Swedish Advertising Watchdog Rules 'Distracted Boyfriend Meme' Sexist

The well-known 'Distracted Boyfriend Meme' has been deemed sexist by Sweden's Advertising Ombudsman after a Stockholm company used it in a recruitment advertisement.

Easily one of the most popular memes of the year, the joke is based on a stock photo of a man turning away from his rather outraged girlfriend to ogle an attractive passing woman.

Swedish internet service provider Bahnhof used the meme alongside a job advertisement on social media, labeling the boyfriend "You", the girlfriend "Your current workplace" and the second woman "Bahnhof."

The posts, shared to the company's Facebook and Instagram pages, received  comments criticising the sexist nature of the image before the advert was reported to the watchdog, Reklamombudsmannen (RO).

The ombudsman unanimously deemed the use of the image was "gender discriminatory" due to its representation of women as "interchangeable objects."

"It portrays women as interchangeable objects, and that only their appearance is interesting," the ombudsman, RO, said.

"According to the committee, the objectification is reinforced by the fact that women are designated as workplace representatives while the man, as the recipient of the advertisement, is being produced as an individual."

The committee said the image encourages a stereotypical idea that men may change women in the same way they change workplaces, which is "undervaluing" and also "gender-discriminatory against men."

There was also concern the advertisement may put off female applicants for jobs with the company.

In response to the criticism, Bahnhof defended its use of the image, insisting the intention was to show the organisation "is an attractive employer and that those who have a slightly less good employer could be interested in us."

"Everyone who follows the internet and meme culture knows how the meme is used and interpreted...We are an Internet company and thus deposited in this, as well as those who seek jobs with us, and that is why we turned to that audience," the company said in a statement.

"If we're going to be punished, it's for using a way too old and tired meme."

Sweden has struggled with sexist advertising in the past, with a 2016 study placing it among the worst of the Nordic countries at combating the issue.

Last year, in an effort to make headway, Stockholm's city council voted to remove any advertising billboards deemed sexist or degrading from public spaces within the city.

The ban followed the same guidelines about what constitutes a sexist advertisement as those used by the watchdog.