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Conservatorship: What it is and What It Means For Those Who Aren’t Britney Spears

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

By Dharani Isser

Image via Free Britney

At time of publication, Britney Spears' father has stepped down as her conservator.

Imagine this: You make millions of dollars a year, have a great career and are extremely talented. You have two children, a great boyfriend whom you love, and legions of fans who adore you. You work hard for all of this--working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

There is a catch though. All that money you make? You have no control over how it is spent. You cannot meet or spend time with your children on your own accord. You cannot get married to your boyfriend or even have a child with him. You have an IUD in your body against your wishes. You need someone's permission for things as basic as leaving your house and spending your money. Finally, the people who you would have to go to court against to get this changed, are also the ones who appoint your lawyers.

Sounds horrible, yet this has been pop star sensation Britney Spears' life since 2008 after she had a public breakdown and her father gained conservatorship over her. Conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, such as those with dementia or other mental illnesses. A person under conservatorship is stripped of their control over their own financial, social, and personal choices. These choices can be overridden by their “conservator” who now has control over said decisions.

In some cases, the power granted to a conservator is abused at the expense of the person under conservatorship. As in Britney Spears’ case, it is common for conservators to be family members of the person under conservatorship. When your own family takes advantage of you and infringes on your basic rights, it can be hard to find someone to ask for help. Britney is now speaking up, after 13 years under conservatorship and accusing her father of conservatorship abuse.

With 32.9 million followers on Instagram and several celebrities supporting her, Spears has a lot of public support and sympathy. She deserves the support after years of mistreatment. Under the conservatorship she has on several accounts faced emotional abuse, medicated against her will and financially exploited. She mentioned in her testament in court that she was made to feel like she was dead. The abuse of power has made many angry and although there is much noise and criticism through the #freebritney movement, Spears’ request to remove her father from her conservatorship was denied In November 2020, extending it to September 2021.

This begs the question that if a white, heterosexual, cis woman with such a large platform can have such a difficult time and be at war with her family for basic rights, what about those who don’t have the money or societal advantage? What about BIPOC and people part of the LGBTQ+ community? What about those from low level income households who are under conservatorship against their will? Who is standing up for them and ensuring their rights are not being infringed upon?

Lack of autonomy in the LGBTQ+ community is often overlooked. Marriage equality is already out of reach for many abled LGBTQ+ couples, so it can be a lot more difficult for disabled folk under conservatorships. A queer person under a conservatorship could not be allowed in a relationship with someone they love just because they do not have the power to make that decision.

Victims of conservatorship abuse can be victims of gaslighting as well. Since they were deemed unfit to make personal and financial decisions in the first place, when someone is abusing that power to make decisions, it can be difficult to differentiate between what is being done for their own good and what is not. This could lead to the victim being manipulated into believing the decisions made for them are what is just when it may be abusive instead.

This is why the #freebritney movement is so important--not only does it bring forward the tragic fate of those under conservatorships and the defectiveness of this process, but it also provides hope for those who are suffering under it. It could encourage them to raise their voice and fight for themselves, eventually escaping a harmful conservatorship.

Written by Dharani Isser

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