“Karen” has become a very popular internet meme stereotyping a particular “type of woman”, most often used in reference to middle-aged upper-middle class white women wielding their privilege to promote violence against people of color. This is absolutely a problem in society and has insidious historical roots in white women falsely accusing black men of rape in order cause lynchings. The quintessential example of this has been Amy Cooper who this past May, called the cops on a black man (an action that we have seen can endanger his life ie. George Floyd) because he asked her to put her dog on a leash in Central Park. Cooper was video taped saying “”I’m taking a picture and calling the cops,” “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”. This is awful and this idea needed/needs to become conscious in the mainstream in order for people to alter their behavior.
However, “Karen” and more generally names for women in general has another purpose. That purpose is to legitimize misogyny and silencing of women. In particular, it’s to silence powerful feminist women who have done nothing “Karen-like”. The quintessential example of this is Jess Phillips, member of the UK parliament and shadow prime minister of domestic violence and safeguards. A vocal feminist, MP Phillips was subjected to rape threats and was stalked at her home after objecting to International Men’s day. A tweet calling her “shadow Karen of domestic violence” received over 11k likes on twitter. MP Phillips has been championing protections for victims of domestic violence during COVID-19 and while she has been called “Karen”, she has no accusations of racism to the best of my googling.
This alternative use of “Karen”, to silence powerful feminist women, criticizing them down for being unaccomplished, unattractive, and annoying- the usual barrage of physical and double-standard personality insults hurled at women (none of which have anything to do with racism) is illustrated in the top definition of “Karen” from the Urban Dictionary:
“The stereotypical name associated with rude, obnoxious and insufferable middle aged white women. Karens take everything wrong with the typical over entitled western woman and crank it up by several thousand percent. They are a mutated subspecies that descends from the Soccer Mom, and have many of their traits. Such as a short temper, a crown bowl haircut, an unnecessarily large SUV to take her kids to soccer practice and be a menace on the road, etc etc.”
The “Karen” meme is now a staple of white male rage against women with most twitter hashtag users falling into this demographic. It also has been championed by white guy comedian, Dane Cook (notoriously misogynistic) and a vitriolic viral rant by a guy on reddit against his ex-wife (r/FuckYouKaren).
Here are some choice quotes from Dane Cook:
- “weakness” is his favorite quality in a woman (twitter)
- He advised audience members to “go fuck a dirty whore. That’s the best therapy.”
- He reminisced about that time he “chainsaw-fucked” a “disgusting whore’s cunt.”
- He talked about how girls would do anything for him “because I’m me.”
I implore us to give up on “Karen”, especially on her hair style and her age, and have a conversation about racism that doesn’t have the dual purpose of legitimizing and inciting violence against women. It detracts from the message and creates further destruction.