Sweden's advertising regulator has ruled that the 'distracted boyfriend' meme is sexist

Antonio Guillem/ShutterstockThe ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme.
  • Sweden’s advertising regulator has ruled that the ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ meme which went viral last year is inherently sexist.
  • The Reklamombudsmannen industry self-regulator said that the meme treats women as “mere sex objects.”
  • The ruling was prompted by Swedish telecoms firm Bahnhof, which used the meme as part of a recruitment campaign.

The “Distracted Boyfriend’ meme, one of the most popular viral phenomena of last year, has been deemed sexist in a ruling by the Swedish advertising regulator.

The Swedish advertising standards watchdog, Reklamombudsmannen, said the meme showed women as disposable and “mere sex objects.”

The opinion came in a ruling on ads run by Swedish telecoms firm Bahnhof, which used the meme as part of a recruitment campaign designed to show they were more attractive than rival employers.

The ruling was on August 15, but was only reported outside of Sweden this week.

Bahnhof captioned themselves as the mysterious girl walking past the couple, with “du” (Swedish for “you”) written over the distracted boyfriend. The angry girlfriend character has “Your current workplace” written over her in Swedish text.

This is the ad:


The caption says: “Looking for a new job? Right now we’re looking for sellers, technicians and a varsity web-designer.”

Reklamombudsmannen said the meme implies that men trade female partners like jobs.

The regulator said the meme: “Imparts a stereotypical picture of men looking at women as being interchangeable in the same way as a change of a workplace, which is undervaluing.”

The meme template shows a man (the distracted boyfriend) holding hands with his partner, but looking back over his shoulder at a passing woman while pursing his lips in approval. The partner looks up at him with a face of disbelief.

People have been inserting their own labels over each of the three characters since the meme gained popularity in June 2017.

Bahnhof wrote in Swedish on Facebook: “The aim was to illustrate a situation that shows that Bahnhof is an attractive employer and that you who have a slightly duller workplace could be interested in us. So it was that situation that was illustrated in this meme.”

The models from the original stock photo say they don’t mind the success, but the photographer wasn’t too happy.

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