lLet’s talk about “Karen”. Karen is a white woman who takes her privilege for granted and she uses her power by diminishing or degrading others in the process. Conservatives think Karens are women who consider themselves woke, and that Karens go around telling others that they’re not anti-racist enough. To them, Nancy Pelosi is the ultimate Karen, because she is a woman who uses her gavel, rips up Trump’s speech, and claps at Trump slowly and maliciously. Meanwhile, liberals feel that the ultimate Karen is the woman who demands to “speak to your manager” and refuses to wear a mask because her freedoms are being infringed upon, and she degrades anyone who isn’t white. To them, the ultimate Karen is the woman who was walking her dog this summer and called the cops on a black man who was merely bird watching.
I know which side I’m on. There is no way Nancy Pelosi is a Karen. She has fought hard for her power. It doesn’t come through privilege. It comes through determination, scrappiness, and political savvy. And if she uses that gavel or stares down Trump, well, good. He deserves everything she has thrown his way. In addition, I don’t agree that any liberal woman could be a Karen, because a liberal woman wouldn’t be trying to rob others of their power, she would be fighting to give others more power, even if she might be accidentally misguided in how she goes about it.
Yet, even if we can all agree that a true Karen is the abusive, “let me talk to your manager” type, I still take issue with some aspects of the Karen stereotype. First, there’s the haircut. What’s so wrong with an inverted bob? I’ve worn a subtle version of one for years. I don’t do the bangs or poof it out, but there’s not much I can do with my sorry, thin, white-woman limp hair, and the inverted bob has been my go-to style for decades. There’s not much I can change about my hair, and I don’t like being judged for it.
I also don’t like people telling Karen to “calm down.” It plays into the whole hysterical female trope. Now, to be clear, I don’t condone entitled women who toss around their privilege in an abusive way. However, I do have trouble with the term “Karen”, just in general. Putting aside the unfair persecution of an innocuous name, no matter how you see it, a “Karen” has to be female and she has to be in a position of power, and how dare a woman have power?
I’m not saying it’s okay for anyone to degrade someone else, or to take advantage of their privilege at the expense of other people. But there’s no equivalent term to Karen for white men. White men use and abuse their power and privilege all the time. Let’s face it; that’s ALL a lot of white men do. It’s expected. But nobody thinks twice about it so of course we’re not going to invent a way to mock them for it, or turn them into a meme or a stereotype.
But we should.
I once said as much to my husband, and he said that the male equivalent to Karen is Ken. I did a Google search and he’s right; though “Terry” and “Gregg” are other possibilities. But none have caught on in the way that “Karen” has. Call someone a “Ken” and maybe it stings a little, but only if they know what you’re talking about, which they probably won’t. And, while I hate to imply that having feminine qualities is somehow undesirable, the best way to insult a privileged, abusive white man is to attribute feminine qualities to him. Yeah. Call him a “Karen.” He’ll hate it.
So, which high profile white men are most deserving of being called a “Karen”? They’re the ones who get off on diminishing women. Here is an incomplete list:
Calling someone a Karen is an effective way of belittling a person who seeks to belittle others. Confining this sling to merely women has been the point all along, but it’s time to open things up and be equal opportunity. Guys can be Karens too.
I'm a high school English teacher and novelist. I love boots, chocolate cake, cooking spicy food, running, and BOOKS! I live in Minneapolis with my husband Rich, son Eli, daughter Pauline, our kittens, and guinea pigs. This blog is about life, love, and all things literary. Please follow me on Facebook and Twitter!