Justin Timberlake ‘gained’ from Britney Spears break up, Melbourne expert says

Article by Phoebe Loomes /
News.com.au /
February 11, 2021 /
Click here to view original /

An expert on gender and the media says Justin Timberlake left his break-up with Britney Spears viewed as a “stud” while she was “damaged goods”.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, an associate professor in public policy, social and political sciences from the University of Melbourne said split fits a well-worn dynamic where men are socially “rewarded” for sex, and woman are “shamed”.

Framing Britney Spears, a new documentary co-produced by The New York Times, has led to Timberlake facing calls to apologise over the break up.

The documentary alleges Timberlake, then 21, used his Cry Me A River music video to imply Spears had cheated on him. A contributor in the documentary described it as a type of “revenge porn”.

The documentary also claims Spears became demonised in the public eye as a result of the break-up and was scrutinised by journalists including Diane Sawyer.

Sawyer told Spears in 2003 she’d “disappointed a lot of mothers in this country”.

Dr Rosewarne, who is an expert on sexuality, gender, feminism, the media and pop culture, said men still stand to gain from sex, while women are likely to be shamed for it.

“Sex remains something that shames women more than it does men,” she said.

“Even in our increasingly liberal society, men are still rewarded for the sex they have (and benefit from being viewed as desirable and as ‘studs’). Whereas women are routinely shamed as sluts and treated as damaged goods.

“The (Britney and Justin) narrative fits this template.”


Framing Britney Spears paints a shocking image of how the media callously pursued the star while she suffered from post-partum depression, or other mental health issues.

Scenes include Spears being filmed as she’s wheeled out of her home strapped to a gurney, and followed around Los Angeles by paparazzi as she tries to visit her children.

“Britney was treated harshly by a press that is disproportionately interested in the private lives of people, notably if that private life involves a significant life crisis,” Dr Rosewarne said.

She said there’s a hunger to watch people “perceived as famous and privileged” suffer.

“Partly it’s about the perception that they are getting a kind of comeuppance – that stardom comes at a cost – and partly it’s because there are ‘trainwreck’ elements whereby audiences are often captivated by a life unravelling.

“I think former child stars – and we need to remember that Britney got her start on the Mickey Mouse Club and thus fits into the template of ‘Fallen Disney Star’ – are particularly prone to this kind of harsh media coverage whereby her demise fits into a well-established narrative arc.”

Dr Rosewarne said without knowing the details of how a conservatorship works, she found it concerning.

“The idea that a woman can have autonomy in certain areas of her life but not others seems perplexing and extremely troubling in 2021.

“The idea that she can work – and can earn an income – but not be in full control of her finances and other life decisions is appalling.”


Dr Rosewarne said the biggest change she’s observed has been that social media has allowed celebrities to get a counter narrative out to the public.

“I also think culturally the way we talk about mental health and addiction has changed,” she said.

“Mostly I think there are still parts of the press that thrive on this kind of content, but we exist in a mediascape now where that kind of coverage will be quickly countered by critical views.”