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Baring It All: Is It About Pride or Degradation?

For some, it is demeaning when women flash themselves to crowds. Others

say the act expresses liberation.

May 30, 2000|From Baltimore Sun

Picture this:

Blond-haired Jamie Morris hoists herself atop a set of broad shoulders, looks out across a muddy sea of T-shirt-clad, beer-bonging teens and twentysomethings, and screams, "Wooooooo!" Then she lifts her head high and yanks up her gray top, answering the calls of "show us your [you-know-whats]!"

The crowd closes in on the braless 18-year-old, spraying her with beer and yelping with glee. Then, all smiles, she whoops a little more, pulls down her shirt and stumbles back to the ground.

"It's really cool. At one point, there were like 200 guys around me," said Morris, showing off a piercing in her tongue and another in her right breast. "It's stupid, but it's what guys want. I do it for attention, it's so totally for publicity."

The scene played out on the infield at Baltimore's Preakness earlier this month. But it could have been the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500 or Mardi Gras. Despite occasional crackdowns, such as the one by New Orleans police this year, the show-what-you-got tradition has become accepted--even expected--at outdoor bashes.

Celebrities are doing it, too. Few late-night television watchers missed Drew Barrymore's stunt in 1995 when she jumped on David Letterman's desk, turned her back to the camera and gave the gap-toothed host a for-your-eyes-only birthday show.

Then there's famed soccer player Brandi Chastain, who raised eyebrows when she whipped off her jersey and revealed a black sports bra in a celebratory moment after the U.S. women won the World Cup.

She was followed by Ohio State University's women's rugby team, which caused a stir in Washington in October when about 15 of the players posed topless for a photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial, amid chants of "Girl power!"

Some call it a brazen, drunken act of women's liberation. Others claim it's pure degradation.

Any sober person would have to ask:

What's going on with these women?

"I've never seen anything like it," said 25-year-old Mike Cosmides, who lives in Washington and was at the Preakness to revel in the raunchiness. "It's total bedlam and chaos. Completely unsupervised and uninterrupted."

Sex and gender experts have contrasting views about the exhibitionism.

Judy Beris, who teaches women's studies at Goucher College in Towson, said these young women are regressing to a time when women were seen only as sex objects.

"I've been involved in the women's movement since the 1960s, and if we're still defining ourselves through the eyes of men, that is sad," Beris said.

But Rita Simon, a professor at American University who specializes in the women's movement, said it was more than 30 years ago that women burned their bras, and the exhibitionism is partially about freedom and power.

"Women have always felt that being able to pick up their skirts or blouses is part of freedom," she said. "But I wouldn't get much of a political statement out of this. I don't think these women will be our next leaders."

Peter Fagan, director of the sexual behaviors consultation unit for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said he sees the interaction as objectifying women.

"It's allowing yourself to be toyed with, reducing yourself to a one-dimensional view of a gender," Fagan said. "The women's liberation movement speaks of integrity. Power comes from within a woman instead of constantly responding to demands from others."

And as for the men, Fagan said, the women on their shoulders become the trophies.

Cosmides, who spent the day throwing back brewskis at the track, said he likes watching the women perform.

"I enjoy it for the shock value, like I like Howard Stern," he said.

As he watched a topless woman on the field pose for a video camera, he added, "I don't know if the footage is being sent to their parents. I hope if I have a daughter she will stay off the shoulders of random men and her breasts will stay under her shirt."

Other mental health professionals chalk up the breast baring to a "moral holiday."

*

"It's a moral safety valve," said Richard Harvey Brown, a sociology professor who teaches a class about deviant behaviors at the University of Maryland. "It preserves our moral society by letting pressure off in a controlled environment. It is a celebration of youthful sexuality without much consequence other than outraging the people in the private booths.

"Being admired by strangers has a kind of anonymity. It is permitted deviance in a festival setting."

It's the same concept as kissing a stranger on New Year's Eve, he said.

One professor pointed to a societal double standard.

"Women are clearly able to be more exhibitionistic than men without being offensive. It's certainly nothing new," said Fred Berlin, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University. "You see things like this from time to time over the years. It's people being uninhibited and not wanting to subscribe to the rules of society."

He also said alcohol and a crowd mentality play a role.

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