Rush to Judgment on Britney?

Though Britney Spears was never likely to be nominated "Mother of the Year," 12 months ago few would have predicted she would lose custody of her children.

Since filing for divorce from Kevin Federline in November 2006, however, pop's former golden girl has increasingly been the subject of media coverage that casts her as a person who puts partying before parenting.

Is Spears' portrayal as an unfit parent warranted or is she the victim of double standards that punish women, especially young mothers, who enjoy the excesses of a celebrity lifestyle?

"Spears is not the victim as Federline has come to the realization that to parent children you cannot be totally incoherent like she appears most of the time," said public relations man Howard Bragman. "When the judge ordered her to undergo regular drug testing, that highlighted her as someone who is clearly not getting the message."

Comparing the recent coverage of the two parents certainly highlights the differences in their handing of the situation. Federline, 29, has seemingly kept his drinking to an acceptable level and has enjoyed a relatively low-key night life. He even won some new supporters when he satirized his failed hip-hop career during a Super Bowl commercial.

Spears, 25, with her very public displays of disarray, has shown little sign of wanting to impress the authorities.

"Whatever substances Spears may or may not be addicted to, I think she's addicted to publicity," said Bragman, who represented Monica Lewinsky during the Clinton scandal. "She's hunted like an animal, but the way she lives her life brings this upon herself."

In February, Spears' decision to shave her head and shortly after attack a photographer's car with an umbrella was followed by a stint in a rehabilitation center. This year, she has been photographed leaving various nightspots wearing no underwear and appearing intoxicated.

Nevertheless, there remains a case for the defense of Spears, the basis of which comes from what some perceive as an unfair burden of expectations for young mothers.

"It is still the norm in the U.S. that women are expected to take care of the children as opposed to the male, who has far less responsibility in this area," said Nancy Luke, a sociologist at Brown University. "There is a definite double standard."

Custody battles that routinely pit one side against the other with little margin for levelheaded agreement is another problem in cases like this.

"Society in this country should try and help families stay together," Luke said. "Instead, many states have a policy, which supports their fracture."

Last month, Spears parted ways with her child custody lawyer Laura Wasser. She was then dropped by her management company after a disastrous performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in which she appeared to at times forget the dance moves and words to her latest song, "Gimme More."

Bragman believes that the departure of such representatives can either mean that the star isn't heeding their advice or there's a potential for disaster.

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