Confused Swedish Ad Board Says 'Distracted Boyfriend Meme' Is Sexist

from the i-think-you're-missing-the-point dept

It’s pretty difficult to have been on the internet over the past year or so and not come across the distracted boyfriend meme. It has been everywhere. And, unlike many other memes, this one’s popularity has shown little sign of waning. If somehow you did miss it, uh, welcome back to the internet after a year away? The meme involves a stock photo of what appears to be a guy checking out a girl who just walked by him, while his somewhat unhappy girlfriend looks angrily at him. Then to make it “meme-like” you put captions over all three characters. Here was one of the early ones that kicked off the meme:

There are thousands of other ones, some of which are actually kinda funny.

The reason this is in the news again is that the Swedish ISP Banhof attempted to use the meme in an advertisement on Facebook and Instagram:

A bunch of people complained that the ad was sexist, and reported it to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman, who recently agreed that the ad was sexist.

“It portrays women as interchangeable objects, and that only their appearance is interesting,” wrote the ombudsman, which was unanimous in its decision. It added that there was no link between the services provided by Bahnhof and the objectified image of the women.

“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 judgment said.

Some of the reviewers involved in the decision also said that the advert presented “degrading” stereotypical views of both women and men. “It gives the impression that men might change female partners in the same way they change jobs. One notifier pointed out that Bahnhof may put off female applicants with the advertisement,” the judgment stated.

That feels… like a particularly humorless way to read a meme (it should be noted, FWIW, that the same photographer has a similar stock image with the gender roles reversed).

Also, the meme doesn’t seem to be commentary about women being interchangeable objects (if anything, it’s about what a jackass the guy is), but especially it’s use as an ad here seems to be a lot more about playing off the popularity of the meme, and making Banhof seem hip and on top of what all the internet kids are into these days. Amusingly, Banhof noted this in its own statement — while mocking its own late-to-the-game use of this meme:

“Everyone who follows the internet and meme culture knows how the meme is used and interpreted. [Whether someone is a] man, woman or neutral gender is often irrelevant in this context. We are an internet company and are conversant in this, as are those who would look for a job with us, so we turned to that target group,” the statement continued. “If we should be punished for anything, it’s for using an old and tired meme.”

It’s unclear from the reporting if there’s any actual punishment for Banhof, or if it just can’t keep using that advertisement (though, given that this has now received a ton of press attention, it probably has given the company a lot more attention). Either way, Sweden’s Advertising Ombudsman needs to lighten up a bit and maybe enjoy a meme.

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Comments on “Confused Swedish Ad Board Says 'Distracted Boyfriend Meme' Is Sexist”

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72 Comments
ironicbutwhocares says:

whatever

its great to bring this stuff to our attention .. but really the only thing that i get out of this, is that this confirms that i really don’t need to be selling things on the internet to these folks. Since they have no common sense with regards to all things internet -they are probably not the kind of people i would want to be involved in any type of internet based sales transaction with.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Jackass and intercultural differences

“…it’s about what a jackass this guy is…”

It’s amazing how a man who looked at a beautiful woman is a jackass, and yet regularly here in the [southwest] United States both men and women look at people they find attractive, often with a smile.

That’s in these United States. There are other countries, and whole continents, where macho men are raised, taught, and encouraged to appreciate the female form. Those people are not jackasses… they simply have a different culture.

If you see a cute doggie rubbing his ear you’re allowed to smile, look more, and feel warm and fuzzy. Your own doggies don’t give you a mean look, withhold affection, or in any way seek to “punish” you (or call you a jackass) for this.

Apparently in our desire for political correctness we want nobody other than unattached people admiring beauty. That’s not just a violation of our right to expression, but probably hastens the path to 1984 — if we can’t think it, we can’t do it.

E

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Jackass and intercultural differences

If you see a cute doggie rubbing his ear you’re allowed to smile, look more, and feel warm and fuzzy. Your own doggies don’t give you a mean look, withhold affection, or in any way seek to "punish" you (or call you a jackass) for this.

Well, first of all, if the first analogy your mind goes to is "women = dogs", and you don’t see any problem with that…well, dude, this is probably an issue where you should be talking a lot less and listening a lot more.

Second, clearly you have never met my dog.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

None. From everything I’ve heard and seen, being a “macho” man means flexing your muscles, being a jerk (especially to women), drinking lots of beer, and yelling “‘Murica!” at the world.

I’ll pass thanks. I’m perfectly fine with playing video games, reading, and having an IQ level above 89.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Jackass and intercultural differences

“It’s amazing how a man who looked at a beautiful woman is a jackass, and yet regularly here in the [southwest] United States both men and women look at people they find attractive, often with a smile”

There’s a difference between giving someone a compliment and making a public display of how much more fantastic you think a stranger looks than your own girlfriend. Even if true, it’s a dick move to make in front of her in front of a crowd of people.

“Your own doggies don’t give you a mean look, withhold affection, or in any way seek to “punish” you (or call you a jackass) for this.”

So women need to act more like dogs, got it.

/s

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Jackass and intercultural differences

If you see a cute doggie rubbing his ear you’re allowed to smile, look more, and feel warm and fuzzy. Your own doggies don’t give you a mean look, withhold affection, or in any way seek to “punish” you (or call you a jackass) for this.

Did you just, in all honesty and apparently without reflection, suggest that a sentient being of the opposite gender should be happy to be treated as a non-sentient pet?

There are other countries, and whole continents, where macho men are raised, taught, and encouraged to appreciate the female form. Those people are not jackasses… they simply have a different culture.

Appreciating the female form is NOT the issue here. Making other people uncomfortable in public spaces is.

And, apparently, equating women with dogs to be petted is ALSO an issue. The concept of being “macho” implies – in most of the world, today – to be an artifact of the 18th century.

<i>”Apparently in our desire for political correctness we want nobody other than unattached people admiring beauty.”</i>

That’s not the message I got. What I got was that a person walking and talking with their s.o. would rightly be considered a bit of a douche in the situation depicted in the image.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Jackass and intercultural differences

There are other countries, and whole continents, where macho men are raised, taught, and encouraged to appreciate the female form. Those people are not jackasses… they simply have a different culture.

Of course not, but you may find they’re predominantly backwards with a reputation for being horrible places to be a woman. We’re not just decorations for you to ogle, Ehud. We are not things!

If you see a cute doggie rubbing his ear you’re allowed to smile, look more, and feel warm and fuzzy. Your own doggies don’t give you a mean look, withhold affection, or in any way seek to "punish" you (or call you a jackass) for this.

They’re doggies. Animals. We’re human beings. Okay, mate, let’s turn this around. You’re out with your missus and a muscular black guy walks past. He’s well ripped, and your missus takes a good, long, admiring look at him. How do you feel?

Apparently in our desire for political correctness we want nobody other than unattached people admiring beauty.

There’s "admiring beauty" and "perving on total strangers because they’re hot."

That’s not just a violation of our right to expression, but probably hastens the path to 1984 — if we can’t think it, we can’t do it.

Your right to be a perverted creep may be inalienable per the Constitution, but socially — good luck with that.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Jackass and intercultural differences

Look up the word “attractive”, and “attract” in any dictionary not written by a social justice warrior.

BTW, I’ve seen gay women do exactly what that meme portrays as well. I’ve also seen straight women do the exact same.

Park your SJW attitude and consider that the bulk of humanity is capable of admiring the landscape without feeling a need to go camping in it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Jackass and intercultural differences

“Look up the word “attractive”, and “attract” in any dictionary not written by a social justice warrior.”

It’s not the fact that the guy is finding the person attractive that’s the problem with the reaction. Perhaps if you were as interested in the actual arguments as you were in silly labels, you’d understand that.

“BTW, I’ve seen gay women do exactly what that meme portrays as well. I’ve also seen straight women do the exact same.”

In front of their partners in a public place with zero repercussions, including surrounding spectators thinking they’re assholes for doing it?

People aren’t offended with something the girl is happy with her boyfriend doing, by the way, they’re partly reacting as to how extreme her reaction is (albeit in this case probably staged). Can you not tell the difference between being offended on the part of someone who does not have that reaction, and feeling empathy for someone who clearly is?

