The Britney Show

Sarah Seltzer

Britney Spears' pop-tart image was created as a fantasy for the average man, but since her brush with the ugly side of fame, she's been subjected to the average female nightmare.

Britney Spears’ pop-tart
image was created as a fantasy for the average man, but since her brush
with the ugly side of fame, she’s been subjected to the average female
nightmare. The public, and press, have leveled at Spears a litany of
critiques that are familiar to everyday women: she’s lost her sex
appeal, she’s a bad mother, she’s "crazy," she’s fat, she’s
over the hill before the age of 30, she’s angry and out of control.
When Spears smashed her teen-queen façade by shaving her head, acting
out, and being less than impeccably groomed, the public reacted with
loathing and voyeurism; now, Spears’ "comeback" consists of losing her legal
at 27 (her birthday was Tuesday), being micro-managed back into the
same role she had as a comely teenager–the role that may have caused
all the problems to begin with.  

On Sunday night two weeks ago, Mtv aired
a Britney-approved documentary in which she opened up about her life for
the first time in years. But the two hours of TV were more tragic than triumphant.
In between moments of happy rehearsals and studio antics, the film focused
in as Britney tearfully described
her current life as "sad,"

plagued by angsty boredom despite the rehearsals that are supposed to
give her joy. The documentary included a moment in which Spears said
that every day to her now feels like "Groundhog
," as well
as some shocking footage of her car being mobbed by paparazzi and her
handlers shielding her with a sheet as she shopped. Spears said she
longed to take walks without being hounded, to "feel the crispy air…
be a part of the people." One of her entourage expounded: "The
only time she’s free is when she’s in a closed four by four space."  

In light of all that, it’s
been disturbing this week to watch Spears go
through the motions

of performances meant to highlight her toned physique and ability to
do some rudimentary dance moves. One wonder whether Spears is ready
for this "comeback," or whether the army of male managers, including
her dad, have foisted it on her because they don’t know what else to
do–and she’s their cash cow. A woman who
has been in the public eye since before
she could make decisions for herself

can’t break away from her abusive lifelong relationship with her audience,
as their sex-object, squeal inducer and punching bag.  

Writing about Britney in the
midst of this blatantly-engineered publicity blitz is problematic: by
paying attention to her, we are feeding the machine that keeps her in
a cycle of public humiliation and redemption. We are reinforcing the
presentation of a person–a woman–as merchandise.   

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But Britney’s story is hard
to ignore because it brings up so many disturbing reminders of society’s
treatment of women, particularly our bodies. In the Spears explained
that she shaved
her head
as "a
form of rebellion" and a way of  "feeling free… shedding
stuff that had happened." The reason that the world reacted so violently
to the shaved scalp was she was rejecting her beauty and turning herself
into something other than an object of desire. Similarly, her mid-routine kiss with Madonna remains a hot topic years
later because Madonna, who presents herself as an empowered, highly
sexualized, aggressive women, was symbolically seducing and converting
Britney from virginal teen queen into something far more threatening. 

With all these classically
sexist overtones to the Britney drama, it’s no wonder that women are
reacting so personally. On Jezebel, several (excellent) threads about Britney have drawn out commenters’ own experience
with eating disorders and mental illness. Britney is an object of fear,
obsession, pity disgust and love for women because her journey–at
least when it comes to scrutiny of her appearance and relationships–is
ours writ large. She has suffered through breakups, family problems,
pregnancies, body image issues, (rumored) postpartum depression and
defiant self-destruction in front of millions. Many women suffer through
at least some of these things. Sure, they do it with a smaller audience,
but they often feel the same humiliation when they get caught in sweatpants
or with unshaved legs, behave unthinkingly, make bad romantic choices,
grow out of their adolescent bodies, get dismissed as crazy, are frowned
upon as irresponsible parents or, after giving birth, are desexualized and

The obsession with her thinness
is  perhaps the most blatant of these problems. As Rebecca Traister wrote last year after Spears’ infamous
VMA performance: 

    Wonder why your daughters
    have eating disorders and hate their bodies? Maybe because they’re reading
    reports that label the thin young woman dancing around in a bra and
    panties physically unappealing and obese. 

Indeed, after that performance,
the AP
, with its
tongue not far enough in its cheek, that Britney’s physique was the
"most unforgivable" aspect of her performance. And now that she
can bare her midriff without shame, she is considered healed. Her father,
cried during the documentary because his daughter was "beautiful"
again. Talk about unhealthy messaging. 

During that flabby midriff
era, Britney may have been the controlling her life and image the only way she
knew how: by flouting public requirements. The reality is we don’t
know what Spears really thinks or feels beyond the clues she offered
on TV. What we do know is that her handlers, parents, managers, paparazzi
and the public may have irreparably damaged her life for profit and
gratification, leaving her trapped between being a wind-up-toy and a
train wreck. Perhaps that’s why so many are rooting for this woman’s
comeback, even as it feeds a vicious cycle for her and all of us. 

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.


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