The truth about Karens
As a woman with the name Karyn, I take personal offense to the cultural Karen stereotype and moniker. My response to it was visceral and I need to speak up. I can already hear people saying “how Karen of you.”
The misnomer Karen might be a convenient shortcut to explaining the profound problem of racism and white entitlement, but it raises another profound problem. Do not confront racism with sexism. It is misogynist stereotyping. Every nasty woman becomes a Karen. The term is often paired with other sexist put downs, like shrill or loud mouthed.
Calling a woman a Karen is simply another way of controlling women and their behavior, telling us to be quiet and stop complaining. It legitimizes misogyny. I speak out about injustices, equal rights, and climate change. My view is on the other end of the political spectrum from most Karens, but I am sure that my opponents would prefer that I too would shut up. I will not. Does that make me a Karen? Probably so in their eyes.
Some say this is not discriminatory because it applies to white women of privilege. Whatever its origins, Karen has turned into a pejorative directed only against people of a certain age, race, and gender, making it a slur by definition. Such an eponym serves no more useful purpose than any other offensive stereotype. In my own case, for example, although I am a middle aged white woman, I do not use such privilege to victimize others.
I am about as far from a supporter of Donald Trump as one can get. I do not wave guns at protesters. I like to think that I am not a racist and that I am progressive. I support Black Lives Matter and the movement to remove Confederate monuments. I do not have the “can I speak to your manager” bob haircut. I do not abuse Asian American health workers. I wear a mask in public. I stay at home in the pandemic. I know that I am privileged to be able to do so. The Karen stereotype does not help you to understand this Karyn, but still somehow, by virtue of my name, I am stuck with it.
Few Karens actually have the name Karen. When she was asked to leash her dog where it was required, Amy Cooper, the Central Park Karen, called the police shouting that an African American man was attacking her. Lisa Alexandria, the San Francisco Karen, called the police on James Juanillo, who was stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in front of his own home. Luckily he was recognized as a resident and was not harmed. I do not want my name associated with Amy or Lisa or any such despicable behavior.
Assigning an anonymous Karen moniker lets people like Amy and Lisa off the hook. Although people learned the real names of these two women, and they faced some negative consequences, that is not typical. There is the woman in New York who coughed on someone who called her out for not wearing a mask, the woman in California who rampaged against Asian Americans, and several others. They and their dirty deeds are under the cover of the Karen moniker. I do not know their names. Do you?
Like most real Karens, I am not this stereotype in thought, word, or deed. Since I missed the spelling only by the grace of my mother, I do take the twisted appellation as an affront to my name, which is the foundation of my identity. When I speak up, I am patronized with “alright Karen.”
I am told I should keep my feelings to myself and not take offense since the designation is clearly not meant for me. But I do not see it that way. There is nothing more personal than your name. It makes you stand out, distinguishes you, and ties you to your family. Ironically, using the term Karen classically sees nobody as an individual. Stereotypes such as this one have the same adverse effect on society. Let us stop it already.
Karyn Strickler is president of the Vote Climate political action committee.