“consider that the bulk of humanity is capable of admiring the landscape without feeling a need to go camping in it”

Unlike the guy in the picture, which is the actual point of peoples’ reaction to it, be that reaction amusement or to be offended.

Personally, I find it amusing that there’s as many people ranting about how other people need to not be offended as there are people saying they understand (but not necessarily agree with) the initial reaction.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Jackass and intercultural differences

I’m amused at the sheer one-sidedness of the reactions, as if only men get to drool and ogle (and either get slapped of high-fived for it) while we women are supposed to accept that boys will be boys, or something.

I pointed out that we women also like to admire the landscape — with corresponding repercussions. The actor Aidan Turner recently complained that women were shouting “Get your shirt off!” and openly drooling at him, making him uncomfortable. The takeaway: it’s not okay to objectify others, the “objects” find it mortifying. So then, if you’re going to admire someone, do it discreetly. The whole damn world doesn’t need to know about it.

And definitely don’t shout, “Phwooooaaarrrrr! I’d like that in a sandwich!” with a dirty leer while you’re at it, whoever you are.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Either way, Sweden’s Advertising Ombudsman needs to lighten up a bit and maybe enjoy a meme.”

You seem to be forgetting your place, Mr. Masnick. Your place is to side with the Democrat Party, the Part of Slander, against obvious Sexiism. Your obligation is global and permanent.

If you do not get in Line, you will suffer Consequences. LIke BIll Cosby.

Lady in Red says:

Re: Re: Your place is to side with the Democrat Party

Your obviously guilty laughter triggered a memory deeply rooted in my hippocampus. It was you in the room with Brett Kavanaugh, I am 100% certain. I have a woman’s name, you have a man’s name, that means you are GUILTY!

Hear that noise outside your door? That’s the FBI, with Avanatti, and MSNBC. CNN is circling in a chopper overhead.

Your life is OVER! RESIGN!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Your place is to side with the Democrat Party

Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a sexual meme and the associated arrogated entitlement. All of them (especially Masnick) deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.

David says:

Sure it's sexist

If you used a white man with a whip and a black man in tatters, it would be equally clearly racist, or at least picking up racist themes.

But opposed to the latter it’s pointless sanctioning ads for sexism when the majority of consumer motion pictures is the “Romantic Comedy” category playing out the same memes. It makes little sense to start with ads when cleaning up this cesspool.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Sure it's sexist

It’s not. Specially because there is the opposite version as well. You are comparing apples to monkeys. The romantic comedy category does have plenty of sexist examples yes but it’s another beast.

Though, it could have been less of a problem if they had distributed both versions (the girl staring and the guy staring), it’d probably have saved them the trouble of stupid moralism.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Erm, I get what you’re saying but, not necessarily – it’s a stock image so the people in it are likely to be models/actors and thus the guy is analogous to Reynolds.

What’s really happening here is that the picture has gained an extra layer of abstraction due to it being a meme. People unfamiliar with the meme are then reacting to something it was not meant to convey by the person who made the advertisement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Every comment in this thread represents what is wrong in this country.

The *only* person who should be offended is the young lady *in* the picture.

I know it’s not real, but the point still matters:

MIND. YOUR. OWN. BUSINESS.

And stop treating everything as thought it’s racist or sexist or whatever else crawled up your ass forcing your discomfort to be our discomfort.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Every comment in this thread represents what is wrong in this country.”

“MIND. YOUR. OWN. BUSINESS.”

Hmmm… Are you Swedish? If not, why are you getting so angry about the way people (some of whom are not in your country) are reacting to something happening in Sweden? Especially given that you already admitted it’s not real in the first place.

“The only person who should be offended is the young lady in the picture.”

So, if it were real, none of her friends & family, etc should be offended by its use, or does that only apply to strangers?

Anon Ymousse-Cowherd III (profile) says:

Greetings from Sweden

Full statement from RO (the advertising ombudsman) in swedish

https://reklamombudsmannen.org/uttalande/bahnhof

RO is an industry “self-regulation” organisation, they don’t have any authority to actually punish misdeeds (other than verbally). However, their verdicts are often a good indicator of what to expect if lawsuits were to follow in regular courts.

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