Graphic by Paola Fernandez
#FreeBritney has garnered a plethora of social media attention over the COVID-19 lockdowns. Long-term fans are still raising their voices for the mistreatment of popstar Britney Jean Spears under her current conservatorship. Individuals that did not see her popstar growth were raising their concerns over her Instagram videos and pictures. Even journalists and experts sat down and made a documentary about her rise to fame and the tribulations she had to endure.
Spears being forced to be under a misogynistic lens during her peak is not new nor shocking. The subconscious decision of putting confident and independent women who own their sexuality under a microscope to belittle has always been part of our human history. Gawking at women who are comfortable with their own human experience has been engraved in our brains for centuries and I will explain why that is.
Who is Michel Foucault?
Michel Foucault is a 20th-century French philosopher who wrote several books about power relations. He combined power relations with the psyche of corporal punishment and sexuality. Before we link this to Britney Spears, we must understand various concepts.
In Michel Foucault’s book “The History of Sexuality”, he states that the more a society becomes obsessed with repressing sexuality, the more discourse, and power it holds. In other words, guarding sexuality and all its implications is another way for society to be obsessed with the topic. A topic being restricted equals more obsession. He calls this the “repressive hypothesis”.
The Repressive Hypothesis & the 21st Century
A Southern Methodist University article titled, “Sexuality as a Construct (Foucault)”, mentions that Foucault listed 4 ways in which Western society has successfully repressed sexuality. One of them is the “hysterization of women’s bodies”. In western society, women are viewed as objects rather than people. Women are brought to reproduce rather than experience pleasure or explore their sexuality as individuals. Restricting women’s sexual experiences is a way to assert dominance and power over them. Another one is the “pedagogization of children’s sex”. He says that children’s sexuality needs to be controlled because children aren’t sexual beings.
Foucault argues that the assertion of dominance over sexuality is based on capitalism. Women must reproduce in order to be productive in a capitalistic society. Exploring sexuality was considered a waste of time. Efficiency leads to productivity and productivity leads to money. Similar arguments have been raised by German sociologist Max Weber. He wrote the book named, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” where he describes the direct relationship between Protestantism and Capitalism. Calvinists believe that people are already destined to go to heaven or hell. Because of this belief system, they believe that material success is linked to being God’s chosen one. Calvinists’ attitudes about materialism paved the way for modern capitalistic values which is: efficiency leads to productivity and productivity leads to money.
All that being noted, Britney’s depiction in the media has fallen into the “repressive hypothesis” trap.
In The New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears”, commentators have pointed out the media harassment Britney has faced over the years in part by her image. Her breakout single “Baby One More Time” got attention because Britney owned her sexuality as a teenager. Journalist Wesley Morris put it simply, “The video shows up. Quite famously, she is in a schoolgirl’s uniform. She owns the hallways at this school, and the song is‐‐ is obviously sexual in nature. If you’re 12 or 13 years old, you’re seeing a person who reminds you in some ways of you. It isn’t the sex part that seems cool. It’s the control and command over herself and her space that seems cool.”
Western society became fascinated with Britney Spears because she never repressed her sexuality. Children learn about sexuality early on in their development. By age 5 children begin to learn about sexual orientation and reproduction. As pre-teens, children begin to learn how to have safe sex.
American society became entitled to her sexuality because it is a sexually repressed society. Seeing Britney have a secure form of her sexuality as a teenager shocked the entertainment industry. Watching Britney be more than an object for reproduction and having a sense of sexuality before 20-years-old clashes with the sexually repressive behaviors Western society has historically shown. The media and the American public began to feel entitled to her image because there needed to be an assertion of dominance. An assertion of dominance over her sexuality and narrative.
Wesley points out how Britney became a pop star at a similar timeline of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal by saying, “I mean, the thing that I find fascinating about Britney Spears’ arrival at this moment is that she comes in the midst of the Clinton‐Lewinsky scandal. And it’s this really charged moment in the country where we are talking about sex in a way that we had never been talking about sex or hadn’t been for a long time. An exponent of that interest in that relationship bled over into our interest in Britney Spears in some way.”
Foucault states that controlling sexuality leads to power. That power dictates the discourse society has about sexuality. Slut-shaming exemplified by the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy and having a hyper fixation on women owning their sexualities dictates the discourse about sexuality. It is the subconscious implications that Foucault argued for. Britney was subjected to Western society’s repressed subconscious.
Paola is a collector of all trades. She loves philosophy, music, design, writing, sociology. Living in Miami, she feels at home next to a palm tree and a couple of mojitos. As a Digital Communications/Sociology undergraduate, she incorporates her writing and design with sociological teachings. She is a big believer in duality and hopes to be a powerhouse in what she does. Instagram: @paology_
Read more of Paola’s work in Mixed Mag: