Swedes Call Out ‘Degrading’ Ads that Use Distracted Boyfriend Meme

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Sep 27, 2018

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Ah, Sweden. Home to gender-neutral education and one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world. Now also home to some of the least-sexist advertising in the world: Sweden’s independent watchdog for its advertising industry has dubbed the pervasive ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme sexist, and discouraged Swedish advertisers from using it.

You’ve seen this meme — and probably wished you hadn’t. It’s a photo of a girl walking toward the camera. In the background is a heterosexual couple walking in the other direction — but the man has slewed around to ogle the girl who has ostensibly just walked past him. His girlfriend looks understandably upset. People and companies and probably aliens then ‘cleverly’ label each figure in this two-dimensional drama to explain a completely unrelated event.

“The advertisement objectifies women,” the ombudsman, RO, said, as reported by The Guardian. “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.”

Earlier this year, the city council of Stockholm, the Swedish capital, banned public ads considered sexist or demeaning. The RO, a national body, has no authority to ban ads but exists to critique and guide a ‘self-regulating’ industry.

In this case, the RO was responding to nearly 1,000 complaints in response to a company’s recruitment advertisement that depicted the woman in the foreground as the company, the man as a man, and the upset girlfriend in the background as a current employer, The Guardian reports. The RO said the choice to reduce the women to companies while presenting the man as an individual was objectification. The woman in the foreground, particularly, it said, was a “sex object … unrelated to the advertisement, which is for recruiting salespeople, operating engineers and a web designer.”

Hopefully this is the death of a tired, stupid meme, and the start of more imaginative advertising. Sweden, along with the rest of the Nordic countries, is often on the forefront of egalitarian living. Their efforts at gender-neutral education have not gone unnoticed in the rest of the world, even if we’re slow to fully embrace a lack of binary. Sweden’s calling out the ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme gives me hope that one day, here, I won’t have to watch three Katrina Kaifs watch each other bite seductively into a phallic chocolate bar.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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