Use of 'distracted boyfriend' meme in recruitment ad is sexist, watchdog rules

A Stockholm company was criticized for using the "gender-discriminatory" image.

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Bahnhof posted the ad on Facebook in April.

Bahnhof/Screenshot by CNET

Sweden's advertising watchdog slammed a company for using the "distracted boyfriend" meme in a recruitment ad.

The meme, which rose to popularity in 2017, shows a man checking out a passing woman as he walks with his girlfriend, much to the girlfriend's irritation.

Bahnhof, a Stockholm-based internet service provider, used the image in a recruitment ad seen on Facebook. The boyfriend turning away from "your current workplace" to stare at Bahnhof, as earlier reported by The Local's Swedish edition.

"It portrays women as interchangeable objects, and that only their appearance is interesting," said people who complained about the ad, according to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman.

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The Ombudsman's opinion committee, which investigates cases that have no precedent, unanimously ruled that the ad is "gender-discriminatory," saying it suggests that woman are "interchangeable in the same way as a change of workplace."

The watchdog can only make judgments on ads, not impose sanctions, according to The Local.

Bahnhof didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In June, we learned that Charlie Chaplin may have created the original distracted boyfriend meme in his 1922 film Pay Day.