To the pregnancy haters: what happened to #FreeBritney?
After 13 years in conservatorship, why can't we just leave the pop star alone, asks Olivia Petter
Tuesday 12 April 2022<span style="white-space:pre"> </span>By Olivia Petter
In case you hadn’t heard: Britney is pregnant. Yes, that Britney (is there any other?) has revealed she’s expecting her first child with long-time partner Sam Asghari, to whom she got engaged last September. The 40-year-old pop star made the announcement on Instagram, writing that she initially thought she was ‘food pregnant’, as Asghari had playfully teased. However, after taking a test, Spears discovered she was in fact properly pregnant.
The singer didn’t reveal how far along she was, but explained that she wouldn’t be ‘going out as much due to the paps getting their money shot’, alluding to those years in the early noughties when she was relentlessly hounded by photographers, particularly during her pregnancies with her first two children, Sean, 16, and Jaden, 15. However, the singer did say that she’d be doing yoga ‘every day’ during her pregnancy and was ‘spreading lots of joy and love’ to her fans.
This is wonderful news. At least, it should be. On Twitter, Spears has been labelled ‘too old’ and too ‘mentally unstable’ to have a third child. Others have gone so far as to accuse her of lying and expressed concerns over whether or not she is fit to be a mother. Meanwhile, media outlets have been reluctant to take her post seriously, running headlines with words like ‘Instagram post suggests’ and focusing on the fact that this is merely information the singer has shared – ‘says she is pregnant’ – rather than simply stating it as fact.
Not only does all this tap back into the ‘mad woman’ narrative that has plagued Spears throughout the bulk of her adult life, but it also invites the exact same rhetoric that led to her notoriously draconian conservatorship. A conservatorship from which she was finally released in November after 13 years.
Let’s backtrack a little. In 2008, Jamie P Spears, Britney’s father, petitioned the court for authority over his daughter’s life, citing mental health struggles, custody battles with her ex, Kevin Federline, and possible substance abuse. Under the conditions of the conservatorship, Jamie was granted control over almost every aspect of the singer’s day-to-day life, from her finances and professional commitments to her physical and mental health. Perhaps most concerning of all, though, was that Spears said she was forced to have an IUD so that she could not have any more children.
This kind of restriction is known as reproductive coercion and, despite sounding like something from The Handmaid’s Tale, it is a recognised form of abuse and was described as such by women’s rights groups when Spears made this claim last year. Not only does forcing a woman to take birth control strip her of bodily autonomy, but it also infringes on her fundamental human rights. So, yes, it is a big deal that after being released from her conservatorship, Spears has finally been permitted to make her own choices about her body and act on them. If her choice is to have a baby, who are we to judge, criticise, or even question her?
The fact that Spears is pregnant is undoubtedly a triumph of justice. One that sends an important message to women and those who abuse them. And while much of her fanbase couldn’t be more thrilled, their enthusiasm is undermined by the inordinate amount of negativity plaguing the internet. What happened to #FreeBritney? If anything, the response to her pregnancy is a brutal reminder that even though Spears is legally liberated, she remains a slave to the shackles society has placed on her for decades. With this in mind, perhaps she is only as free as the rest of us, which is not really free after all. Not yet, anyway.