My So-Karen Life
December 7, 2019 12:45 PM   Subscribe

On Karens By Sarah Miller [NYT]
posted by latkes (74 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
"essentially all the women I had so carefully divided were almost identical." I was glad it said that at the end of the essay, because that was increasingly the impression I was getting :)

So much of this generational stuff seems to be just stereotypes of a certain kind of middle class white person imposed on birth years.
posted by Peach at 12:52 PM on December 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


I really don't understand what this article was trying to do.

I tried very hard to understand it, to get the point of it. Is it satire? Is it excoriating generational politics, or agreeing with it? Is it sexist, or a marked commentary on sexism? What is it?

I'm a smart person, aren't I? Why am I so lost about this?
posted by meese at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2019 [32 favorites]


As a millennial I too am confused. I’ll have my girlfriend bring it up at the next Becky convention.
posted by aloiv2 at 1:07 PM on December 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


Confused millennial here too, though I do have one of those “IDGAF ABOUT YOUR DIET SUSAN” shirts and assume Susan = Karen?
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Confused millennial here too, though I do have one of those “IDGAF ABOUT YOUR DIET SUSAN” shirts and assume Susan = Karen?

Karen
posted by inire at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I didn't understand it either and I'm glad you all are confused too.
posted by potrzebie at 1:30 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's a 700 word blog post that happens to be in the NYT. It's not coherent enough to deconstruct.
posted by MillMan at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


my best friend from childhood is named Karen. Fortunately, she's rarely on the internet (one of those old-fashioned souls who has let these things pass her by, since she's too busy watching the real world) and I think she hasn't heard how people are now using her name. At least I hope so - this would be both hurtful and hella confusing to her.

this whole thing is also making me feel sympathetic for the Chads and Staceys of the world.

Maybe we shouldn't turn people's names into insults.
posted by jb at 1:35 PM on December 7, 2019 [45 favorites]


Harsh realm dudes.. hopefully some others will find it compelling as I did.
posted by latkes at 1:35 PM on December 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Maybe we shouldn't turn people's names into insults.

Word. (sez Stan)
posted by sjswitzer at 1:37 PM on December 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


With you, latkes. Smashed that favorite button.
posted by clockwork at 1:45 PM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Can you explain why, latkes? I really am just confused, and I'd like to understand.
posted by meese at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Reading this article is what being white feels like.
posted by Reyturner at 1:54 PM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


For God's sake, get a grip on yourselves, Janets.
posted by Reverend John at 2:06 PM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not a Janet.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:13 PM on December 7, 2019 [72 favorites]


Harsh realm dudes.. hopefully some others will find it compelling as I did.

Now that I’ve read it, I do!
posted by inire at 2:19 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I tried very hard to understand it, to get the point of it. Is it satire? Is it excoriating generational politics, or agreeing with it? Is it sexist, or a marked commentary on sexism? What is it?

I felt like it was science fiction more than anything else. I appreciated the part Peach quoted in the first comment, but I also thought it was about 400 words too long and for too much of that it seemed to have lost its way. I wanted to like it, though, so I read to the end despite a really strong bailout reflex.
posted by fedward at 2:20 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thirty Helens Agree about Sarah Miller.
posted by zaixfeep at 2:21 PM on December 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Sigh. I hoped this was going to be a deconstruction of the misogyny inherent in the idea of Karen. Surely I can't be the only one who thinks that building an entire internet culture around hating women who do anything difficult/unpleasant/attention-grabbing in public is relentlessly misogynistic? Really, how dare a woman speak to a manager about a problem. The nerve!

I did like that this essay pointed out how boring it is to focus so much attention on nearly identical white women.
posted by medusa at 2:26 PM on December 7, 2019 [46 favorites]


I thought this was really funny and engagingly written and builds up into a wonderful dance or flurry of names.

