Why I don’t call other women “Karen” (unless that’s their name)

People show disrespect for others in many ways.

In 2019, discord among people has reached new lows.

There were the horrific tragedies such as the 41 US mass killings in which 210 people died. Children are still being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

To shift from the obvious and massive examples to the (possibly) trivial, can we talk about what we call each other?

At the risk of earning an “OK Boomer” from you, can I just ask that you call me (and every other human being) by the name they want (as I try to adhere to that myself)?

Please don’t call me “Karen,” to my face or behind my back.

“Karen” has become the go-to for anytime a white woman loses touch with her common sense and perspective and seeks out the manager.

Please don't call me Karen

Here’s Dictionary.com’s take:

Karen is a mocking slang term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman. Especially as featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being a nagging, often divorced mother from Generation X.

There’s an assumption (often deserved, sadly), that a “Karen” action reeks of white privilege.

“Karens” ask for the manager when their food is lukewarm, when their tea is not sweet enough, when their perfect angels (children) are chastised when they are behaving in a way that endangers others, etc. (There are examples at Comic Sands, on Quora and on Reddit.) It’s possible the proportion of “Karens” rushing to get the grocery divider down rapidly is higher than the general population.

Although the woman referenced here and here really is named Karen, the letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun about how Lamar Jackson should have donated to a charity rather than giving his offensive linemen Rolexes, along with its Karen-generating headlines, seems to be part of the Karen-verse. (Note: Among his charitable activities is Jackson’s $25,000 gift to the Blessings in a Backpack program last year.)

Please don't call me Karen

Here’s the thing. “Karen” behavior is egregious (usually — but also in this day and age when customer services has gotten so marginal, we all find ourselves in infuriating situations that are prone to bring out our inner Karens).

But cramming every middle-aged white woman with a bad haircut and a Volvo into the tiny compartment of a joke name only hurts us all.

Please don't call me Karen

Karen Cyphers Breaks it Down

This piece by Karen Cyphers (yes, she really is named Karen) is the one I wish I had written, to be honest. I love the way she delineates the history of this usage of “Karen” and ties in some research that tries to figure out if Karens really do get more aggravated than Dorothys, Janes and Marys.

Sarah Miller Tries to Break it Down

I didn’t love this piece as much (note the paywall, by the way), because of all the stereotypes and assumptions. “Karens are going to Karen. They are unstoppable. All they see are open doors. We should blame the Karens, but maybe we should blame the doors too?”

Names are More than Names

I wouldn’t call a black woman “Nia” (a relatively common name for black women) just because I didn’t have the mental dexterity to try to find out her correct name. If I had an issue with a black woman (or a woman of any ethnicity), I would hopefully have the good sense to try to resolve it using old-fashioned conflict resolution skills (while calling them by the right name).

The big conflicts in our society, I think, often have their seeds in the small choices we make.

If we don’t respect each other enough to call each other the right thing and refrain from stooping to stereotypes and memes, it’s possible we have already lost the battle.

36 thoughts on “Why I don’t call other women “Karen” (unless that’s their name)

  1. I have intense feelings about this, given that my name is Karen. However, I also have attended a lot of events about recognizing white privilege.

    I am white, well educated, and monied, so I can walk into almost any business with confidence and NO ONE ever stops me. I often walk into restricted areas without proper credentials and NO ONE ever stops me. I have been able to talk my way out of traffic tickets and (just this month) fines for a dented bumper when returning a rental car.

    I have friends who are working class who speak with dialects that get coded as “uneducated” friends with people of color who get questioned constantly for their presence in places and are not given the benefit of the doubt. They invite me to “check my privilege” or use my privilege to give them more space to speak for themselves. (I don’t need to speak for them; I just need to be quiet and get out of the way.)

    However, I do get upset that my name is used to depict people who are blind to their privilege when I work really hard to be aware. But then again, I also try to use that pain of being stereotyped and misunderstood to have greater compassion and humility by recognizing those who suffer more greatly than I (lost housing, lost jobs, violence) when stereotyped.

    • Thanks for all this, Karen. We ended up talking about it on Facebook, so I’ll keep this reply short. But the “Karen-ing” of a meme is a symbol of something more insidious in our society, I feel. Thanks for your perspective.

    • It’s unacceptable and universal, apparently. I did not know that about India, so thanks for educating me. I think the main reason I was inspired to write this, even though I ended up going sort of a different direction, had to do with … should I just accept this kind of thing (white women being called “Karen” when they show out by asking for the manager in stupid situations) because we have so much privilege to begin with? Is it different when a black person calls a woman Karen than a fellow white woman? On the one hand, it’s a minor thing and who does it really hurt? But on the other, white people (the ones who are trying to do the right thing anyway) wouldn’t on purpose call a black person a stereotype (either a common black name or a worse pejorative) without rightly being chastised. It’s all complicated!

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  3. Comparing calling out extremely problematic and entitled behavior exhibited by a specific and narrow group of individuals to every black woman ever? What a Karen move, Karen. Hopefully you’ll never have to experience real prejudice in your life.

    • Thanks for your comment. My intent was the opposite, actually. But I appreciate your perspective.

  4. This is kind of laughable to act as if a term used to generalise people who are stuck up and entitled is a slur. To call it a battle and compare it to race arguments is stupid, it wouldn’t even be a term used exclusively for white women if it wasn’t largely middle aged white mothers who make unreasonable complaints in stores. That’s a fact we’ve all seen it once at least. Plus it’s a JOKE. Grow up and learn to laugh at yourself a bit.

