‘Distracted Boyfriend’ meme ruled sexist by Swedish ad watchdog

Bahnhof's recruitment ad, using the Distracted Boyfriend meme, drew complaints of sexism. (Facebook/Bahnhof)

Sweden’s advertising ombudsman: Completely lacking a sense of humor, or politically right on? You be the judge. (They already have been.)

In a decision published this week, the Swedish industry body weighed in on the widely shared “Distracted Boyfriend” meme, saying it discriminates on the basis of gender.

Internet provider Bahnhof had deployed the meme in recruitment ads posted to Facebook, which designated the boyfriend as “you,” the girlfriend as “your current workplace,” and the second woman as “Bahnhof.” The ad attracted nearly 1,000 comments, the Guardian reports, many from women making complaints of sexism.

“The advertisement objectifies women,” the ombudsman said. “It presents women as interchangeable items and suggests only their appearance is interesting … It also shows degrading stereotypical gender roles of both men and women and gives the impression men can change female partners as they change jobs.”

Bahnhof refuted the claims, stating, “Anyone familiar with the internet and meme culture knows how this meme is used and interpreted. Gender is usually irrelevant in the context. We explained meme culture to the ombudsman, but it chose to interpret the post differently”.

The company expressed culpability only for “using a tired old meme.” The ad remains posted on the company’s Facebook page.

The stock image, also known as “Man Looking at Other Woman”, by Antonio Guillem, a photographer from Barcelona, became a viral sensation in 2017, and was named meme of the year at the 10th Annual Shorty Awards, honoring “the best people and organizations in social media”, in April.

The Swedish advertising industry is self-regulating, meaning that the ombudsman can criticize ads but it does not have the power to impose sanctions.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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