I was at the post office today standing behind a seemingly very nice bohemian young straight white couple who were talking to each other - like, they seemed genuinely pleasant and sincere and interacted with each other in an egalitarian, friendly way that you don't always see with any couples, particularly straight ones. (There was a bit of a line, hence the observations.) And I still came away noticing how upper middle class people talk, that there is a confidence in rightness and command that even the nicest people have. There's some Orwell observation somewhere from when he was lying in the hospital with TB where he thinks, how can anyone like or even tolerate people from his own privately educated professional background - just listen to how they talk!

~~
That said, every time I'm on an advice sub on reddit, I see questions from young women that are basically, "My boyfriend forces me to perform sexual acts that I find painful and also he never does any chores or contributes financially. But he's a wonderful guy and I love him. If I ask him to take out the recycling every other week, will that make me a Karen? I don't want to be a Karen!" so I'm a bit suspicious of Karen discourse.
posted by Frowner at 2:30 PM on December 7, 2019 [53 favorites]


It is important to dehumanize in order to get ahead.

I like absurdity, and truth, and truthful absurdity and the absurdity of truth. And lies of course.

Pathetic humans, doom is coming for you all, every last one of you.

Thumbs up on the piece of writing.
posted by Pembquist at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I’m honestly shocked a Gen-X woman writer who’s sorting women into groups like Carl Linnaeus with a burn book never had the experience of defining and dismissing vast numbers of Stephanies, Lisas and Jennifer’s too.
posted by sobell at 2:49 PM on December 7, 2019 [13 favorites]


Also the canonical treatise on Heathers was released precisely when it would have been most relevant to the author and yet she didn’t mention it at all.
posted by fedward at 3:00 PM on December 7, 2019 [21 favorites]


I read this as explicitly aware of the problems of Karenizing women... But an honest view inside the heads of gen x white women, which I am one of so hence maybe why I like it. I think Miller's writing at times polarizes those who read her as having awareness of what she's observing and those who read her 100% straightforwardly. I also like the stream of consciousness and weirdness of this which is very not New York Times. Anyhow, different strokes.
posted by latkes at 3:00 PM on December 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


They only ask perfection from a quite-imperfect world. . . and they're fools enough to think that's what they'll find.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:16 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Karens love The Doors? That fits with my kids' idea that I'm a Karen.

I enjoyed this even though I wasn't sure I got the point. Upon reflection, I think the point is probably that we're all more unique than other people imagine and less unique than we imagine. Of course no one really fits neatly into a category of essentially identical people. But of course it's also true that despite every Sarah's awareness of how unique she is among Sarahs and how different she is from any Karen or Alexandra, Karens and Sarahs and Alexandras all look pretty much alike to someone from a place where no one is named Karen or Sarah or Alexandra.
posted by Redstart at 3:17 PM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


There is definitelty mysogyny wrapped up in the Karen business, but it also has a lot to do with race and power. That's totally missing in the linked article, which is essentially a meditation on white women.

On the one hand, the Karen archetype sneers at women who voice their needs and make demands. It suggests that women who are not young and lack long flowing hair (which is to say, not 100% traditionally feminine) are dismissable cranks, thereby sort of correlating heterosexual availability with kindness and worthiness as a person.

But the Karen thing is also about the way in which some white women are blind and dangerous. How they feel justified in yelling at service workers, partiularly people of color, and feel justified because women have traditionally been told to bottle things up. Or how white women face far lower stakes when it comes to anything involving the police, and therefore some white women use cops as their own personal anti-picnic army, even though it could lead to someone (likely not them) getting shot or incarcerated.

So as much as Karen leans on mysogynisyic tropes, it's also about how one marinalized group of people, in seeking their own empowerment, can be wholly blind of the privileges they have, and how their actions oppress others. It's sexist but also intersectional, sort of like TERF bangs memes.

As a white woman who's getting older and who has thin-ass hair that can't be worn long, I live in fear of being perceived as a Karen, but that is probably a good thing, because it means I at least try to be conscientious of my privilege, even if I fail sometimes. And it's also fair if, for their own safety and sanity, some people look at me and think "she might be a Karen" before interacting with me.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2019 [39 favorites]


An obsessive categorization of the girls/women from grade school through college who she did or did not befriend. Class system in the US are less obvious than England, but this is is about class, in a confused way. Misogyny and race are about power, too. The US denies having a class system, so it's more insidious.

