"The Woman in me" by Britney Spears (book review)
As a woman in my 40s, I feel I have grown up with Britney Spears’ songs in the background; you don’t even have to be an avid fan to sing along to some of them.
The name “Britney Spears” has become synonymous with the pop industry and how they have manufactured young singers over the last 25 years, but none have experienced the same level of scrutiny and controversy as the princess of pop herself.
It was such a different time back then (late 90s to early 2000s), when all white boy bands were adorning the world stage and pop divas were strutting their stuff representing the wholesome American dream with a bit of naughtiness and flesh to boot. But all of that media attention came at a price, especially for young women who struggled to differentiate the fame from what was real while also falling victim to those who were meant to protect and support them in their impressionable years.
“The Woman in me” reads as part biography, part social commentary, part cautionary tale into the trappings of celebrity culture as a rite of passage that we have seen played out all too well in the media by examining famous people ranging from Lindsay Lohan to Justin Bieber. From her humble and dysfunctional beginnings living in Kentwood, Louisiana, to her breakthrough appearances while being in the Mickey Mouse club, Britney opens up, revealing parts of herself that help remind us what a normal person she is. Her conversational tone draws us in immediately, as she gushes over her two sons, to her
collaborations with various musicians ranging from Michael Jackson to Madonna, to her unwavering support of her opportunistic family.
Perhaps her most polarising account is her affiliation with former Mickey Mouse club member turned global megastar, Justin Timberlake. Britney takes no prisoners as she delves into their relationship: from his infidelity to pressuring her to get an abortion to when he dumps her via text, to then vilifying her through his music as a way to build his image.
“Less than a month later, he (Justin) released the video for his song “Cry me a river” in which a women who looks like me cheats on him…In the news media, I was described as a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy. The truth: I was comatose in Louisiana, and he was happily running around Hollywood.” (Pg 87)
Despite these assertions, Britney does not attempt to throw her tormenters under the bus, and to a certain extent, even sympathises with them ranging from Timberlake, to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, to the real villain in the story, her father, Jamie Spears.
Many times, Britney reminds us about her family history and the repeat of violence that has been passed on throughout generations: how her father was bullied and controlled by Britney’s grandfather (June Spears Snr) which spurred on Jamie’s alcoholism, to the mention of her grandmother (Jean) who was institutionalised (also by Britney’s grandfather) due to her mental illness which eventually led to her suicide.
“In 1966, when she was thirty-one, my grandmother Jean shot herself with a shotgun on her infant son’s grave, just over eight years after his death.” (Pg. 6)
The trajectory of Britney’s life almost reads like a well written novel, especially as it explores themes of family dynamics, the roles and attitudes of women and the patterns that get passed down from one generation to the next as Britney experiences her own incarceration through her father’s 13 year conservatorship.
“Thinking back on the way my father was raised by June and the way I was brought up by him, I had known from the jump that it would be an actual nightmare to have him in charge.” (Pg 178)
As I read through her conservatorship ordeal, I was propelled to keep going, determined to find out how she would eventually extricate herself from her father’s greed.
As readers, we see a lot of ourselves in Britney’s book, especially as she recounts her experience in the media and how her whole personal life has been played out for the world to see. When she talks about going out to clubs with her friends in her 20s, I am instinctively brought back to my unbridled youth where I lived young and carefree without feeling judged or scrutinised, and often without consequence (surprisingly). Unfortunately for her, Britney was not able to live out her youth with the same level of freedom that we all take for granted, which makes her story all the more compelling and important to share with the world.
“I was rebelling, yes, but I can see now that there’s a reason why people go through rebellious times. And you have to let people go through them. I’m not saying that I was right to spiral, but I think to hinder someone’s spirit to that degree and to put them down that much, to the point where they no longer feel like themselves - I don’t think that’s healthy either.” (Pg. 186)
Perhaps the biggest revelation I got was the harsh treatment Britney received when she first became a global superstar which reflected the, misogynistic attitudes towards women dated back to the early 2000s and how they were measured differently to their male counterparts in relation to sex and relationships.
“The Hip-hop world of that era loved a storyline with the theme ‘F*&k you bitch!’ Getting revenge on woman for perceived disrespect was the rage at the time.” (Pg 87)
Listening to her account on that decade also makes Britney sound like a reluctant feminist as she highlights the double standards between men and women at the time, and sadly, to a certain extent, today.
“There’s always been more leeway in Hollywood for men than for women. And I see how men are encouraged to talk trash about women in order to become famous and powerful.” (Pg 87)
“The Woman in me” is tour de force for Britney as we finally get to hear her version of events at long last! Regardless if she continues to work in the music industry, we can be assured that her life story will continue to inspire young women while also challenging the powers that be in the entertainment industry to do better for aspiring performers to come.