Britney Spears has testified in court, to dissolve what she calls an ‘abusive’ conservatorship arrangement where her father controls her fate and finances. This is part of a wider reassessment of the way many stars of the 90s and 2000s were treated by a misogynist celebrity culture – including Lindsay Lohan and Janet Jackson. Spears suffered a mental health breakdown in 2008, and has since been under her father’s overbearing care. Even as she performs and earns her millions, she can’t move freely, make her own choices or even have a baby.
This infantilising of daughters is only too familiar in ‘daddy knows best’ societies like ours. All too many young adult women are forbidden from using phones or going out, their lives strictly limited by their family’s desires. Even our courts have invoked patriarchal logic; recall Kerala’s Hadiya case where her father was first allowed to override her right to choose her partner and religion. Many athletes and movie stars are chaperoned by their parents, ‘in their best interests’.
Spears’s independence is for the court to decide, but conservatorships are usually reserved for end-of-life arrangements, people with severe dementia etc. It is crucial to guard guardianship from exploitation. Indian law now recognises the agency of people struggling with mental disabilities, their basic right to direct their own lives. Their vulnerability can and must be balanced with their adult autonomy.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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