Well, this is a highly unlikely post from a Thinking Girl like myself. However, I felt moved to write something about the travesty I witnessed on Thursday evening (June 15) when Matt Lauer interviewed Britney Spears for NBC’s Dateline. (If you missed it and want to know what I’m talking about, click here.)Now, it’s true that I don’t think much of Britney Spears. I don’t care for her music. I don’t care for the immense pressure her persona has put on young women. I don’t care for her uneducated republican-christian political views. I don’t care for her and Madonna co-opting lesbianism in order to sell records. I don’t care for her sense of fashion. I don’t care for her videos, which represent women in a degrading manner. I don’t care for her in general. And furthermore, she has made some very public blunders in regards to the care of her child, and she doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about it: her response to Matt Lauer’s questions about almost tripping and dropping her baby was “Accidents happen,” which seems a bit flippant and irresponsible to me.
However, what I do have sensitivity for is her position in society. Britney Spears is not perfect, this is true – but who of us is? Which of us would be up for the job of role model to every young girl in north america – much less be up for that job as a mere corollary to our primary job? Britney is an entertainer – she should not be held up as an example for young girls to emulate. Moreover, that is a job she didn’t ask for – she just wanted to be a singer!
The evolution of Britney’s career has been really weird and she has been subjected to a lot of expectations and pressures. First, she started out as an innocent kid on the Mickey Mouse Club. She went on to a solo career as a teenager, and gained instant success with her cuteness, catchy tunes and good dance moves. Then she blossomed into a young woman, and the rumours started: “Britney had breast implants.” I always said, give the girl a break, she just went through puberty! Then the pressure was on. Britney was linked with Justin Timberlake, and rumours flew about their sex life. Britney, raised in the south as a christian, and feeling the pressure to be a good role model to young girls everywhere, emphatically stated that she was saving her virginity for marriage (a move also made by Jessica Simpson, apparently with more success). Britney then made the move into slutdom, dressing in barely-there outfits for performances and gyrating suggestively on stage, which was in direct opposition to the values she claimed to hold, so said her critics. Enter the paparazzi. When she and JT broke up, he spilled the beans in a most ungentlemanly way about having slept with Britney, and she was shamed. Suddenly, she was a laughingstock; her unattainable physique was slipping, her famous friends were diminishing, and she was photographed and interviewed in msot unflattering lights. The poor kid! All of a sudden, the world thought she was trailor trash. Then, after a brief marriage and anulment, she met a guy she loved and got married, quickly having a baby afterward. Now she is the subject of many many many criticisms of being a bad mother. All before the age of 25! This poor girl has grown up under intense scrutiny, public pressure, pressure from her management, pressure from her record label, pressure from her family, pressure from her romantic partners, and we have the nerve to criticize her for not living up to our ridiculous standards! She never asked for all this attention – and the worst thing about it all is that the attention itself is molding her actions. The incident recently where she was seen driving with her baby on her lap was a direct response to paparazzi, who were harassing her and making her feel unsafe. The paparazzi have moved from the role of observing celebrities from the outside to directly influencing the actions of celebrities – but they still “report” the incidents as though they had nothing to do with it, as though the celebrity in question is still in her glass fishbowl, not interacting with her environment.
So the pressure is on, and always has been. First, Britney was pressured to be virginal, then slutty, then a perfect wife and mother. However, there is always the underlying assumption and desire that she is going to fail at some or all of these roles. The truth is, she is just a girl, a young girl, who is new to all this motherhood stuff and is harassed by people who are paid to report back to you and I what she buys at Starbucks and when she gets her hair done and who she meets for dinner. She doesn’t have the power to just do what she wants and thinks is best – she has to live up to a patriarchal society’s vicious expectations in order to be successful. Her success is based exclusively on playing into male dominated ideas of femininity and sexuality under the virgin/whore dichotomy. Sadly, she has been both, and now she is seen as somewhat useless because she is viewed as failing as a mother – the cardinal sin for a woman, whose greatest and most important social role under patriarchy is mother.
I say, even though the poor girl is not helping women achieve more equality, leave her the hell alone. She needs the privacy and space to make her mistakes and learn and grow, just like the rest of us.