“Distracted boyfriend” meme is sexist, ruled Swedish ad watchdog

Who doesn’t know the distracted boyfriend meme that went viral last year? The stock image called “Man Looking at Other Woman” by photographer Antonio Guillem was even named meme of the year and was one of the most widely shared memes in 2017.

However, it looks like feelings are not mutual in Sweden. The Swedish advertising ombudsman, Reklamombudsmannen, has ruled that internet company Bahnhof’s use of the meme in a post on social media was sexist.

The watchdog made the ruling after it received complaints of the meme used by Swedish internet service provider Bahnhof in an ad. Bahnhof’s version of the meme labeled the boyfriend “you,” the girlfriend “your current workplace,” and the girl on the street “Bahnhof.” Ro said that the meme objectified the two women by presenting them as workplaces while presenting the man as an individual:


On Facebook, Bahnhof used the meme in a post about recruiting talent. The captions read “you”, “your current employer” and “Bahnhof.”

“The advertisement objectifies women,” the ombudsman, RO, 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.”

The ombudsman said the image objectified the two women by presenting them as workplaces, but the man as an individual, and added that the “other woman” was clearly a “sex object … unrelated to the advertisement, which is for recruiting salespeople, operating engineers and a web designer”.

The company said on its Facebook page that its aim had been “to illustrate a situation that shows Bahnhof is an attractive employer, and that people who have a slightly duller workplace might be interested in us. This was the situation illustrated in this meme.

“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”.

Of course, Twitter came back with the perfect response, memes.

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