OK Karen – The Casual Misogyny of Karen Memes

Karen: She’s the woman that wants to speak to your manager, the mother you always avoid at the school gates, the woman driver that stole your parking place and possibly even your ex wife. Karen is outspoken, irritating, entitled and very opinionated. Star of a million memes; we all know ‘a Karen’ and we are probably all guilty of smirking at least a little when we recognise her in a meme. But beneath the ‘lols’ isn’t this vilification of a middle-aged woman all a little misogynistic?

According to www.knowyourmeme.com Karen is;

‘a slang term used as an antagonistic female character in memes. “Karen” is generally characterized as an irritating, entitled woman, sometimes as an ex-wife who took custody of “the kids.’

knowyourmeme.com

Urban dictionary defines Karen as;

“mother of three. blonde. owns a volvo. annoying as hell. wears acrylics 24/7. currently at your workplace speaking to your manager.

watch out for fkn karen. MID AGED WHITE WOMEN WITH BOB CUTS ARE NOT TO BE SPOKEN TO IN ANY SORT OF TONE.

UrbanDictionary.com

In both the US and the UK the name Karen peaked in use between 1965 to 1975 making the vast majority of Karens currently between 54-44 . If you know a real-life Karen it’s quite likely she is every bit the middle aged woman that the meme connotes.

So Isn’t That…A Bit Misogynistic?

Of course it is! If you search for a male counterpart to Karen you will be disappointed, for there simply isn’t one; Chris and Simon (both similarly popular names of that generation) simply do not provoke as much mockery as Karen despite the fact that if you’ve ever worked in retail or any other public facing job you know that male customers can be every bit as demanding (not to mention potentially considerably more threatening) as women. The male name with the most comparable notoriety is ‘Chad’ and with Chad’s combination of good looks and sexual attractiveness it is clear he is no parallel to Karen.

I propose that it is actually Karen’s implied lack of sex appeal that makes Karen such an easy tool of casual misogyny. With her sensible, unfashionable ‘mum hair cut’ and practical family car Karen’s biggest social crime is perhaps her unwillingness to cater to expectation of male appeasement. Karen has her own family to prioritise; she does not have time to coddle other men. Karen is a victim of redundancy from male gaze. As a middle-aged woman with a family Karen has little to offer the younger male observer therefore she is relegated to a comic figure defined by unfavourable stereotype and fit only to be ridiculed and mocked.

Karen’s assertiveness is self-serving, unapologetic and if it is rooted in entitlement you can bet as a woman it’s an entitlement that doesn’t extend to all areas of Karen’s life, behind the cliché of the ‘wife that takes the kids’ is the reality of the unpaid and oft under appreciated carer. Where is the (ex) husband in all of this? He is the victim of course, the viewer of the meme, the default male.

Karen’s “female antagonist” status sees her cast as the evil stepmother, the hostile adversary, the evil queen. Karen is not even the protagonist in her own story, Karen is exiled to eternal opponent. Karen memes are the modern day answer to the mother-in-law jokes of yesteryear, despite the eponymy of the meme Karen is actually dehumanised, we are not supposed to consider Karen’s point of view.

If you’re a woman you may even be a Karen yourself. If you’ve debated/argued for long enough on social media you certainly stand a chance of being considered a Karen.

“Karen” is used as a insult to dismiss someone whose opinion is not deemed to be important enough to consider. A woman offering unwanted advice or unpopular sentiment. Karen is in many ways a scapegoat for feelings of frustration towards women that stand in men’s way, the ones that dare to have an opinion that differs. It becomes easy to see how Karen isn’t that different to those pesky TERFS in your mentions.

As a feminist I find myself sympathising with Karen, even as a 30 something woman firmly planted in the millenial age group I’m not ashamed to say I recognise myself in Karen. “Je suis Karen” I mutter as I wait in a shop to speak to someone who will hopefully know a little more of the product they are employed to sell. Karen is the scourge of the incompetent worker, willing to call-out bad service and get what is rightfully hers, which; in this age of courier tracking, Trip Advisor and 24hr online support surely isn’t that uncommon a thing? Aren’t we all a ‘little bit Karen’?

So quite why is it acceptable to vilify Karen’s particular brand of female consumerism? Is it perhaps because Karen is so ubiquitous to generation X. From her sex, to her age and even her whiteness; Karen is a generic representation of everything society tells us we are allowed to mock without question. As Catharine A MacKinnon states the white woman who does not share her oppression with men is a fine indicator of just how hated women are for merely being women:

Unlike other women, the white woman who is not poor or working class or lesbian or Jewish or disabled or old or young does not share her oppression with any man. That does not make her condition any more definitive of the meaning of “women” than the condition of any other woman is. But trivializing her oppression, because it is not even potentially racist or class- biased or heterosexist or anti-Semitic, does define the meaning of being “anti-woman” with a special clarity. How the white woman is imagined and constructed and treated becomes a particularly sensitive indicator of the degree to which women, as such, are despised.

Catharine A. MacKinnonFrom Practice to Theory, or What is a White Woman Anyway?

