"The Woman In Me" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Shocked. That’s the reaction I got when I told my daughter I was listening to the new book by Britney Spears. Though this autobiography might have been a stretch for me—not a book I thought I’d enjoy—“The Woman in Me,” by Spears, is addictive, a tragic story about a girl who never got to experience childhood and was hounded by the paparazzi when fame threw open its jaded door.
I not only read the book, I listened to it, with Michelle Williams’ narration making me want to keep walking, my AirPods in place. Williams' narration is rich and authentic, as she doles out Spears' life in scenarios that shock and sadden, Spears finally maturing into a woman who can stand up for herself and declare her independence. Listening you can’t help but celebrate this star, who faded for a time, but stuck it out and forged ahead.
Spears was raised in Louisiana in a small town, in a family with strict morals, and a lot of mixed messages. She attended a Christian school. Her father was a “mean” alcoholic, a condition that may have raised its ugly head because of his father’s obsessive abuse. Spears’ mother was sometimes there for her, sometimes not. For her entire life, Spears has had to adjust to her mothers’ inconsistency and her father’s blatant control when all she really wanted was their “unconditional love.”
Music was a balm for Spears, and she sang from early on seeking the solace music provided. “When I was alone with my thoughts, my mind filled with worries and fears. Music stopped the noise, make me feel confident and took me to a pure place of expressing myself exactly as I wanted to be seen and heard.”
Spears’ route to success was one step forward one step back. At age 10, she started flying back and forth to New York City to preform, then moving to the city with her mom and little sister to attend preforming arts school. She eventually became a Mouseketeer, where she developed a crush on Justin Timberlake, a love affair that left her starry-eyed and totally smitten.
Their romance let to a pregnancy that Timberlake encouraged her to terminate, an abortion that took place at home with pills, resulting in pain Spears writes was “excruciating,” an abortion she still wonders if she should have had. Not long afterward, the couple’s relationship hit the skids.
Nursing a damaged ego, Spears finished her music tour and continued to work, but she was suffering emotionally, her hurt maximized when she was skewered by the press, became fodder for gossip magazines and received a visit from her father. So began his ever-tightening grip on her career, and his eventual conservatorship of Spears, in which he declared her incompetent to manage her life, and had her incarcerated in a mental institution.
Years ago, I, like so many others, found the news about Spears interesting but sided with her father, not realizing the breadth of Spears' victimization. While we may never fully know all the facts, Spears has written a book in which you can’t help but have empathy for her.
“The Woman in Me” is the disturbing story of a dysfunctional family, but there’s satisfaction in it too—perhaps the dysfunction will end with Spears, and her two sons will have far different, happier pasts, than she did.