Bjørn reviews Britney Spears‘ recently published memoir, The Woman in Me.
|Date of Publishing:||October 24, 2023|
The Woman in Me is a brave and astonishingly moving story about freedom, fame, motherhood, survival, faith, and hope.
In June 2021, the whole world was listening as Britney Spears spoke in open court. The impact of sharing her voice—her truth—was undeniable, and it changed the course of her life and the lives of countless others. The Woman in Me reveals for the first time her incredible journey—and the strength at the core of one of the greatest performers in pop music history.
Written with remarkable candor and humor, Spears’s groundbreaking book illuminates the enduring power of music and love—and the importance of a woman telling her own story, on her own terms, at last.
The review of a book
Britney Spears’s new memoir, The Woman in Me, is short – 288 pages for a 41 year old celebrity is incredible restraint (for comparison, Geri Halliwell had two memoirs published by the time she turned 30, totalling 656 pages) (you are forgiven for not knowing who Geri Halliwell is). It’s also heavy. The Woman in Me is not a humble-bragging recount of many achievements and awards, peppered with famous names – although they do appear, it’s hard not to name-drop someone you’ve had a long relationship, or someone you actually worked with (Madonna) and kissed (Madonna). It’s a story of a very rich – now that the leeches have been removed, i.e. the conservatorship ended – very loving, very sad, very angry, very damaged…
Hmmm. The Woman in Me is an apt title, because there is a woman in Britney Spears. There is also a girl. And a lot of confusion. Thirteen years of not being allowed to make any decisions can really fuck someone up, especially when you add daily medication that is maybe necessary and maybe not. Spears has been a naive, trusting girl from Louisiana, who happened to love dancing and singing, and had the talent. The trust is gone and I can’t imagine it returning. Of course she’s acting weird on social media. She has not been given a chance to learn who she is, to rebel, to be a teenager, a twenty-something, a thirty-something. She’s 41 now (brb, decomposing) and for the first time able to look back – “now that I look back…” appears frequently on those 288 pages.
How is she supposed to find the woman in herself when she has been forced to spend over thirteen years in the conditions that made it impossible for her to learn anything about herself? I hope this book helps her – as unlikely as it sounds, Spears and I share a lot, except I have never been, you know, a megastar. Or a very famous prisoner on tour.
The writing is exquisite. I assume a ghostwriter has been involved – “thank you to my collaborators, you know who you are” at the end is rather cryptic – but The Woman in Me captures the energy of Britney Spears as I know her. Even though it turns out that I have never really known her. Some of the most sensational parts that the tabloid websites “obtained from our sources” (i.e. were leaked by the marketing team of Simon & Schuster, publishing is a business, too) are not in the book.
Did everything happen exactly the way Spears described it? Probably not. Memory is a fickle thing, especially when you put random psych meds into the mix. Nevertheless, embellished or not, this memoir radiates truth and soul. And it’s been scrutinised by tons of lawyers, because lawsuits are expensive. The facts are there, and they are sometimes wonderful – there is so much love here – but a lot of them are, to put it mildly, disturbing. If you know that Spears has been unable to make any decisions regarding, well, anything for over thirteen years, and you think you’re prepared for the worst, you might need a drink. If you don’t know… you will learn a lot about what money does to people.
I recommend this book to everyone interested in human nature, whether you are a fan of Spears, pop music in general, or not. Just ignore the song titles and the albums and the tour names. What remains is a lot of joy, followed by a lot of grimdark – except real.
The review of The Woman in Me
BRITNEY SPEARS DANCES WITH KNIVES ON INSTAGRAM!!!
I just want to let you know,” [my father] said, “I call the shots. You sit right there in that chair and I’ll tell you what goes on.”
I looked at him with a growing sense of horror.
“I’m Britney Spears now,” he said.
Imagine, if you can, that everything about your life is taken away from you. Your captors decide what and when you eat, when you are allowed to go out and with whom, wire-tap your bedroom, put parental controls on your phone, or take it away altogether. You have no privacy whatsoever. A judge who has never seen you declares, during a ten minute “approval process,” that you are unfit to take care of yourself, much less your children. The captors are allowed to take control over your financial affairs, health care, living arrangements, because they convincingly argued that you have dementia. You try to get out of this nightmare by getting a lawyer of your own, but the court declares you “lack the capacity to retain counsel.”