    • We’ve definitely all seen it at least once. I’ve been guilty of it more than once. I definitely can laugh at myself! I just believe in looking at things from various angles. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Its not surprising to me that the only people that think this way are middle aged women. When such a large portion of your sex, race, income, or whatever group is acting in a way out of the social norm that it gets a name, that is the problem. Sure too bad for anyone actually called karen, but if you’re a chill person not trying to jump down everyone’s throat to prove something about yourself or to get benifits then this characterization shouldn’t bother you at all.

    But women want to be a victim and by the time they reach middle age they’re bored and start acting out like unruly children. Men can be arrogant pricks too, but they aren’t above being chastised for it on an individual level.

  6. The name “Karen” isn’t used as a racial slur against white women.. it has nothing to do with race. Although it is used towards mid-aged white women because they forget their place and act like white privilege isn’t real. This is coming from the generation that started the whole Karen insult, if you are over the age of 35 and are really that upset about being a Karen and have to start a whole movement about it.. your basically asking to be called a Karen by the younger generation.

    • Hi Savannah. I wrote this in December (before the fairly recent dialogue about Karens). If my message appeared to be me saying it’s a racial slur against white women, that is not at all, not AT ALL, my intent. Obviously, I’m responsible for what I wrote and since many people saw it that way, I missed the mark. My point was simply that it’s ridiculous (IMO) to use the “Karen” thing … as ridiculous as many other lazy choices many of us make in language. Stereotypes suck, and this one is among them. Thanks for your thoughtful comment; I do appreciate it.

  7. I truly hope this is satire. I work in the service industry and deal with “Karen’s” daily. If being called Karen is so bad that you felt the need to write an article about it, don’t act like one. You’re not called Karen purely for complaining, we anticipate not everything goes perfect and actually appreciate being told when theirs and issue as opposed to not saying anything and then complaining to friends and family who then get a negative opinion of our place. You are a Karen have outrageous expectations, when you are aggressive, or expect the world for free for a small mishap or a mild inconvenience. Karen’s have been used in more then service settings because Karen’s tend to be Karen’s in every aspect of their lives. So personally I will call you Karen, every time it’s warranted.

    • I get it, Cricket. I’m sure I’ve been a Karen in service situations but I try to learn and grow and goodness knows now more than ever I appreciate people in the service industry. It wasn’t satire — maybe it was more an observation after spending so much time on Twitter and social media that those mediums make us all worse people in a way — that we resort to stereotypes instead of actually trying to be good humans. But I appreciate your comments and your observations and I certainly respect your viewpoint.

      • Hi! I can delete it if you really don’t want it here. I wasn’t surprised to see it as a comment (I guess I kind of asked for it in a way), but if that’s not what you intended to say, I can go into my comment system and delete it. Just let me know. If it’s easier, email me paulakiger (at) gmail (dot) com.

  8. Using the name “Karen” isn’t a stereotype at all. It’s a joke. No one cares if you are black or white, we just use it for a person who is entailed enough to be called that name. I understand if you disagree but that’s the way it usually goes.

      • Oh my god. All these recent comments are so mean and prove The author’s point.

        I’m so sorry so many people minimize and laugh at your legitimate observations and feelings about the trending use of the name Karen to shame and silence white women.

        I see it as a way for people to not follow rules or be punished for it. If they have every white woman nervous about looking like a Karen then they won’t complain which means the people shes complaining about won’t have to change or behave properly.

        That’s shady to shame only white women to prevent them from voicing concerns and complaining.

        These women are actually doing a good deed by complaining. They notice something not right and they voice their concern. That’s a healthy way to react.

        The reason that black people are complaining about more is because they do more crime and are more violent then everyone else.

        they’re such a small part of the population yet cause more harm so the odds are higher. We all know this but cant say it.

        If a woman has a concern that others think isnt important, that doesn’t matter. That doesn’t mean people can mock them, minimize them, label them, dismiss them, laugh at them, bully them.

        What if one of these complaints from a “Karen” being afraid or worried about somebody ends up being a legit fear and that person murders her or someone else?
        Or if someone who robs her, rapes her or if someone does something illegal or dangerous?

        At what point is it irresponsible to keep ignoring every white woman and making a joke out of her??

        • Hi Miranda. Thank you for commenting. I realize (in retrospect) I should have titled this piece “Why I don’t call other women Karen” because I really don’t care what they call me. I just object to all of us getting lazy about what we call each other. Respectfully, I have to share that I differ from you on much of this. I do not feel (at all) that black people “do more crime and are more violent then everyone else.” But that’s a topic for a different day and a face-to-face convo. My writing was not intended to be about race per se. It was about how it’s just not classy or human for anyone to use a stereotype when referring to another human being. I’m guilty of “Karening” — many of us probably are. Hopefully I’ve grown and gotten better at defining what the real problems are in life and — when I have a customer complaint — not taking it out on a serviceperson but using appropriate channels. As I’ve said other places, this particular post took a route I didn’t expect. (It was a little hard on the ego to read some of these comments, but you don’t get into blogging about stuff like this if you aren’t willing to hear people out respectfully. I’m genuinely happy each one of these people engaged with me.) But if this post gets people around to reading my white privilege post, and thinking on that, that’s what matters most to me. http://biggreenpen.com/2017/04/30/we-have-to-talk-about-white-privilege/

        • You can complain whatever you want, but the way these “karens” do is just rude. You can complain to as many people as you want without acting like a baby, screaming to an underpaid employee just to act like a boss.
          We didn’t call every woman who complain as “karen”, it is only for those who deserves the shame.

          • I personally don’t feel like anyone deserves to be called a stereotypical epithet — it’s lazy language and we can all do better. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  10. this is not the definition of a “Karen” and this is not why people are called “Karen” Karen is a mocking slang term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman. Especially as featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being a nagging, often divorced mother from Generation X. but thank you for trying

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