I find it peculiar that the New York Times published this. Medium, perhaps.
posted by theora55 at 3:40 PM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this essay sounds like it's all about class and money. Karens, in the author's experience, were upper-middle-class kids, and she wasn't.

That wasn't my experience of that one Karen in my school, but then there weren't any upper-middle-class kids where I was from.
posted by clawsoon at 3:44 PM on December 7, 2019


It's totally just about class, not gender. Look at all the jokes about...um, Eric? Kevin? I mean, my husband constantly lives in fear of being written off as a Brian.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:46 PM on December 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


ironically, Sarah was the most popular name for popular girls at my (second) school - I think we had 5 in one grade and all pretty popular - whereas the only Karen was a bright, sensitive nerd who later came out as queer.

Kids always make hierarchies. The dynamic she describes for the 1970s was there in the 1980s - and is also described in The Blue Castle (written 1920). Nor is it limited to a certain class or race: I first went to a majority-visible minority working class school, and the cool girls weren't the white girls - and, yes, they still dominated the skipping rope.
posted by jb at 4:05 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've only seen the Karen meme on Twitter, mostly from Black women, always people of color, always in response to a middle-aged white woman making some sort of official complaint (manager, police) about POC not obeying minor or unwritten rules, especially the unspoken rule of deference to middle-aged white women.

It's the woman who calls the cops on an extended black family having a family event in a public park's picnic area without a permit. She's the white woman who assumes every brown person is an employee, not a customer.

It's ... really odd to me that when Karen moved from Black twitter into mainstream Internet culture, the stereotype lost her defining characteristic of racism (and classism). Any white woman could act like a "Karen", because her racist and classist actions that made her "Karen". It reminded me that while I might be technically right in the moment, I needed to consider whether what I wanted to complain about was, overall, in the long run, something better to let go of and not make someone else's day harder, or at least to find a better way to complain about.
posted by JawnBigboote at 4:33 PM on December 7, 2019 [35 favorites]


So as much as Karen leans on mysogynisyic tropes, it's also about how one marinalized group of people, in seeking their own empowerment, can be wholly blind of the privileges they have, and how their actions oppress others.

I think this is a really beautiful way of putting it. "Defending white women" has been used as a reason for brutalizing black people since whiteness was invented, and there absolutely are white women who consciously or unconsciously lean on this as they move through the world. But the heart of the racist behavior is not caused by womanness, it's caused by whiteness. White people exploit their own power, period. Yet there are no BBQ Brads. I would argue that the visceral reaction against women is what makes the BBQ Becky/Permit Patty phenomenon so much more popular. If the memes and current cultural zeitgeist around Karens were about honestly dissecting the role of white women in white supremacy then we'd also be discussing toxic masculinity and how that justification of "defending white women" could not exist if women in general weren't regarded as the property* of men, and how that crap was really about control of women's sexual agency. That's not the discussion though--if anything, Karens are regarded as unfuckable and their unfuckability is considered part of the problem (at least according to the men who participate in this shit).

*This is not me saying that the way white women were treated as property is in any way comparable to the way black people, specifically black women, were treated as property.
posted by schroedinger at 4:34 PM on December 7, 2019 [30 favorites]


I’m confused. I’ve never walked around trying to sort people into buckets. Do people actually do that? Sounds exhausting.
posted by mantecol at 4:35 PM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


Everybody sorts people into buckets, some people are more conscious about it than others.
posted by schroedinger at 4:42 PM on December 7, 2019 [24 favorites]


mantecol: I’m confused. I’ve never walked around trying to sort people into buckets. Do people actually do that? Sounds exhausting.

Trust me: It's so much easier than talking to them.
posted by clawsoon at 4:42 PM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I am usually appreciative of work by GenXers. Not this. This is one of the most terrible things I've read in ages. The author had an incredibly narrow life experience, which she seems to think is generalizable and recognizable. I suppose it is, if you share that same incredibly narrow life experience.
posted by Miko at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


The author had an incredibly narrow life experience, which she seems to think is generalizable and recognizable.