What you have is the capacity to go on worldwide tours, perform in Vegas, record music, appear on sitcoms, give interviews (parts of which are edited out). For this, you receive an allowance of $1,500 (raised later to generous $2,000) a week. The court approves a request from your captors to be paid $1.5 million for their “work.” The boss of the captors pays himself $16,000 a month, not counting the percentage of the income you generate, but can’t use. He is your father.
Oh yes, and if you don’t comply, dare to protest, or even hint that this is happening, you won’t see your own children ever again.
This goes on for thirteen years and nine months.
“When [my mother’s] book came out, the audiences clapped when she said my sister was pregnant at sixteen. […] I was in one of the darkest times in my life, and my mom was telling the audience, “Oh yeah, and here’s… Britney.”
And every show was plastering images of me with my shaved head on the screen.
The Woman In Me is a sad book. It’s also angry. And it made me angry – with many people, including myself. Because I, too, ate the narratives that were being served to the media by those who profited from Britney Spears, Co. I believed she had bipolar disorder and had to be heavily medicated in order to perform – no wonder she looked so apathetic. I never wondered why she can’t be trusted with making herself a sandwich, but touring the world is no biggie. I forgot about the conservatorship, actually, because Britney was doing so well – although she was placed under it because she was incapable of doing anything at all.
Imagine this: Your father is an ex-welder, talented at opening businesses and driving them to bankruptcy, and an alcoholic. He is also the person the courts declare the best possible decision maker when it comes to your life. Your mother writes a memoir about the hardships of her life, the worst of them being you. Your brother becomes your co-conservator and is paid $200,000 (from your money, which you are incapable of managing) for “services rendered.” You fall in love – oh, by the way, the man you wish to date is briefed about your sexual history before the first date and subjected to blood tests before you can meet him, so it’s really nice anyone even wants to see you. (You were in a relationship when all this started, but your father told you he decided to end it.) After you split up with the nice man, he gets a job as your co-conservator – now he makes all the decisions for you. He is paid, or rather pays himself, from the money you are not capable of managing.
BBC: “In the years under the conservatorship, Spears released three albums, held a successful Las Vegas residency and made numerous television appearances, including a stint as a judge on the US X Factor. […] The conservatorship has power over her finances and career decisions plus major personal matters such as her visits with her teenage sons and whether she can get remarried. Court records obtained by The New York Times showed that its reach even extended to the colour of her kitchen cabinets.”
Justin told everyone that he and I had had a sexual relationship, which some people have pointed out depicted me as not only a cheating slut but also a liar and hypocrite. […] To be honest with you, I liked that Justin said that. Why did my managers work so hard to claim I was some kind of young-girl virgin even into my twenties? Whose business was it if I’d had sex or not?
I’d appreciated it when Oprah told me on her show that my sexuality was no one else’s business, and that when it came to virginity, “you don’t need a world announcement if you change your mind.”
The biggest pop stars are generally inaware of how to be a human in the world, with the exception of Kylie Minogue. Britney Spears dipped her toes in fame at the age of 11 thanks to The Mickey Mouse Club, where she met a nice boy called Justin Timberlake. She loved the experience, but was torn between wanting to have a career and wanting to live a “normal” life. She decided to go back home.
Lynne, her mother, would take Britney out for fun. And fun it was – they’d drink daiquiris (or, as they referred to them, “toddies.”) This later became a great revelation pointed out in Lynne’s memoir – Britney drank alcohol at the age of 13. “[During] trips we took to the beach […] I’d sip on a little bitty White Russian,” she muses. How exactly a thirteen year old obtained those drinks and consumed them next to her entirely unaware mother is a great mystery, which pained Lynne greatly.
[W]hen I told people after finishing the tour that I wanted to rest, everyone seemed nervous. When you’re successful at something, there’s a lot of pressure to keep right on doing it, even if you’re not enjoying it anymore. And, as I would quickly find out, you really can’t go home again.
