Over the course of the past week or so, Britney Spears has been in the headlines a lot, for reasons that have nothing to do with her music career. First, it was Headline News for 24 hours on serious news channels that she got her head shaved and got a couple of tattoos. Then, in mostly tabloid fodder, it was revealed that she had checked herself into rehab. A day later, there was a frenzy over her leaving. Mixed in with this was the announcement that her court date to determine custody of her two children with Kevin Federline was put on delay because of her rehab stint.
For any non-celebrity, male or female, none of these events warrant countless hours of television time. I shaved my head last June and not a single television camera captured it to put it up on TMZ or YouTube or to sell the footage to CNN. But the cult of celebrity in North America is such that anything a remotely famous person does is amplified to become "newsworthy," regardless of its actual importance or consequence to any human beings beside the subject in question. And only for celebrities is getting one's head shaved something used in the court of public opinion to determine whether they or their ex-spouse should get custody of the kids. And amplify that if it's a woman doing it.
Now, I am not a fan of Britney's music, and I never have been. Pop doesn't cut it for me, and the record label-engineered turn to Britney's full-on sexual exploitation and degradation--which they referred to as her "maturing"--certainly didn't do anything to make me a fan.
Of course, in the past couple of years, Britney's music career has been put on hold--maybe never to return--as she turned to family life: marriage, kids, and ultimately, divorce. It is in this arena, more than any other, that the dehumanization and hatred towards Britney Spears have manifested in ever-more prominent and despicable fashion. Say what you will about her music--I certainly have--but it is an entirely separate category of bile that is thrown towards her that is so offensive and should serve as a reminder to all women that there are some men out there who hate them.
How does the misogyny directed towards Britney represent a microcosm of a broader hatred of all women?
Britney Spears is a highly successful woman. In many of the hate-filled comments made by men about her, the evidence of jealousy is clear and in abundance. Jealousy of her success and their own decidedly average or uneventful lives. This is something that is fairly pervasive in society, as many men feel intimidated by women who make more money than them, creating a sense of resentment and anger. She defies the archetype, the norm that men make and are entitled to make more money than women. She may do so in a manner that isn't the most positive role model for young women, relying on her sexuality and body more than her vocal talent, but she has reached a point where she will be financially secure for herself and her kids and their kids...at the young age of 25 years old. It is the use of her image that can result in a lot of problems, exactly the same as any other powerful female public person has to encounter, and many of them don't even use their corporeal vessels to get ahead. Which leads to comments like this from random men:
"When your looks are your number one asset, why get rid of them?"
"can't believe why she did this, she used to be such a pretty girl, but over the past years she really made herself uglier, getting these huge breasts and now this... shame"
"My god this bird is so stupid i just want to give her a slap and tell her to grow up."
"Can't believe this trailer trash whore still makes the news."
"I think Britney's a scumbag, dumb bitch no matter what she does"
Being a high-profile woman, Britney is of course obligated to fulfill her obligations under the Professional Beauty Qualification so that she is visually acceptable to the men out there. This doesn't nullify their anger that she makes truckloads more money than they'll ever see, but it does allow them to still use her as an object for their own gratification. Note the comment lamenting how it's such a "shame" that she's not "such a pretty girl" that meets his standards of hawtness. Of course, for some people it doesn't even matter what she looks like since she's a "scumbag" regardless of anything that she chooses to do in her life. Ignore the fact that she's made significant donations to cancer charities and has a foundation in her name that is dedicated to helping needy children, she's just a "dumb bitch" that needs a few good slaps so that she grows up, learns her place, and gets hot again so that she can entertain men.
An example of "sympathy" being shown:
"she is still human but that doesnt automatically make her a person...you have to have a personality to be a person."
This is how people on the Internet refer to Britney Spears when they pretend to feel bad for her. I suppose that it is only a degree less bad than some of the comments directed at Anna Nicole Smith after her death. Some folks out there decried that her death was not a particularly huge deal, seeing as she'd "never contributed anything to the world" and all. This coming from people who have made no contribution of note to making the world a better place, it seems a little rich.
The manner in which high-profile women are treated has a trickle-down effect on the way all women perceive themselves and how men feel about them. We are on the cusp of seeing a woman secure the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 2008, yet rather than embracing this historic occasion, the hatred thrown at Hillary Clinton has been readily evident. A fellow blogger, known far better than I am for Blaming the Patriarchy, had a post a couple of weeks ago regarding Donatella Versace's comments that Hillary needs to stop acting like a man and be more "feminine." Tasha came across a KFC billboard picture that was advertising the "Hillary special," which consists of "two small breasts, two fat thights, and a left wing." While the wing part was good for a laugh, the first two-thirds were a reminder that this will be the first presidential campaign in history in which a candidate's bust size, thighs, and degree of sexual desirability to men will be issues. When a woman who works 9-5 at a crap job for 2/3 of what her male colleagues makes overhears how said colleagues and other men spew the hate-filled garbage they do at Britney Spears or Hillary Clinton or any woman that has a spotlight on her, how is she supposed to feel? Is it any wonder that a lot of women don't seek high-profile work that will subject them to similar discussions?
Again, I have no interest to sit through a Britney Spears video to listen to one of her songs. That type of music does nothing for me. But Britney Spears is a human being, a person, and that's why I will occasionally listen to what people are saying about her. Sadly, the lack of empathy or consideration for her humanity all too often come to the fore. The term "trainwreck" and a host of other such terms (see above) seek to portray her as an evil force in the world, while young men who are apparently still embittered over her having the audacity to marry Kevin Federline seek to deny her of even being a human being. That is wrong. Whatever her faults and foibles, she is still a person who is entitled to be treated with a measure of dignity and respect, something glaringly absent from much of the public discourse around her.