Isn't that literally the entire point of the article?
posted by Reyturner at 6:12 PM on December 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


To her, yeah.
posted by Miko at 6:14 PM on December 7, 2019


Yeah, it's a narrow life experience, but every life experience is narrow: the whole "slice of life" thing.

I don't think she needs to illuminate everyone's experience of adolescent social hierarchy, but it's a window on the world of someone's experience of it. And, yeah, it's a very white and mostly female slice of life. But I saw a lot of what I experienced as a nerdy white male in the 70's in it. It's not a pretty picture, really, and sending it out to the world maybe has some value?

This author has no obligation to describe a universal experience. Her experience is hers and she described it well enough that we could recognize it or react against it. Clearly that was her intention. (BTW, yeah, maybe Heathers did this already?)

And, yeah, in the bigger scheme these little dramas don't matter much against the backdrop of history (colonialism, slavery, capitalism), but they do represent an individual experience of the thing in the moment.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:27 PM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I’m a GenXer. All the Karens i knew were boomers (including my Mom). In my experience mean girls were always Amandas, Stephanies, and Whitneys. This is a disappointing essay. It would be even if it were about Amandas.
posted by thivaia at 7:35 PM on December 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Sigh. I hoped this was going to be a deconstruction of the misogyny inherent in the idea of Karen. Surely I can't be the only one who thinks that building an entire internet culture around hating women who do anything difficult/unpleasant/attention-grabbing in public is relentlessly misogynistic?

like maybe if white women stopped calling the cops on black and brown people then we can talk
posted by primalux at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2019 [15 favorites]


Anecdata for sure, but here goes: ten years ago I didn't know a single person called Karen.

Now I know three, and each one of them is a) badass, b) awesome and c) sick and tired of your bullshit.

Not all of the Karens I know are white, btw. I'm in the UK.

One of my Karen friends once told me about the 'Karen window': a period of time, roughly 1960-1980, unmatched before or since, when Karen suddenly became one of the most popular names to give to baby girls among English speakers, only to disappear again into relative obscurity.

Diagrams of the 'Karen Window', if it helps: UK, US.

So most people called Karen are simply women between the ages of 40 and 60.

Anyway. This 'Karen' as bad person thing is bullshit. Sometimes it's straight-up misogyny, sometimes it's perhaps legitimate anger at something else horribly misdirected. Either way it needs to stop.

Sure, there are no doubt a few terrible Karens around. But there are also awesome Karens. In my sample of 3, that's 100% awesome.

And if you try and 'Karen' any of the Karens I know, do so entirely at your own risk. They will end you. Righteously.
posted by motty at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


I thought it was funny because she pushed this into absurdity slowly and casually.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:23 PM on December 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Read until the introduction of "Alexandras" wore out my capacity for chipper flippancy, came here to read the comments, then went back and finished the piece, was rewarded by the line:
We all spoke in a manner that was sort of pre-annoyed, and a way of holding our heads in public that said “this is how you hold your head.”
And I'm not sure how exactly but it feels like a lot of this somehow relates to Taylor Swift.
posted by dmh at 4:56 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I mean, the problem with Karen discourse is that the concept is one that was from the very beginning easily recaptured by misogyny, and almost entirely recaptured by misogyny once it was heavily used by white people.

The whole premise of Karenness is that you can tell a Karen because in addition to being racist and classist, she is boring, unhip and unfuckable - her badness as a person is visible on her body. From the very start of the BBQ Becky/Karen/etc thing, there were a scattering of misogynist comments that emphasized this. The many beautiful, charismatic celebrities and politicians who are racist and classist are not going to be called Karens; a beautiful bourgeois woman who is racist and classist will not be called a Karen. A "Karen" is a stout middle aged white woman in boring clothes with an uncool manner.

You can see why the conflation of looks with morality makes "Karen" prone to recapture by misogyny. This is a very common rhetorical move on the left, of course, no matter how stupid and obviously untrue it is.