I did an interview with People magazine back in Louisiana, for reasons that seemed ridiculous to me: I wasn’t promoting anything, but my team thought I should show that I was doing well and “just taking a little break.” […] “My daughter is doing beautifully,” my mom told the reporter confidently. “She’s never, ever been close to a breakdown.”
The book made me shiver in recognition from the start and kept being unnervingly relatable throughout.
At that age [early childhood – BL], my favorite thing to do besides spending time with [my great-grandmother] was hiding in cabinets. It became a family joke: “Where’s Britney now?” At my aunt’s house, I always disappeared. Everyone would mount a search for me. Just when they’d start to panic, they’d open a cabinet door and there I’d be.
I must have wanted them to look for me. For years that was my thing—to hide. […]
I wanted to hide, but I also wanted to be seen. Both things could be true. Crouched in the cool darkness of a cabinet, I felt so small I could disappear.
This was my childhood. I don’t think it was a family joke, though. My family was not the joking sort. In our home – i.e. my grandmother’s spare room – things happened, but the next morning everything was perfect. If we didn’t talk about it, it didn’t happen. I doubted everything, especially myself, the bad child. I clearly didn’t know how to be a good child. So I hid. In my case, it was either behind the furniture, or in the basement. Being seen was dangerous, and I craved it so much, but it had consequences. I was small. I could disappear.
My dad was reckless, cold, and mean with me […] [He] could also be abusive with my mom, but he was more the type of drinker who would go away for days at a time. To be honest, it was a kindness to us when he went away. I preferred it when he wasn’t there.
To be honest, I felt the same, and when he finally disappeared for good, I dreaded his return for years. I was lucky – he never came back. But he is still powerful inside my head, where a terrified child hides from “daddy” who disappears for days, and when he makes it back, it’s impossible to tell what mood he will be in. I speak in present tense, because for me, it’s always present tense. Eventually, though, once I manage to claw my way to the right therapist, it will end. He’s been dead for over a decade and I haven’t seen him for 32 years, but in my nightmares he is alive and things happen.
Britney’s father ruled her life entirely for over thirteen years. She didn’t need to have nightmares. She lived them.
If you’re asking why I went along with it, there’s one very good reason. I did it for my kids.
Because I played by the rules, I was reunited with my boys.
To see them as much as possible, I did everything I could to appease Kevin [ex-husband with full custody of the children – BL]. I paid his legal bills, plus child support, plus thousands more a month so the kids could come along with me on The Circus Tour. Within the same short period of time, I appeared on Good Morning America, did the Christmas-tree lighting in Los Angeles, shot a segment for Ellen, and toured through Europe and Australia. But again, the question was nagging at me…
I read a lot of memoirs, not just those of celebrities, but also people with mental illnesses, addictions, ones who suffered in various ways, because I am obsessed with understanding the why. What makes a human being behave this way? Sometimes it’s power – because I can, or because I am so terrified I want to. Often the predators simply enjoy causing others pain. Everyone sees the world differently. Friends and lovers turn away from you because you are no longer useful, then make sure everyone knows it’s your fault. (Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me a River’ earned him both critical acclaim and lots of money. Britney was subjected to an interview in which Diane Sawyer asked “He’s going on television and saying you broke his heart. You did something that caused him so much pain. So much suffering. What did you do?”)
That interview was a breaking point for me internally—a switch had been flipped. I felt something dark come over my body. I felt myself turning, almost like a werewolf, into a Bad Person.
Unfortunately for Britney, her teenage rebellion – she was working too hard for that earlier on – manifested when she was 26. Her ex-husband wouldn’t let her see her children, because he could. The world wanted to know why she was such a bad mother, obsessed about whether her breasts were a result of plastic surgery, and paparazzi competed for “the money shot” of Britney being either visibly distraught (“acting erratically”), or… of her crotch. Those pictures sold for many thousands of dollars to magazines which were bought by people who wanted to see them.
The Woman in Me shows a person who was acting like a wounded, hunted animal; trying to rebel by shaving her head, so that men wouldn’t see her as attractive, and so she could get some peace (this, as you either know or will find out, didn’t go so well); wanting to spend time with her children, terrified that one day her ex-husband will decide she isn’t allowed to (and, as a result, losing custody and visitation rights). Spears might have acted too adult for some (i.e. worn revealing clothes), but inside her was a naive tween that never got a break to grow up. When she tried to take a break from touring and recording, her mother arranged an interview, in which she insisted “she’s never, ever been close to a breakdown.”
