After reading Britney Spears' memoir, The Woman in Me, I am of the mind that should she withdraw a million dollars of her money and light it on fire in front of a national audience, then that is her prerogative. After enduring a thirteen-year conservatorship, it's a gift to know her story finally. Before the book's release, we had cryptic posts on her Instagram, leaving some followers pondering, "What is happening?" No matter how confusing her dance videos may seem to an audience, something in it is radically free and oddly familiar. In group chats, I'd reply, "Have you ever read The Yellow Wallpaper?"  

You might be wondering what a short story written in the 1890s has anything to do with our Princess of Pop. In case you slept through Women's Lit, The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a semi-autographical story drawing on her experience with severe postpartum psychosis. She was prescribed the "rest cure" by leading misogynist Dr. Weir Mitchell, which is a regimen consisting of bed rest, isolation, and "Have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live." With advice like that, who needs Lexapro?

Following doctor's orders, the protagonist is confined in a room where she spends her days staring at its yellow wallpaper. Her husband "hardly lets me stir without special direction" and has "a schedule prescription for every hour of the day." By page five of ten, our protagonist has assigned a gender to the wallpaper, and it's our first clue she's beginning to spiral: "The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out." By page ten, she loses her shit. "There are many of those creeping women…I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?" Her husband catches her ripping the paper off the walls in what appears to be a dramatic overreaction to bad décor, and he faints in horror—end scene. 

In this era of a man having complete power over a woman, Jamie Trash Spears controlled his 39-year-old daughter's personhood and nearly $60 million fortune by the end of the conservatorship. He governed almost every aspect of her life, from her body to what she ate (and regularly called her fat), career, creative direction, and narrative. She was also under intense surveillance that monitored her communications and secretly captured audio recordings from her bedroom. Her life was entirely monotonous; she says, "I began to imagine myself as a bird without wings. Every day, it felt like I was sinking to the earth."

Like Dr. Weir Mitchell, Jamie and his father before him felt women's issues could be remedied under their tutelage. As Britney describes, "It was said that the Spears men tended to be bad news, especially in terms of how they treated women," Her grandmother, Emma Jean Spears, lost her baby when he was three days old. To help her with her grief, her husband opted to send her to an asylum where she was placed on lithium. She inevitably shot herself over her son's grave. Jamie was an absent alcoholic throughout Britney's upbringing. Still, his daughter's headline-grabbing moments, made all the more salacious through the paparazzi's lens, gave him grounds to become conservator of her personhood and estate.

In the 2000s, it was easy to paint Britney and Hollywood starlets as out of control. Her team wanted to portray her as the Eternal Virgin, even though she had been sexually active since she was fourteen. When she dared to come of age, she was punished by the media with an array of journalistic questions that have aged horribly in today's climate. It should be noted that plenty of famous men have done far worse than giving themselves a buzz-cut, and no one dared to take control of their personhood. Celebrities like Britney and Paris Hilton have all grown up and are claiming their narrative. We know now that the press villainized them at a time when they deserved compassion.  

She endured an abortion with Justin Timberlake and the shell shock of their breakup. To promote his solo album, he released the music video to Cry Me a River, in which a Britney look-alike plays his cheating love interest, even though he was unfaithful throughout their relationship. Justin and the media shamed her when, "The truth: I was comatose in Louisiana, and he was happily running around Hollywood." Britney never got a break with back-to-back tours and thought she found grounding in her marriage with Kevin Federline, yet it was not to be. "In the throes of severe postpartum depression, abandonment by my husband, the torture of being separated from my two babies…and the constant drumbeat of pressure from paparazzi, I began to think in some ways like a child." Britney did feel out of control, but anyone in similar circumstances would have, and the last thing she needed was to feel more powerless than ever.

On the outside, Britney's social media presence may appear unhinged. A woman who manically pries off yellow wallpaper in a fit may seem "hysterical," but if you take self-determination away from anyone, it all makes sense. Hinder someone's spirit where they can no longer feel like themselves or can test the world, and they will regress or break. Britney and the woman behind the wallpaper needed to be emancipated.

Men making decisions on behalf of grown women is as toxic as Jamie Spears. We, as readers, may feel detached from both these stories and shrug them off as outliers. Surely, we have evolved past these antiquated power imbalances, but is it all that different from today? Aren't men still making decisions on behalf of women? Just last year, The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, reversing Roe v. Wade, after five decades of guaranteeing a woman's right to obtain an abortion. Look at today's headlines, and we see the evils of the male ego taking center stage without female policymakers to check these imbalances. Women are still not the majority, or even half, in rooms where decisions are made on their behalf.

It is cathartic to know that Britney, at long last, is a free woman. At the same time, the book is the beginning of her healing journey, not an answer to it. Now that she has regained autonomy, she has the freedom to discover who she is and does not owe anyone any more explanations. "I've been taught through the conservatorship to feel almost too fragile, too scared…they took a lot of my womanhood. My sword. My core. My voice. The ability to say, "fuck you." As for Charlotte Gilman, it was only after she divorced her husband and moved away with her baby that her depression lifted. After its publication, Gilman sent a copy of the story to Weir Mitchell as her own poetic Fuck You.

And now, to give the ladies the last word. "I feel like the woman in me was pushed down for so long. Now, finally, I'm roaring back to life." And for the protagonist in Charlotte's story, "I've got out at last in spite of you…and I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

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