The ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The New Courier.

What’s in a Name?

by Anna Kubiak
March 26, 2021

Picture this: an irate woman with a blonde bob and a request to speak with the manager. Chances are a label has come to your mind. This woman is what would be described by many as a ‘Karen’. In recent years the name ‘Karen’ has earned a definition all its own, a woman whose actions are entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal, especially white women who use their privilege to get their way.

There are no shortage of ‘Karen’ videos circulating the internet, from ‘Karens’ who call the police on children, to ‘Karens’ who throw food out of their carts at grocery stores to protest masks, to ‘Karens’ who lick doors to prove COVID-19 doesn’t exist. It didn’t take long for the term to be coined and the stereotype to take root. Many people point out that these ‘Karens’ have a history of being unreasonable, irrational, and at times racist, and that the title is a perfect fit for their actions.

When I first became introduced to the world of ‘Karens’, I was inclined to agree. It was amusing to watch this cliché expand, fueled by the perceptions of those infuriated and exhausted by the seemingly outdated approach to life taken by stereotypical ‘Karens’. ‘Karens’ have a certain look about them, rooted in their clothes, their hair, their makeup, the way they speak. Every new ‘Karen’ seems to enforce their standing in social media, however, I am inclined to believe that there is nothing new about the label.

There is a single question I asked myself that enforced the idea that my perception of the term may be misguided. Why are ‘Karens’ only women? There are men who make comparable and sometimes worse decisions but remain without a condescending nickname. For this discovery, I only had one answer: the ‘Karen phenomenon’ is just another way that sexism slips back into society under the veil of a culturally acceptable trend.

Don’t get me wrong, the actions taken by the stereotypical ‘Karen’ are not condonable decisions as they have resulted in harm to others. I disagree with any of the positions they took which made them feel that this manner of behavior was acceptable. Anyone who inflicts pain on someone else should be held accountable for their actions, and social standards can be a positive way of enforcing a certain level of decency on society. However, there is a difference between encouraging people to treat others with kindness and calling women irrational because you don’t agree with them.

While calling a woman ‘Karen’ seems like a straightforward practice, it actually involves a large amount of personal speculation. It relies on a subjective perspective on what is out of bounds. The expectation is that the term is used in congruent circumstances, however, there is no guarantee that it will be used in this way. While the ‘Karen’ trend began as a means to call out unacceptable behavior, there is no reason to believe that it won’t expand to encompass any behavior by a woman that society may deem as uncomfortable. What is to say that whenever a woman acts in a way that is emotional or sensitive they will be called a ‘Karen,’ even when their actions are reasonable.

The ‘Karens’ of the world have been labeled as women whose irrational overreactions affect others in a negative way. There is no denying that ‘Karens’ have inflicted pain on others. Their actions often reflect their closed minded and inconsiderate nature towards others which has resulted in unwarranted calls to the police and unsanitary shopping sprees. There is no way to defend their behavior, however, while they are spotlighted for their views, they are being targeted for their gender. There are more constructive ways to correct the flaws in society than by finding creative ways to label women as unhinged and overemotional. These jokes are far outdated and a hindrance to the very culture people are trying to create when they call out ‘Karens’.