Karen has no ethnic minority status, no inferred gender-id outside of her biological sex, no preferred (or demanded) pronouns, Karen is often representation of a woman taking a traditional role as protective mother, her vulnerability is weaponised against her.

In this age where (nearly) everyone can be considered special, ‘unique’, daringly different and even ‘queer’; Karen is presented as a straggler from a previous generation, one that did not grow up on the internet and may not even be aware that she is the source of ridicule.

With this realisation of casual misogyny and ageism comes threat from the future, and no amount of superfluous pronouns will save you; one day you will be a left over from your own generation. One day you may find yourself hated, just for being a woman. If you’re not a modern day Karen there is every chance that you are the Jess, Katie, Maisy or Amelia of tomorrow…

28 thoughts on “OK Karen – The Casual Misogyny of Karen Memes

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  1. I agree with you about “Karen”.

    Men strike out against ‘Karen’ for the obvious reasons–nothing turns them on more than getting out torches and pitchforks against women who aren’t going to start crying or supplying fellatio when the usual male tactics (saying they are ugly or unfu%%able) are used.

    It’s more complicated for the legions of self-and-most-other-female-hating women in the generation below Karen.

    The many misguided, ’empowerful’, penis-uber-alles (a stance they falsely think is subversive when really it is anything but) young women love to strike out against white women (of unknown class or sexuality that they always assume to be middle/married hetero) in the age demographic that means they could be their mothers for a number of reasons.

    1. The current zeitgeist has led, in those post Gen-X, to a consciousness of every possible oppression a male could mention, including non-oppressions like not getting his own personal hawt rape slave–what he calls a “girlfriend”.

    2. Some girls and women in these demographics know they are treated like shit, that every female born person they know is treated like shit. They also know what happens to women who say this shit treatment is due to being born female: they are gaslit (” Beyonsay says ‘Girls Rule the World’, you just have a low self esteem! “), therapized/medicated (” recovery from rape means not being angry at all men”/ “the idea that sexual intercourse is more important to men than a woman’s ‘no’ is a paranoid delusion”), ostracized by other women (” she’s just angry at men because none of them think she’s hot”), and subject to rape threats by men (so much for other women thinking that ‘being ugly’ serves as a Get Out of Being Penetrated card–if only!).

    3. However, being oppressed as an ethnic/racial/religious minority, gay, or trans is taken VERY seriously by teachers, parents, college officials, and corporations. Even male students/young workers care about oppression by race/ethnicity/religion, while their female counterparts care about every oppression except being female).

    4. At the same time, white male Milennials are at the top of the pyramid and therefore cannot be criticized. These white males literally worship mostly black rap stars for their ability to make millions for being putting to music their contempt towards ‘bitches and hoes.’ Yet they realize that due to their white privilege, they are not entitled to insult ‘their’ “bitches and hoes.”

    5. Females quickly learn that the only way to have misogyny seen as anything but deserved is to re-position the female-hating statement as another kind of -ism (in spite of the fact that her male twin would not have suffered the same) so that males of this demographic will rally around her instead of throwing victim-blaming or rape threats her way:

    a. Example: White football player rapes Black honor roll student, saying “smart bitches need cock to put them in their place.” By saying that if she was white this wouldn’t have happened, black men will be on her side. If she had said ” if I was male this wouldn’t have happened”, the “what, you think you’re better than being dicked cuz you’re smart?!” shit would come from black men as well as white.

    b. Butch lesbian gets gang-raped by the football team. She frames it as an act of ” homophobia” that could have happened to any gay man too, instead of a form of torture done by males to any female who displeases them by refusing to kiss ass, feminize, or feign the love of getting fucked. Through this framing, gay men don’t see it as a “prude girl who doesn’t understand how much we wish football jocks would hate us ‘that’ way, instead of punching us!!” but as a homosexual who was denied their right to not have heterosexual ” sex”.

    6. So what of the white, middle class, straight (or assumed to be straight) girl or young woman who doesn’t belong to another marginalized class, nor is immune to being judged as a ” racist, classist, cissexist white feminist” by her liberal classmates/ co-workers and a “bitch who needs cock in her mouth so she’ll shut up 24/7” by the more traditional students/co-workers due to her inability to enjoy every rape-happy joke and rap song she hears?

    7. At least she’s not Karen. And maybe a few Karen jokes will keep them from remembering the last time she got angry about being called a “ho” (and called ‘racist’ for protesting, because ‘women of color don’t have that privilege’). In fact, maybe by calling out how racist a “Karen” she knows is (this woman refused to hire a black man to clean her office because she overheard him calling her ‘this white bitch who interview me’ on the cell phone, obviously she is a RACIST!!) she might not be considered a racist like Karen. Because, as she’s been told, white women who turn down black dick and lady dick can’t be raped because they deserve it, and ugly women can’t be raped because they’ve been done a favor, and and and…

    Yes. It IS that bad.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. (Separating this huge block of text for your convenience)

    M’kay, let me unpack this bullshit while it’s still steams

    No, actually there is a male counterpart to Karen, his name is Kevin. Kevin is characterized more by his absolute dopiness, and less by his overall asshole-ish behavior, Kevin is the guy who blows up the bathroom toilet with fireworks, the guy who sets himself on fire before jumping into the pool, the guy who drinks bleach, etc.

