Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and this is The Takeaway.
Melissa Harris-Perry: James Spears, father and now infamous conservator of Britney Spears filed a petition on Tuesday asking the court to quote, seriously consider whether this conservatorship is no longer required. Now, this move reflects a meaningful change in Spears's public position about the conservatorship that has controlled nearly every aspect of pop star Britney Spears's life since 2008.
The request is being hailed as a victory for the #FreeBritney movement, which is an ongoing digital effort by members of the public who support the 39-year-old icon's own efforts to be granted relief from the controlling legal arrangement. #FreeBritney gained renewed energy after a June 2021 hearing when Spears gave personal testimony, asking the judge to end her conservatorship.
Britney Spears: I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive, and now we can sit here all day and say, "Oh, conservatorships are here to help people," but ma'am, there's a thousand conservatorships that are abusive as well. Basically, this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life I've worked my whole life. I deserve to have a two to three-year break and just do what I want to do.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Haley Moss is an attorney and autism advocate who's been following and writing about Britney Spears's conservatorship. Thank you so much for being here, Haley.
Haley Moss: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Why do you think people have become so invested, and a lot of us are very invested in what is happening with Britney Spears?
Haley Moss: I think a lot of us are really invested in the Britney Spears conservatorship battle because at least for my generation, we really grew up with Britney Spears. I'm in my late 20s and I remember growing up with Britney Spears's hits since I was probably in about the first grade. For me, Britney is something that has always been a figure. I think a lot of us also very much remember when she did have very public struggles with mental health over a decade ago as well. Seeing how this unfolded was really terrifying for a lot of folks. A lot of folks aren't familiar with conservatorship or guardianship and seeing someone who we once criticized and adored as children and as adults as well somehow be in this position, I think is really jarring for a lot of fans and the general public.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me a little bit about that adoration and that critique out on The Takeaway team, as we were talking about putting this discussion together, one of the things we were talking about is just the idea that she has been in the public eye for basically her entire life. So many people have opinions and feelings about her without actually ever having even met her.
Haley Moss: Absolutely. I think a lot of that opinion really goes to how we treat young women and women in society more broadly. As a young woman, or even as a teenager, Britney Spears had a lot of criticism that she was being scrutinized for her every move and expected to act like a very mature adult. Yet as she is an adult and she's under a conservatorship she's being treated like a child in that, no, you can't do this or no, you can't do that.
For me, that's been really interesting to see is how that narrative has really played out. I think people are far more critical of themselves as well and how they've treated Britney over the years, whether it's the media or whether it's how fans reacted or even seeing how the discourse even circled back to that viral moment from when Britney first had mental health struggles with Chris Crocker saying to leave Britney alone, seeing how things circle back, even that way. I think it's really been fascinating, but yes, there's really a lot to unpack there too.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk a bit about how the issue of the conservatorship is also a disability rights issue.
Haley Moss: Guardianships and conservatorships primarily do impact people with disabilities above all else. To be placed under a guardianship or conservatorship, it's something that a third party needs to initiate with the courts. The people who do get placed under these arrangements are usually people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. People like me who are autistic, or people with intellectual disabilities, or also people with psychiatric and mental health disabilities, or older folks who might have some form of cognitive decline like Alzheimer's or dementia.
The point of these guardianships and conservatorships is ultimately to protect people, but it's seen, or at least it's supposed to be used as a last resort. There's plenty of different alternatives to allow someone to have control in their life, but also get the support they need to make major decisions. With guardianship conservatorship, that are used, as Britney was saying her testimony abusively at times, or that the person with a disability has very little power over the decisions that they make in their everyday life.
Even when Britney was testifying, how she can't see her boyfriend whenever she wants, or even that she hasn't had a say in her own reproductive health care, those are the kinds of things that could happen in a conservatorship. We don't really know what happens in a lot of conservatorships because we don't hear public testimony like we did with Britney. A lot of these cases are kept highly confidential and they aren't as regulated.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, zoom in on this a bit for us and try to-- because part of what I hear in the public conversation is, "Oh, well, if she has control over her own life, she's going to make mistakes. There's going to be bad things that happen." How do we think through in responsible ways, the right to autonomy and decision-making versus this paternal desire to protect?
Haley Moss: Here's the thing that I see every single one of us makes mistakes. We've all made bad decisions, whether we were teenagers, young adults, or older adults. It's just that when you're a person with a disability, or you're also a person like Britney who is seemingly disabled and also a very public figure, those poor decisions or bad decisions are scrutinized that much more heavily.
I think a lot about the examples of people with intellectual disabilities, who might, for instance, throw an object across the room. Immediately it's noted that they were just behaving poorly, or they were having an outburst or something that gets noted in a chart. While if, for instance, one of us throws something, we might just chalk it off to that we had a bad day. Britney is going to be under far more scrutiny for the decisions that she makes.
I do think with her having control and that self-autonomy, Britney should have a really great team of people who advise her, who support her, and help her but at the end of the day, she's the ultimate decision-maker. A lot of that does go to what a lot of guardianship reform advocates have been saying as well, is that for alternatives to having conservatorships and guardianships is that we do put the person in the driver's seat, but they have the support of people that they trust and they get advice from them. At the end of the day, they're the ones who make the decision.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Haley Moss, thank you so much again, the point that she is a grown adult, right? We've known her since she was a child, but she's not a child anymore. Haley Moss is an attorney. She's also an autism activist and a little bit of a Britney fan herself. Thanks for joining us.
Haley Moss: Thank you so much.
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