I was never as pretty or as talented a singer as Britney Spears, but in 1987, when I was 25, I was a young mother of two children under two years of age. I was married to a man who would shortly announce he no longer wanted to be a husband or father. He would later, and conveniently, seek full custody. He was not successful, but not for a lack of trying.
My coping skills at that time were more infantile than my children. How I dealt with everything was less than polite and often described as scandalous. I was able to retain custody and would eventually salvage my dignity, but it was not a well-paved road upon which I’d traveled. Fortunately for me, the world wasn’t watching.
I didn’t need society exploring my duodenum with a microscope as has been done to Ms Spears. My Catholic upbringing – to include my mother, her mother, and a parish of wholesome, young mothers who, unlike me, got married first and became pregnant later – was ample for the task of judging my every move and bringing down the gavel on my parenting and marital skills.
In my defense, I was a drug-free and appropriately-coiffed stay-at-home mother. I did not gallivant through my city’s nightlife and refrained from public appearances except to buy groceries and attend mass.
In Ms Spears defense, she could’ve behaved the same way I did and still my mother and her entourage ala Catholicism would’ve found ample reason to strip her of her titles as woman, mother, and wife. Even having married first would not have provided protection from those determined to bring others down.
Having recently returned my residence to the United States from Germany – where motherhood is a respectable choice and mothers are supported in that choice – I feel alarmed at the way American society and its media have seen fit to go after Ms Spears. It being easier to secure a child than a driver’s license in any state in the union, it should come as no surprise to anyone that any young parent perishes, and yet our society is forever aghast.
While I am loath to point out what she isn’t (a homeless crack whore pimping or selling her children outright for her next fix) rather than what she is (a young mother who was already caught up in public mire before her children were born and who has since made questionable, if not wholly inappropriate, choices for herself and her family), it is worth noting the double standard with which the woman has been judged. Ms Spears was no more told of the rules than those rules changed without her knowledge.
The yardstick used on me (figuratively) measured me as an unknown. I was at the mercy of only those in my corner of the world, not the entire world. It was stressful, stomach churning, and demanding enough to attempt to meet my mother’s expectations (whose rules of child-engagement curiously and secretly changed when she went from the role of mother to grandmother). To have had the expectations of a million or so mothers to live up to in addition to my own would’ve sent me over the edge. Shaving my head would’ve been the least of it. Ms Spears only aspires to what would’ve been my worst, and yet I still would not have been subjected to the judgment of anyone but my mother and those in moral cahoots with her.
As if enduring the tsk-ing of every gossipy, maternal figure in the land weren’t enough, Ms Spears is also dealing with the leering (and equally questionable moral centers) of her peers. Too, there is the spying eye of every man, young and old, gay and straight, who feeds into the gossip when no one else is looking.
While having (youthfully, therefore only tentatively) agreed to a relentless spotlight when entering the entertainment field, she did not agree to a barrage of the self-righteous. It was instead, and in fact, the other way around.
The society-paid, rag mag-feeding paparazzi machine is not a creation of the entertainer. That machine is the bastard child of all of us, created to satiate our need to focus on someone else‘s faults rather than our own. Initially allowing the rest of us to live vicariously through their successes, we now use that machine to revel in the their every mistake as if we were above making any such errors, as if we weren’t also human.
On behalf of every American who has fed into the idea that it’s okay to judge at all, much less from a cowardly distance, I apologize to you Ms Spears. I understand your pain, I empathize with your plight, and I hope you’ll get past it all in time to be the woman and mother you were meant to be in the first place.