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Why We’re All Britney Spears

April 1, 2010

[Before I post, just a quick side/reader note: I’m sorry I’ve been a little off the map of late, y’all.  I haven’t responded to comments at all this week and my posts have been pretty short.  It’s not like me, so I’m feeling a little guilty and just wanted to let you guys know I should be back up to speed soon.  Work has been hectic this week, and family stuff is even more hectic.  But hopefully this weekend I’ll get back in the swing of things.]

Over at the Onion A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin has begun a series called Then! That’s What They Called Music, wherein he’s writing about all 33 volumes of MTV’s NOW! That’s What I Call Music, beginning with volume 1 and working his way forward in time.  Needless to say, the early years of this series contain a lot of Britney Spears.  And, since Rabin is framing his essays as examinations of the culture surrounding the music, it wasn’t long before he began discussing the pop-tart phenomenon in conjunction with Spears’ public downfall.  Rabin isn’t the first person to write about how being a young star can really take its toll.  In fact, I’m betting that every cultural critic on earth has at some point done a diatribe about how stardom affects the young.  But for some reason, when I read Volume 2 of Rabin’s series, I noticed something new about the way we talk about Britney Spears.  Although we’d like to believe otherwise, when we talk about Britney’s road from childhood in the spotlight to adulthood in the much-less-forgiving spotlight, we could really be talking about the path that faces almost every woman in America.

Rabin says of Spears:

She was also, it should be noted, fucked: hopelessly, hopelessly fucked. When you’re introduced to the public as a devoutly Christian, wholesome, all-American, chaste, insatiable teen whore who will satisfy any listener’s most depraved fantasies when not contemplating God’s unimaginable glory, a normal, sane, functional adolescence and young adulthood is out of the question.

I recognize this road.  I walked down it as a teenager.  There were certain people in my life (family, close friends, teachers) who expected me to be wholesome and chaste.  There were other people (particularly bad boyfriends, the media) who seemed to expect me to be an “insatiable teen whore.”  There were definitely situations in which I felt that I, as a woman, was expected to satisfy a man’s “most depraved fantasies,” whether I liked those fantasies or not.  And, according to my church, I was suposed to do it all while “contemplating God’s unimaginable glory” and not getting angry with him for sticking me in the middle of such a shitfest.

Every choice Britney ever made was considered fodder for public discussion.  Choices about her body, her relationships, her children.  Sound familiar?  Nobody likes it when women make choices.

I may be exaggerating, but not much.  As feminists, we constantly question the line women are expected to walk in a patriarchal society – the line between virgin and whore.  We critique a society that asks us to be all things to all people, to wear too many contradictory hats.  We may not all do it in the bright spotlight, as Spears did.  But we all do it.  We all make bad relationship choices.  We all at some point have tried too hard to please too many people.  And we’ve all at some point been asked to satisfy desires that we didn’t know how to meet.  We manage, and we make it through.  But the similarities are striking.

So the next time a man critiques the society that brought up Britney, I hope he’ll realize that that same society brings up every woman he knows – women he cares about – and that it asks those women the very same things it asked of Britney.

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