“I’m not here to be anyone’s slave,” Britney Spears said, point blank, when she addressed the court during her June 23 hearing. In her statement, she described in painstaking detail the alleged abuse she's suffered under her 13-year conservatorship, including claims that she’d been forced to take lithium and has been barred from removing her IUD. After years of silence, her candid words shocked the public and proved to be a major milestone in her long-fought court battle to regain her independence. But as jarring as her words were to hear, they also validated #FreeBritney, the 11-year-old movement started and maintained by activist fans to end Spears’ conservatorship.
“It’s a difficult truth to accept in many ways, but it feels good to know now that we never faltered, even in the face of scepticism and criticism,” longtime fan Sarah — who chose to withhold her last name for privacy reasons — told Refinery29. “...It makes me feel incredibly proud of the movement and more fired up than ever to continue fighting until Britney is free.”
Spears’ freedom is the guiding light of the movement, which mobilized just a year after Spears’ court-ordered conservatorship began in 2008. Fan site BreatheHeavy.com, run by Jordan Miller, started the campaign to “Free Britney” from its ubiquitous control of her life and estate — and thus, the hashtag was born. As years passed and Spears remained under conservatorship, fans worried about her life, mental health, and personal feelings around the restraining situation. But for the most part, she kept quiet, either for legal reasons or personal ones, or both. From time to time, the public would get a glimpse into Spears’ life, thanks to Instagram photos, the rare press appearance, and her lawyer — but mostly insight into the singer’s heavily guarded public persona came from intel surrounding Spears’ father Jamie, who for many years was in full control as guardian of the conservatorship.
Up until early 2021, many questioned the legitimacy of #FreeBritney; Jamie insisted the movement was a “conspiracy” and maintained that his daughter was not only safe, but also happy. But in recent months, Britney made it clear that she didn’t want her father in the arrangement, whether through requests that his role be diminished or bluntly saying via her lawyer that she was “afraid of her father.” Still, it wasn’t until a June 22 New York Times report, which revealed that the singer has been quietly pushing to end the “oppressive” court-approved conservatorship since at least 2014, that we learned just how opposed she was to the arrangement.
And then came the 23-minute statement.
Despite being dismissed as conspiracy theorists and criticised for their zeal, activists in the #FreeBritney movement never gave up in their work for the cause. But after years-long calls for any public statement from the singer, the owner of Twitter fan account @FreeBritneyLive, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, told Refinery29 that Britney’s words were nonetheless “heartbreaking.”
“I think in a way, we were all expecting it just based on everything that has come from the Free Britney movement and all the rumours that were circulating,” they wrote over Twitter DM. “But to hear it from her directly was so jarring and heartbreaking.”
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” they added. “I definitely didn’t think we’d hear her be so forthcoming though, that’s for sure.”
However, just because #FreeBritney was right doesn’t mean its work is done. In fact, Britney’s address to the world has not only garnered support from celebrities in Hollywood — including Britney’s contemporaries like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake — but also has lit a bigger fire under the movement. And it is a movement.
“The most important thing for the movement right now is keeping the pressure on, letting the world know that what’s happening to Britney is unjust. And hopefully, somehow, some sort of higher ups — whether it be the court or even the President of the United States — get involved to end this madness,” @FreeBritneyLive told R29.
The road ahead to Britney’s freedom is long, especially since the singer hasn’t filed a formal petition to end her conservatorship yet. (She claims she didn’t even know she had the power to do so until recently.) And according to experts, nothing significant can truly change unless that happens first. “This is obviously a rapidly developing story which makes it difficult to predict what might occur before any of the lawyers have petitioned the court,” Gordon C. Young, an attorney who specialises in conservatorships at Barry & Young Attorneys in California, recently told Refinery29. “However, assuming Ms. Spears’ lawyer files a petition to dismiss or modify the conservatorship, the court will need to rule on it based on whatever new evidence she presents to support her petition. The petition will likely be investigated by the court’s investigator.”
According to Young, the timeline depends heavily on whether she receives opposition from her father, family members, or others involved in the conservatorship. “If they do not object, it substantially increases the chance that the conservatorship will be dissolved,” he said. “If the family objects, the court could appoint a neuropsychologist to perform an evaluation of Ms. Spears’ mental health. Ultimately, a trial could be held to determine whether the conservatorship should continue.”
There is a scenario, says Young, which the judge on Britney’s case, Judge Brenda Penny, alluded to during the most recent hearing, where the conservatorship might not end, but be changed so that Britney could have more of the freedom she desired. “Even if the family objects to her petition to dismiss or modify, the parties could agree to modifications to the conservatorship that substantially increase the freedom and latitude Ms. Spears has to control her life and money while leaving the structure of the conservatorship in place.”
In any case, it’ll be up to Britney to decide how she wants to move forward. That’s the push and pull of having your case opened up to the world. On one hand, the visibility has the potential to help her get what she wants faster, but on the other hand, it invites the kind of intense probing and attention that arguably led to the conservatorship in the first place.
People — even well-intentioned fans — have been telling Britney how she should live for most of her life. She’s never owned her own narrative. And now that she’s finally asserted what she wants, hopefully going forward, people will finally start to listen.