Meme culture is rife with casual sexism, but I can honestly tell you that I’ve never found the Distracted Boyfriend meme particularly offensive. Maybe I’m a bad feminist, maybe I’m just tired, but this was never a battle I knew we needed to win!
Nevertheless, it’s a battle that Sweden’s advertising ombudsman decided to fight. After internet services provider Bahnhof used the iconic meme format for a recruitment ad on Facebook and received some complaints in the comments section, the Swedish ad court ruled that it’s too sexist for advertising use.
Which is…I mean…yea I don’t know a bit of a stretch I reckon.
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“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.”
So the official ruling is that the use of the meme is gender-discriminatory, though the ombudsman can only criticise and not actually impose sanctions.
The whole thing is coming as quite a shock because I didn’t even realise that the Distracted Boyfriend meme has been insulting my gender this whole time. I guess I was so caught up in all the other offensive content we run into on the internet and out in the world that makes its way into advertising all the damn time that this one managed to fly under the radar.
I honestly thought the meme was just a realistic impression of the fickleness of men – offensive to monogamy if anything – but OK if this is the hill Sweden is dying on then that is their prerogative. Their heart is in the right place.