the public treated Spears. Framing Britney, a 2021 NYT documentary revisited a 2003 interview between the pop star and Dianne Sawyer. In it, Sawyer plays a clip of Kendall Ehrlich, wife to the Governor of Maryland, who said if she had the opportunity she would kill Spears because of the immoral influence of Spears upon her children.[1] It is one thing to have someone threaten to kill you, but quite absurd to have this presented to you in-person during an interview that would be viewed throughout the world. Spears is presented as a problem to culture, and this becomes a habit within culture.

In 2008, Spears is placed under a conservatorship. The conservatorship is what the Free Britney movement and the documentaries are responding to. Smit argues that celebrities are subject to a type of misrecognition that we can understand through Charles Taylor’s idea of minority misrecognition. It is the concept that minorities are constantly recognized for something negative that they are not. And this misrecognition causes a shattering of one’s identity.[2] When people see Spears, they see her for what they want, not necessarily what she is. Many people have seen her as a means of making money. Smit argues, “Her celebrity is crafted into currency by other people…”[3] I would argue that the documentary participates in this same sort of misrecognition. In this case she is recognized as a victim of sexist treatment. In the narrative of the documentary Spears becomes a way to create social currency for the brand of popular feminism. Free Britney became not only a rallying call but also a brand in which you identify yourself with other feminists or people within the Free Britney tribe. Spears reacted to the documentary in an Instagram post on September 28th, “It’s really crazy guys… I watched a little bit of the last documentary and I must say I scratched my head a couple of times !!! I really try to disassociate myself from the drama !!! Number one… that’s the past !!! Number two … can the dialogue get any classier (3 emojis) ??? Number three.. wow they used the most beautiful footage of me in the world (emoji) !!!”[4] It is clear that Spears feels misrepresented within the discourse.

[1] Stark, Framing Britney, 23:40

[2] Smit, The Exile of Britney Spears, 62.

[3] Smit, The Exile of Britney Spears, 63.

[4] Britney Spears (@britneyspears), “It’s really crazy guys… I watched a little bit of the last documentary and I must say I scratched my head a couple of times,” Instagram photo, September 28, 2021.