Jessica Simpson can’t watch it. Jennifer Love Hewitt said it “hurt my heart.” Paris Hilton suggested it clarified her own mistreatment. Drew Barrymore said it was familiar – when the world thought her crazy, she was stripped of autonomy, too.
“Framing Britney Spears,” a New York Times documentary that examines the pop star’s court battle to regain control of her life, was released in February. However, many female celebrities are still publicly talking about it. “Framing Britney” not only exposed the media’s mistreatment of Spears but also the toxic culture for all high-profile women in the late ’90s and 2000s.
The documentary is part of the trend of content revisiting big stories from the past with women at the center (“I, Tonya,” “Truth and Lies,” “The Price of Gold,” “The Clinton Affair”). Many of those women are now speaking about the misogyny they faced and the sexism they internalized. Hewitt said she was “hopeful” things were changing. Are they?
“In some ways, absolutely, it’s better. In other ways, it’s perhaps worse,” said journalist Allison Yarrow, author of “90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality.”
Analysis:‘Framing Britney’ exposes a problem bigger than Britney.
Experts in media, gender, and pop culture acknowledge that many women who dominated the spotlight a couple of decades ago were far more dimensional than the press wanted us to believe. There’s recognition now that specific questions are inappropriate to ask, including whether someone is a virgin – a question Spears, Simpson, and other teen stars repeatedly faced. In an interview, it’s no longer acceptable to remark on the size of a woman’s breasts, at least not without the Internet erupting in outrage.
But female celebrities are still on the front lines of the nation’s culture wars, balancing their own aspirations with their audience’s desires and society’s expectations. They are trying to navigate success in a culture that still demands access to their bodies and, in many cases, their private lives. Grammy Award-winning singer Billie Eilish is known for wearing loose-fitting clothes to avoid sexualization and scrutiny, and people’s preoccupation with her style shows what an anomaly she is.