No one likes a mad woman.
And so, while men got away with things way worse than shaving their head or keeping their children too long (say, Britney’s ex-husband) or praising Hitler and going “def con 3” on Jews, Britney Spears has been deprived of, essentially, humanity.
But wait, she had some nagging question?
If I was so sick that I couldn’t make my own decisions, why did they think it was fine for me to be out there smiling and waving and singing and dancing in a million time zones a week?
I’ll tell you one good reason.
The Circus Tour grossed more than $130 million.
[…] My father got a percentage, too, plus, throughout the conservatorship, about $16,000 a month, more than he’d ever made before. He profited heavily from the conservatorship, becoming a multimillionaire.
My freedom in exchange for naps with my children—it was a trade I was willing to make.
And here’s your answer why Jamie Spears, Kevin Federline, Justin Timberlake, lawyers, doctors, and hundreds of unnamed enablers never attempted to #freeBritney.
I was suddenly reminded of the conservatorship when Britney rebelled in the only way she could think of: didn’t perform as instructed. She was supposed to announce her second Vegas residency. It was an Event. Fans were screaming. Ryan Seacrest introduced “the new queen of Vegas.” And… Britney did nothing. She walked past the cameras, got into a car, and left. Her new single, ‘Work Bitch’ was playing. And I shivered.
You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti?
You want a Maserati? You better work bitch
You want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis?
Look hot in a bikini? You better work bitch
You wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion?
Party in France?
You better work bitch
Now get to work, bitch!
For refusing to work, the bitch was sent into a locked facility for “Maybe a month. Maybe two months. Maybe three months. It all depends on how well you do and how well you demonstrate your capabilities.”
It was inside the “facility” that Britney found out about the #freeBritney thing.
In the beginning, I rolled my eyes so hard I saw my brain – many times. Instagram conspiracy theorists commented “if you’re in danger, wear something yellow in your next post!” and she did! And yet, she insisted everything was just fine. She had a new gorgeous boyfriend. She had new clothes. She had a new album out. So many emojis! Her sister wrote a book! And then, in June 2021, she called 911 to report her father for conservatorship abuse.
Suddenly, everyone saw it. Friends who hadn’t seen her for years were interviewed for too many documentaries to count. Fans staged protests. And a judge agreed to actually listen to Britney Spears, rather than her father and his lawyers.
And so, for the first time in what felt like forever, I began to tell my story.
Earlier on, Britney muses – “The strange part is, before they put me in that place, my dad had sent me a pearl necklace and a beautiful handwritten card for Christmas. I asked myself, Why is he doing this? Who is he?” This detail is omitted from the book, but Jamie Spears is someone who demanded two million dollars on top of what he had already leeched out in order to step down. In comparison, her brother, sister, and mother sold themselves rather cheaply.
The book ends on a happy note – Spears is ready for happily-ever-after with Hesam “Sam” Asghari. (Asghari filed for divorce after the book’s completion.) But the note was cracked even when he was still in the picture. The conservatorship has destroyed her love for music and dance. It has also produced a very volatile person – The Woman in Me has never had a chance to live a life of a woman. Not because fame and riches made her incapable of understanding mere mortals; the opposite.
Why is Britney Spears dancing with knives on Instagram? BECAUSE SHE CAN. Why is she doing it again after someone requested a wellness check on her? BECAUSE SHE CAN AND NOW SHE IS FUCKING ANGRY. Why is Blackout her best record, even though she recorded it while being bipolar, demented, and incapable? BECAUSE SHE WASN’T. She is now, though, destroyed by her own family, lawyers, and the mental health system (what? doctors like money too!). If I were sent for unknown amount of time into a mental health facility that would keep me locked simply because they were being paid by the day, I would not trust any doctor or therapist again.
Don’t leave Britney alone.
She won’t find the woman in her without good people helping with the search.
If you don’t want to miss any of our posts, please consider signing up to receive email notifications or follow us on social media:
You can also support us on Ko-fi so we could keep maintaining the Asylum!