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The Britney Spears case speaks to all those women who are denied the right to decide about their own bodies

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Britney Spears can not decide about her uterus. Already, among all the abuses that have emerged after her last chilling testimony in court, this is perhaps the one that leaves you most upset: “I have been told that right now I am not able to marry or have a child,” the pop star said, explaining that the guardians prevent her from removing the intrauterine spiral because they want her to use a contraceptive. Britney Spears has finally managed to speak and, faced with the story of her life under the strict control of her father, it is impossible to remain indifferent. She has been deprived of her driving licence, she is prevented from seeing her children and her boyfriend as much as she would like, she has been forced to perform without being able to decide on her own money, she has been given drugs against her will and she has been denied reproductive rights. The point, though, is that Britney’s story is the story of many women: women’s reproductive rights have always been denied as a tool of control over women. That’s also why his story hurts so much.

“Forced sterilization, both temporary through the use of long-lasting contraceptives, and permanent through tube closure and hysterectomy, is actually quite common in the United States, certainly for the community of people with disabilities,” he explains at Harper’s Bazaar Melissa Murray, professor of law at New York University. This is not just a matter of past-related incidents, but of a phenomenon to which the most vulnerable women are still exposed: in September 2020, for example, it emerged that in an Irwin County detention center in Georgia, women who immigrated irregularly were being forcibly sterilized. It seems that forced hysterectomies were performed not only without informed consent, but often without even attempting consent, given the language barrier that existed between detainees and medical personnel. “You can really trace a kind of painful chronology in this country about how reproduction has been hindered to the detriment of populations and people who were deemed unworthy of becoming parents or unworthy of procreation“, explained Kimberly Mutcherson, co-rector and law professor at Rutgers Law School, “And so, in that sense, what’s going on with Britney Spears, frankly, isn’t that shocking. Because it’s something that the law in the United States, in various ways, has allowed for centuries.”

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The United States has a long and painful history of forced sterilization on racist and classist grounds and the same experimentation of the birth control pill took place to the detriment of poor black and Hispanic women. In Puerto Rico since the end of the 800 the colonial government supported the theories related to the so-called neo-Malthusianism, that is, the belief that poverty resulted from the overpopulation of poor people and it was therefore appropriate to contain it through forced birth control. A similar argument applies to women with disabilities so much so that in a judgment of 1927 (the Buck v. Bell passed only in 1945), the Supreme Court had ruled that it was constitutional for the state of Virginia to forcibly sterilize a “weak woman” for the improvement of the “welfare of society.” After Britney’s testimony, it emerged that the problem is still quite common for women under guardianship for mental health reasons and that it is relatively easy for guardians to force them to use contraceptives. “There are definitely some guardians who are really scared by the notion that people with disabilities have autonomy, including choosing who they want to be romantically and sexually involved with,” explained Tom Stenson, deputy legal director of Disability Rights Oregon.

“It’s a way the law continues to regulate the kind of choices women can make about how to live their lives” Mutcherson argues and in fact you only have to look at the continuous anti-abortion bills to confirm it: women still have to fight to be able to decide on their own bodies. “Britney Spears is a famous, white woman, with money and a certain level of privilege that comes with it, and she is still entangled and a victim of misogyny,” she explained to Harper’s Bazaar Leah Goodridge, a lawyer specializing in social justice, “So the conclusion is: ‘Can you imagine what it means for black women, for black women, per women who are facing similar dynamics, but do not have the same privilege?'”.

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