A "Karen" is a woman who leverages her whiteness and whatever money or status she has to spitefully and maliciously harm people of color and working class people if they inconvenience her, offend her sense of propriety or don't leap to do what she wants. To me she seems especially frightening because she is a figure who takes pleasure in malice, sometimes consciously but sometimes unconsciously. She pursues opportunities to act maliciously.

On the one hand, personalizing this behavior into one figure/image is really powerful shorthand. On the other, given misogyny, personalizing makes it easier to separate the "person" from the purpose.

So as JawnBigBoots says, once white people start talking about "Karen" this and "Karen" that, the figure of Karen loses its inconvenient critique of racism and becomes about the misogynist aspect - an older woman I don't want to fuck who does something I don't like.

This is why I'm always seeing those questions on reddit where some young woman is all "I would like to ask my boyfriend's best friend not to get drunk and puke on the floor or at least to clean it up if he does, but I'm afraid I'm being a demanding Karen".

Basically, once it becomes a white/mainstream term, the critique changes.

It moves from "not being a Karen means not being racist or classist and not leveraging my white-womannness, which means making an effort to go against what I was taught and possibly making other white people uncomfortable or angry" to

"Not being a Karen means remembering what I was taught about being quiet and undemanding, and never making other white people uncomfortable."

It's just a bit depressing, because obviously "Karen" starts out as an attempt to call attention to a particular way of being a racist white woman that is in fact linked to being middle aged - old enough to have some social power and some familiarity with the system. But because we as a society hate all women and especially women who have the nerve to be middle aged without literally crawling into a hole to die, it is really hard to keep the critique where it was intended to go.
posted by Frowner at 5:12 AM on December 8, 2019 [59 favorites]


And also, because white people in general are happy to move the critique from "white women with power, even relatively petty power, act with racist malice" to "white women who are not nice enough and remind me of my mom are stupid and bad", because this fits right in with existing white discourse.

Like, I think a big part of the "Karen" discourse is the pettiness, and the use of a small amount of power for harm. In that sense, a celebrity wouldn't be a Karen because she has a lot of power.

But on the other hand "women are always doing petty shit" is a pre-existing misogynist line, so again it's hard to keep the critique where it is trying to go.
posted by Frowner at 5:15 AM on December 8, 2019 [24 favorites]


On the one hand, I agree that stereotyping people is wrong, especially when those stereotypes are misogynistic.

On the other hand, one of my biggest childhood bullies - and one of the very few people I have ever heard my father declare was "an asshole" - was named Karen.

I do not assume that Karen reflects on all others. But the name nevertheless carries an interesting weight with me...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 AM on December 8, 2019


I'm still amazed to see Generation X mentioned at all.
posted by doctornemo at 5:40 AM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


Frowner, thank you so much for your analysis. It really helps me understand the shift in the discourse.

My name is Karen. And I'm 43, so I definitely am a "Karen" generationally. (Although as a small, late-blooming, shy kid I was always the bullied not the bully, and to this day one of my primary problems is how non-confrontational I am.)

When my name first started being used in this way I thought it was funny. I played along, even, predicting when I saw Karen on the list for named storms this year that there were going to be a lot of Can I Speak To The Manager jokes if a Hurricane Karen hit land.

But the tone has shifted in a way that is hurtful even though I know it's not talking about me personally. Frowner nails it - it has shifted from calling out petty racist tyrants to just making fun of or lamenting the existence of middle aged women. I'm still trying hard not to take it personally. Outside this thread I'm not even going to mention it for fear of protesting the label being the thing that brings it on myself.
posted by misskaz at 6:03 AM on December 8, 2019 [27 favorites]


misskaz: Outside this thread I'm not even going to mention it for fear of protesting the label being the thing that brings it on myself.

A sort of "complaining about being labeled a Karen is exactly what a Karen would do" response?
posted by clawsoon at 6:15 AM on December 8, 2019


Eh, I feel like I spent my childhood much like this author, learning to define white femininity as a willingness to wield power over other girls and women, and watching my peers in the desperate hope that I'd find a better framework for "how to girl."
posted by toastedcheese at 7:06 AM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


The sadness behind the article: people who will bitterly fight for any scraps they can get. And once they get some, they hoard it and bitterly fight those below them to keep every bit they can. Of course the scarcity is artificial, but the cishet white men are comfortably on top and no-one else matters so, sure, let's watch the little people struggle.

