Nobody wants to be called Karen. No one likes this Danish derivation of Katherine taken from Aikaterine, a Greek word which means pure. Like author Duff Lambros who admits she is an ex-Karen, it’s a rather poor name (Karen Blixen didn’t even use it – hush now) but it’s a fantastic label for shrews – a white, middle class woman with bad hair who expects the world to follow their rules. Karens complain about junior members of staff. Karens summon the manager. Karen is emblazoned with hatred across social media (it likes Twitter best with hashtags like #AndTheKarenSnapped). Along with Becky and Chad, the K-word is shorthand for toxicity, especially if she’s a Boomer. Karen is deemed a “basic white person name”, as well as a pejorative miscellaneous file for everything hated about white privilege – but here, it’s got to be a woman, typically with children and belligerent views about, say, wearing masks in pubic, vaccinations, politics. Her faux-military overgrown buzzcut makes a Karen perfect for your next fancy dress party on Zoom. Karens are hypocrites, rude toward those beneath her class (that’s economic not educational class), posts nauseating motivational sayings on Facebook, tries to sell pyramid products to her friends and, to tick all Karen boxes, doesn’t believe in science. The last point is weird because that’s exactly how many Karens become blonde. Karens hope Billie Eilish’s roots go green by themselves.
So, as you can see, an actual Karen doesn’t need to be involved. Tweets such as, “Calm down Karen this ain’t your money” all spring from one source even if “Karen” memes have multiple origins. A man on that fabled all-comers forum Reddit was lambasting his ex-wife. This tirade amused a wily 17-year-old Karmacop97, from Irvine, California. Hence the sub-Reddit r/F*uckYouKaren was created. It was so much fun that it took on a life of its own.
Having changed my surname and jettisoning my middle name, I found it was harder to rid myself of the first
The reason I know all this is because, like Spartacus, I too am a Karen. Haphazardly named by my father and brothers when my mother had just given birth to me, she was, apparently, too tired to have chosen a good name like Wolf. Having changed my surname and jettisoning my middle name, I found it was harder to rid myself of the first. I was thrilled, then, when a girlfriend in university started calling me Ren. Friends to this day use that, sometimes spelling it with a W. More often it’s KiKi or KK. Pronouncing it “Kahren” is nice. Donna Karan doesn’t have any problems. It’s okay to be a member of the Karen tribe in Thailand. But otherwise “Karen” grates when pronounced as it’s become, with a nasal whine and a sense of knowing what’s right.
Karen is middle class and so am I. Karens are supposed to be snobs, prudes and hypocrites – and I’m only two of those. I have great hair by Adam at Cobella. When served the wrong thing at a restaurant, I often don’t say anything. If there’s a mistake on the bill, I might let it pass. Also, while Karen is used as a basic white person name like Stacey, Susan or Zach, checking the blue ticks on Twitter very briefly, a lot of Karens are not in that category. Still, Karen is currently a vicious, stinging shorthand that fits right in with all those names used in profiling: Mohammed, Rashid, Paddy, Guido, Mick, Dafydd. Plus, Karen was popular in American in the 1960s. There were three of them in my school alone, three clumsy, hopeless, smart and lovely girls, none of whom were popular. Although the meme Karen is Gen X, the hotbed seems to rest with the boomers. OMG. Here I thought everyone loved Karen Carpenter.
Sure, it’s name calling. It is sexist. It is ageist. Name-calling starts when you’re not smart enough to do anything else. But she’s someone we can all hate. As a concept, Karen brings us all together. She is a fluffy piñata, stuffed with bile and ready to be hit by the hashtags from keyboard warriors. Why is Karen so scary? She’s a strong woman, putting her head above the parapet for good or evil. The name is used as a label to put her and women like her back in the box, to keep women ineffective or voiceless. It’s the same thing as “she’s a bitch” at work when a bloke doing the same thing is “a tough guy”. The use of Karen is a label intended to break us.
So, yes, sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me as I’m not a “real” Karen. On Twitter, someone tried to get me to comment on the whole Karen meme. Before I could ignore them for a few more days, I was defended: “Don’t be that guy” was the reply. I’m sure he meant it nicely and if he didn’t, I don’t care. While I do “ask for the manager” in some regards, I like to think I use my Karen energy for good not evil. I asked a woman to stop throwing out glue traps with live rodents on them – it’s cruel and the kids loved playing with them. No! I did call the noise people when there was a massive party going on in the wee hours in a tiny AirBnB nearby but that was because they stupidly didn’t invite me. Such a Karen thing to do, I know. Yet some Karens are cool and can use their super power for good: “I’d like to speak to the manager — Karen Gillan (@karengillan) January 28, 2020”
Does Karen have white privilege? Yes. I am white. I am fortunate. So sure, come at me. I have it. I even ride side saddle, so you can hate me even more. But if you need someone assertive on your team, get professional and get a Karen. She’s the only person everyone can hate and, double bonus, once aware, she even hates herself for extra added oomph…. For any Karens reading, this too will pass. Soon only parents will think calling someone a Karen is cool and it will be all over. Besides, everybody knows Pams are worse. C