Why Nipplegate at NorShipping really got on my nunga-nungas

Hi, my name is Holly. I am a woman and I LOVE tits.

Who doesn’t enjoy a lovely round cherry-like nipple? (We all have them. Some of us have three, which just seems greedy). Who doesn’t adore the voluptuous jiggle of a well-rounded bosom? They’re just so much fun!


At NorShipping in Oslo this week, an exhibitor was censured for body-painting semi-naked women at its trade stand. “IT’S SEXIST” pronounced the official NorShipping press release (I’m paraphrasing). “IT’S DISRESPECTFUL TO WOMEN.”

A very noble sentiment – and quite correct – but this can’t be the end of the discussion. We can’t just cast our eye over the photo of the two topless ladies in body paint and think “Yep, sexist. Awful.” and then toddle off and see what the kids want for dinner.

When we say “THAT’S SEXIST” we end the discussion – it’s kind of a compact way of saying “Yeah, my values are in check, now let’s shut up and forget about it.” (We could equally be talking about “Ooh that’s racist!” here). Let’s not shut up and let’s not forget about it.

How does it make women feel?

I was 22 when I first attended a trade show on behalf of the publication I was working for at the time. We had our own stand and I was one of two people who attended to represent our company. I was nervous and keen to make a good impression.

I’d been at the stand for a couple of hours when a gaggle of beautiful long-limbed girls in hot pants and low-cut tops jiggled past, handing out flyers. I remember it vividly because I was taken aback – I just couldn’t believe that this kind of thing still happened in 2010, that girls would be paid to show a bit of skin and wander around the show, the assumption being that men would be more likely to take a flyer from a beautiful woman with a great rack.


Yeah alright. But why? How did it make me feel?

I felt like I had shrunk back inside myself a little bit. Of course, I’ve seen this phenomenon hundreds of times at events since then, but I’ll never forget that disappointed feeling of “Oh.” It made me just that little bit more reluctant to want to speak up and get to know all the strangers at this trade show because it gave me a certain message that “This is what men here like. This is what is normal”. To me, it seemed to follow that, in this male-dominated industry, I might have more success representing my company if I had my tatas hanging out of my top.

Logically, this is all nonsense, of course (the men in this industry are far from cavemen), but these images do have a certain psychological effect. It’s called oppression.

Oppression is the effect of sexism and oppression is why sexism is bad – because it reduces people. It unevens the playing field and it makes people feel as though they can’t truly be themselves and express themselves freely.

Like it or not, the exhibitor’s racy marketing strategy at NorShipping is paying into this wider culture where women are two-dimensional. That has to stop if we want to enable women to make meaningful contributions to our industry.

But what about men? Isn’t it a tad insulting to men that a marketer would assume you’re more likely to take a stupid mouse mat home from a trade show if it had a pair of tits on it? Now THAT’s sexist!

Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.


  1. Yes it is sexist. Yes it is stupid. But, yes, it sells to a sufficiently large segment of this market.
    All of the shows that I’ve been to have had such presentations and models somewhere in the exhibits. The attitude does not seem to be that pervasive (as it was in the old days), but there is an element that likes this stuff.

  2. It’s not the tatas, it’s their use to advertise some damn business.

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