    Now, why isn’t there a female counterpart to Kevin? Surely this seems sexist? Well no, because there are many more men than women who fit the description of a Kevin. Just like there are many more women then men that would fit the description of a Karen.

    And this is all besides the point considering Karen is simply a caricature, her gender, her race, it’s not relevant.

    Karen is the figurehead for every annoying customer, every bigoted parent, every virtue signalling Christian, so on so forth, and she happens to take the form of a blond middle aged woman. This is quite similar to arguing the existence of a god would be misogynistic, considering in most monotheistic contexts god is referred to as a he, and there is no female god. Additionally, it isn’t as if we’re poking fun at “oppressed women”. Karen’s are typically in the middle to upper-middle class in the socio-economic hierarchy. They’re white, relatively attractive, and are typically married.

    Thus, I don’t equate making memes about Karen to making memes about women who’ve been sexually assaulted, or women living in poverty, or women dealing with mental issues.

    So, say we created a meme about a girl named Sheila. Sheila is not a specific person, she’s a caricature, a black woman living in a ghettoized neighborhood, with terrible schools, awful libraries, sub-par medical centers. Sheila speaks as many African-Americans do using Ebonics, and so she speaks using terms which I wouldn’t use, such as using phrases like “homie”, “crib”, “nigga”, so on so forth. Sheila also might have a drug habit, as she was exposed to such substances as a child.

    Now, making memes about such a disadvantaged person I’d protest. It’s racist, bigoted, and uses out-dated stereotypes of African-Americans. It’s a joke, but it’s more gross than funny.

    But Karen for me is absolutely fair game. Karen’s an ass. Men and women alike despise her, not because she’s breaking stereotypes or some shit, but because she’s an outright bitch. She is literally the personification of the word, bitch. Karen is not an insult, unless you want it to be as such. Karen is an adjective. She’s a homophobe, racist, sexist (yes, the Karen, the woman herself is a sexist, that’s part of the meme, don’t know if that really registered with you), Christian idiot. But, if I was considered a Karen, I wouldn’t really care, because I’m just not a Karen. “It only stings when it’s true,” as the saying goes.

    “As a feminist I find myself sympathising with Karen.” No, you sympathize with what you think a Karen is. You believe Karen is a middle aged woman with fresh, new, interesting opinions and ideologies who is repeatedly shunned from society because of what’s between her legs. Do you ever thing as to why she’s been ridiculed beyond belief? Because if you don’t…

    you’reprobablyakaren

    Like

      1. Not really.

        You’re spreading blatant misinformation to support your agenda, and I’m trying to justify as efficiently as to why on this matter, I believe you are very much in the wrong. You seem to not have a clear image of what a Karen is, and so I tried to paint a more realistic portrait for you.

        If you continue to disagree, that’s absolutely fine. You are entitled to any views you might hold, and I have no problem with that.

        Like

  3. I’ve never heard of “Kevin” but have heard “Karen” used on any white woman who dares to be middle aged or perceived as such (ie recognizably older than “barely legal” porn) whether or not she is slightly more assertive than a houseplant.

    If she is neither assertive or over mid-twenties, no matter how unnoticeable she tries to be in part to avoid the legions of common gendered insults, she will be called a “basic bitch”.

    You can’t escape if you’re female.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Whoever wrote this drivel must be really pissed that they couldn’t get to speak to the manager or something and had to vent. This is psychotic.

    Like

  5. Imagine being triggered by a meme that both men AND women joke about (doubly so because it’s often true and we all know a real life Karen who acts like the meme) that you write a whole article on it. Memes are dangerous, yo!

    Like

      1. Stop being a child. I’m brown girl, if someone calls me a nigger I couldn’t care less. If someone calls me a gook because I’m Asian, it really won’t bother me. Those words are a thousand times more offensive than Karen, and none of them bother people. Calm down.

        Like

      2. I do not believe “Karen” is a slur, nor is comparable to those terms you use, however it IS still misogyny. Feel free to embrace it, but you shouldn’t have to.

        Like

  6. How about people stop being offended by everything, develop some coping skills, and let the rest of us get on with our lives?

    Like

  7. Is there a meme for an incompetent twit who couldn’t give a f* about doing anything right, except making jokes 24/7? Or the ones who sob because they don’t get the senior director job – at age 25 – that they feel entitled to?? All generations have their 1/3 smart conscientious ambitious successful and serious people, 1/3 average middle of the road, and 1/3 screw-ups. The problem is there’s millions in each category. The ones making these low-brow memes are the bottom of the barrel screw-ups of the current 20/30 somethings. Life won’t care about them much down the road. The better 2/3 of their cohort certainly won’t when they leave them behind.

    Like

  8. Kids: Get over yourself.

    When you’re trying to “explain” why a joke is funny, it ALWAYS falls short.

    Karen memes are easy: “They’re funny, because they’re true.”

    Like

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