The XX Factor

Britney Spears Is a Feminist Role Model All of a Sudden

Britney at work.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Taffy Brodesser-Akner has written an extremely fun and well-observed piece for Medium’s new platform, Matter, about Britney Spears’ Las Vegas residency. The piece does a great job describing the Vegas financial ecosystem, and it contains gems such as, “[Britney] wanted a jungle theme, which is something she always wants,” and “Now she’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle bound together by a hair extension.” Where I take issue with Brodesser-Akner is with her need to shoehorn “feminism” into the Britney narrative.

Brodesser-Akner argues that Britney is now “a feminist role model for single working mothers here and everywhere” because she simply fulfills her duties as an adult human. Here’s Brodesser-Akner describing Britney’s song “Work Bitch” as a personal anthem:

Its message is that nothing comes easily, that you can’t keep your kids in private school and your community gated and your ex-husband in his nation-building ambitions without work. Britney isn’t the fuck-up we decided she was during a relatively short but well-publicized period of her life. She drops off her kids and picks them up from school just about every day. She shows up on time, hits every mark, is polite and soft-spoken. She rehearses five or six hours every day, saying, ‘Let’s run through it one more time.’ Britney works.

I would buy an argument that it is moderately impressive that Britney fulfills these caretaking duties because she has overcome apparent mental health issues and endured the pressure of an unreasonable amount of the world’s scrutiny throughout her formative years. But that her actions of late are either explicitly “feminist” or “not feminist” seems like a strange rubric for judging Britney’s current life choices, which appear to be capitalist if any “ist” at all. (It’s unclear how the song’s lyrics, “You want a hot body / You want a Bugatti / You want a Maserati / You better work bitch” apply to single mothers “everywhere.”) Britney is worth a reported $200 million. She could keep her kids in private school and her house gated and Kevin Federline in his $25,000 a month child support ‘til both their children are 18 without ever working another day in her life. So could Sarah Palin. Paying the bills doesn’t make you a feminist hero.  

Let’s stop framing everything female celebrities do as sufficiently “feminist” or “not feminist”—it’s not useful, and in fact, it can be harmful. Lana Del Rey is just the latest young celebrity who has been raked over the coals for not embracing the feminist label. Calling Britney a new feminist icon just leaves the door open for judging all of our personal choices as “feminist” or “not feminist” in a way that’s myopic and distracting from, you know, the actual social justice mission of feminism. For example, if Britney’s a feminist role model now, what did that make her when she was in the throes of a public breakdown? Can feminists not have mental health issues or have messy lives? This line of argument leads us down an ugly path.

To her credit, Brodesser-Akner admits that Britney, in her supreme blankness, is a “living, breathing Rorschach test” for everyone who observes her. “Whatever we see in it, that tells us a lot about who we are, not who she is,” Brodesser-Akner writes. I’m glad Brodesser-Akner is a feminist, but on this particular matter I’d like to revive an old meme and say, leave Britney alone!