After living under a conservatorship that has dictated her life for the past 13 years, pop star Britney Spears gave a harrowing testimony on Wednesday to a Los Angeles court.
In response, gender equality activists and celebrities have been taking to social media, responding to Spears’ testimony as reflective of a wider issue that women’s bodily autonomy is often controlled by other people — and how this is undermining the fight for equality.
Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, along with an attorney and personal care manager, have been in control of her financial affairs since 2008, when a mental health episode caused a California court to place her under a conservatorship. A conservatorship is a court-ordered arrangement in which an individual or organization is put in charge of the personal care and finances of someone whom a judge has found to be unable to manage their own affairs.
According to a transcript of her testimony published by Variety, Spears has since undergone medical care and participated in several world tours while under her father’s guardianship. She insists that her actions have proven her ability to care for herself, but the conservatorship allows others to retain control over her daily life, including influencing whether she is able to have more children and how often she works.
“It is my wish and dream for all of this to end,” she said. “I want my life back.”
Around the world, women's rights — including their health, sexual, and reproductive rights — are limited, undermining the path to ensuring gender equality for women and girls everywhere.
The region of Latin America has some of the strictest laws concerning women’s bodily autonomy, with women in countries including Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador still having very limited access to reproductive health services, for example.
Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has forced thousands of sexual health facilities to close globally, with around 12 million women having seen disruptions in their family planning services by March, according to UNFPA.
Realizing women’s freedom to control their health, body, and reproductive rights is a key part in ensuring gender equality globally — and Spears’ testimony is resonant of the experiences of women and girls around the world.
“I deserve to have a life,” Spears said at the end of her testimony. “I’ve worked my whole life. I deserve to have a two to three year break and just, you know, do what I want to do.”
After Spears’ conservatorship hearing on Wednesday, celebrities, supporters, and gender equality activists are highlighting the need to support women’s rights.
Here are seven responses from celebrities and activists supporting Britney Spears and issuing a wider call for women’s freedoms to control their own health, bodies, and lives.
Singer Halsey tweeted in support of Spears, acknowledging the courage it takes to stand up for yourself against an abusive system. She also tweeted that no person or organization should be able to control another’s reproductive health, alluding to Spears’ testimony that her conservators control whether she is able to remove her intrauterine device (IUD) to try to become pregnant.
Bless Britney and I hope with my whole heart she is awarded freedom from this abusive system. She deserves it more than anything. I admire her courage speaking up for herself today.— h (@halsey) June 23, 2021
Additionally, fuck anyone who thinks they have the authority as an institution or individual to control a person’s reproductive health. #FreeBritney— h (@halsey) June 23, 2021
2. Rose McGowan
McGowan has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, including calling out sexual violence in the movie industry. In October 2017, McGowan joined dozens of other women who accused film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse in a 2017 investigation by the New York Times, igniting the #MeToo movement.
With women in the media industry having long experienced gender-based exploitation and harassment, McGowan took to Twitter and Instagram to support Spears. She called for an end to the conservatorship that prevents Spears from making decisions about her body and tweeted, “STOP CONTROLLING WOMEN.”
Britney Spears has every right to be angry. How would you feel if your life was stolen, dissected, mocked? I pray she gets to live your life on her terms. STOP CONTROLLING WOMEN. #FreeBritney – The Hollywood Reporter https://t.co/qyV9oNnLQt— Rose McGowan (@rosemcgowan) June 23, 2021
3. Justin Timberlake
Spears’ ex-boyfriend and singer Justin Timberlake shared his thoughts on the released-transcript from Spears’ court hearing, writing that “we should all be supporting Britney at this time.”
He also tweeted that no one should be able to control a woman’s decisions about her own body, adding that he and wife Jessica Biel are sending their love and support.
After what we saw today, we should all be supporting Britney at this time.— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) June 24, 2021
Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was… what’s happening to her is just not right.
No woman should ever be restricted from making decisions about her own body.
No one should EVER be held against their will… or ever have to ask permission to access everything they’ve worked so hard for.— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) June 24, 2021
4. Jameela Jamil
English actress and women’s rights activist Jameela Jamil frequently uses her platform to speak out about women’s autonomy and women’s health. In addition, Jamil often discusses body positivity and the unhealthy standards put on women in the media concerning their health.
On Wednesday, Jamil tweeted that she wishes “all the luck in the world to Tahani’s good friend, Britney Spears,” referencing her character on the TV show The Good Place. Jamil also called attention to the way the court-appointed conservatorship has stolen Spears’ freedom for over a decade.
Wishing All the luck in the world to Tahani’s good friend, Britney Spears today. It is the most bizarre theft of freedom that has happened right in front of our eyes for over a decade now, and I hope she finds assistance with organizing her life that she is comfortable with now.— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) June 23, 2021
5. Rep. Nancy Mace (SC-R)
US Rep. Nancy Mace (SC-R) underscored that Britney Spears is experiencing an issue that impacts thousands of women around the world who are subjected to gender-based violence concerning their reproductive and sexual health.
Mace tweeted in support of Spears and asked, “How many other women across the country are silently suffering?”
It's insane you can force a woman to basically sterilize herself under the guise of protection. If this is happening to Britney Spears, how many other women across the country are silently suffering? https://t.co/A7dRoEylPN— Rep. Nancy Mace (@RepNancyMace) June 24, 2021
6. American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
The nonprofit organization tweeted about the intersection of disability rights and reproductive rights, highlighting how conservatorships are used to strip people with disabilities from exercising personal freedoms.
In response to Spears’ testimony that her conservators control her reproductive decisions, AAPD listed other ways disability rights and reproductive rights intersect.
One of the many places that disability rights and reproductive rights intersect.— AAPD (@AAPD) June 24, 2021
To name a few more:
- Forced sterilization
- Lack of access to sex education
- Frequent barriers to reproductive healthcare
- Loss of parental rights
- And many more#FreeBritneyhttps://t.co/1Lm0IVfoE4
7. Liz Phair
Singer Liz Phair took to Twitter to highlight how gender inequality has allowed people to control Spears’ personal and financial affairs, writing that it is the “oldest trick in the playbook of the patriarchy.”
Oldest trick in the playbook of the patriarchy: declare a woman mad and gain control of her assets/property. Been happening for centuries https://t.co/fTAs75UQQ3— Liz Phair (@PhizLair) June 23, 2021
Anyone saying she ‘seems unbalanced,’ please show me The equivalent conservatorships for male entertainers/athletes exhibiting erratic behavior. Where are all the MOMS controlling their grown son’s millions for a decade— Liz Phair (@PhizLair) June 23, 2021
As Britney Spears continues to fight for her right to make decisions about her personal health and well-being, women all around the world are struggling to access equitable resources and equal rights.
Next week, the Generation Equality Forum will take place in Paris, a once-in-a-decade moment to draw attention to the challenges and injustices faced by women around the world and call for global investment in women and girls. Join us by taking action to promote women’s health, wealth, and justice by calling on government leaders to #ActForEqual today.