The now-ubiquitous “distracted boyfriend meme” depicting a boyfriend staring back at another girl as he holds hands with his girlfriend, has been deemed sexist by a Swedish advertising watchdog.
The meme has been used in many, many versions of the same joke since around 2017, and a Wired article even traced its first use back to a Turkish Facebook group dedicated to prog rock. They also identified 45-year-old photographer Antonio Guillem as the person who took the stock photo.
It came to the attention of the Swedish watchdog group, when Swedish internet provider Bahnhof used the meme in a Facebook and Instagram post advertising job vacancies. The group Reklamombudsmannen then labeled the meme sexist.
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“The committee finds that the woman in red, who is in focus in the image, through the man’s appreciative reaction is presented as a sex object,” the advertising ombudsman Reklamombudsmannen said in its ruling.
The woman, the ombudsman continued, is shown as a sex object “unrelated to the advertisement” and also called the image “devaluing” to men.
“The presentation of the man — through the way he, while walking with his girlfriend — turns around looking at another woman — conveys a stereotypical picture of men looking at women as being interchangeable in the same way as a change of workplace.”
However, while the organization can say that an ad is discriminatory, it can’t impose sanctions or force the company to remove its post, CNN reports. The post has received heated reactions, both for and against the ad.
“If we’re going to be punished,” Bahnhof wrote, “it’s for using a way too old and tired meme.”