Every time I see a headline or tweet that starts with “Another ‘Karen’” I get a pit in my stomach. C’mon, white women! This country sucks enough without your petty tantrums. Then I think about all those sweet unsuspecting parents in the 1950’s, ’60s and ’70s who gazed into the faces of their cherubic newborns, then at each other, and said, “Karen. That’s our angel.” And I can’t help but feel, well, a little protective—not of the figurative Karens, but the literal ones.
Being a white woman of a certain age, I know a bunch of Karens—with various spellings—and they all happen to be intelligent, thoughtful, considerate members of society. Across the board. Here’s how they’re weathering this moment.
THERAPIST I USED TO SEE-KAREN: It feels awful to have my name associated with heinous behavior. Bad enough when it was merely associated with entitlement (as in, “call the manager”) but now even worse that it’s associated with racism. But alas, complaining about what’s happened to my name makes me feel like I’m conforming to the stereotype and exemplifying white fragility. Really a no-win situation!
DEAR FRIEND’S MOTHER-KAAREN: I have to say, I think it’s awful and I think it’s just an extension of Trump and our current climate. I think it’s terrible to choose a name that people are given and that they’re proud of and link it with something awful. To me, it’s also a sign that words are no longer important. Things are just sloppy. But makes me unhappy because I love words and words should be used to express things that are true. Unless it’s obviously irony. But this is not. It’s insulting.
FRIEND OF KAAREN-KAREN: I’ve found it disconcerting to the point where I had to post on my Facebook page, “I’m a Karen but not that karen.” It’s really irritating to me! By mid-july, and it continues. Another name for this derogartory term? An outright bitch. I don’t like name-calling to begin with. I thought we got beyond name-calling.
COLLEGE FRIEND-KAREN: Everyone feels bad for me that my name is Karen, so they go out of their way to tell me I’m not a Karen. It’s kind of a Sympathy Karen. I have two kids, 13 and 15, and they’ll tell me their friends say, “Your mom’s name is Karen? She’s not a Karen.” If my name were Amy, people wouldn’t go out of their way to tell me I’m not a Karen, so it’s ego- soothing.
MIDDLE SCHOOL FRIEND-CARYN: Yes, it’s a strange time to be named something approximating Karen, though my family consoles me that Caryn is different. I actually have never really felt like the name matched my personality, even if I felt the C softened it somewhat. I know plenty of lovely Karens in real life, but the name just never felt like me. I cringe a bit at the name now, and my daughters have suggested I go by a nickname, but it feels a little late in life to adopt a new name. I am hoping it’s a phase and people move on to giving another name a pejorative connotation but I fear “Karen” is here to stay.
ANOTHER MIDDLE SCHOOL FRIEND-CARYN: Most people call me [my last name] now. I prefer a gender non-conforming name, and I never liked the name. The way I see it, if I need to take a hit for the larger issue of white women being ridiculous, I’ll do it. What bad Karens do is worse than how I feel about being identified by the name. Although if I were to pick the name, I think it should’ve been Heather. ❑
Photo by Andrea Tummons