[ hefting a sledgehammer ]
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:22 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just me, but could you maybe take that sledgehammer over to someplace like 4chan where it would be more in keeping with the decor?

Returning to the essay: it was amusing, it felt incomplete, it felt shallow and dehumanizing. I would have liked to have seen it offer ideas on how to make things better. But I had the sense that the tone didn't allow for that.
posted by Baeria at 9:22 AM on December 8, 2019


If you look at Sarah Miller's work over at Popula, the NYT essay seems right in keeping with the level of observation and analysis she brings to anything.

I go back and forth on this piece and on Miller's work in general. She's very unambiguously positioned as a Gen X writer. As Douglas Coupland, early Dave Eggers (and Might magazine), online zines in the 1990s, etc. made clear, the writerly approach of "If I am deadpan serious about really trivial stuff and pretend it's analysis, I can hide behind a protective layer of irony" is endemic to Gen X.

(I am adding my own experiences as a Gen X person and a writer here, but I got a lot of rejections in the 1990s because I was entirely too sincere and not sufficiently disengaged; for a while, editors conflated dismissive detachment or "irreverence" with the capacity to critically think about something. If you find a writerly voice that works for you and pays the bills, why would you change it?)

Miller's work tends to be rooted in her own observations and her own generalizations. I like that someone has no problem putting this out in the world with her name on it:
I myself enjoy films in black and white, and ballet, and long, complicated sentences full of big words, emotions, and/or ideas. But if whatever music you’re listening to doesn’t make you want to dance or cry or fuck or bench more than you did last week, well, I guess I’m not quite sure why you’re listening to it, unless of course you’re listening to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.
So I don't know. Perhaps Miller's work is a tongue-in-cheek riff on the riffing other Gen X authors did. Perhaps it's a reflection of exactly how much analytical capability she can bring to anything. And perhaps what any of us are looking for in a piece on Karens in 2019 is beyond the 750-word count in an NYT opinions essay, one in which Karens and Beths and Emilys and Alexandras are supposed to stand in for whatever tidy buckets into which women and other objects are sorted.

I can't see or enjoy using the name "Karen" in a pejorative capacity, because I keep thinking about the Becky iteration and the heartbreaking tweets from Kate Beaton sent after her beloved sister Becky died last year: "I understand the larger point being made behind it, that has nothing to do with me or anyone I love, but every time I see the name "Becky" being used as a placeholder for a worthless person, an invalid person, well. Why should I like it, I hate it. It's her name, it's her name."

There are Karens who are as dearly loved and grieved too.
posted by sobell at 12:31 PM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


The many beautiful, charismatic celebrities and politicians who are racist and classist are not going to be called Karens; a beautiful bourgeois woman who is racist and classist will not be called a Karen. A "Karen" is a stout middle aged white woman in boring clothes with an uncool manner.

I could not possibly agree less with this. In the PoC spaces I hang out in, Ellen is considered the prototypical Karen. Claims to be woke, but hangs out with George W. Bush? Puts on a friendly public persona to the people who give her power, but abuses her staff with less power behind the scenes? That's a Karen.

the problem with Karen discourse is that the concept is one that was from the very beginning easily recaptured by misogyny

From the start, "Karen" has always been short-hand for PoC to discuss how white women weaponize their privilege to threaten black and brown people. It is specifically gendered, because their weaponization of privilege is gendered. By claiming that the term is "easily recaptured by misogyny", it seems like you're putting the blame on PoC for daring to specifically name the way gender interacts with the violence they experience. No, let's name the party responsible for any misogynistic implications - surprise, it's white people! Because the misogyny only becomes apparent when you entirely ignore the aspects of race and power, as white people are always inclined to do.

Let me just say that all of this discussion that I'm seeing is a perfect example of how people on Metafilter assume whiteness by default. Fine, you only see how "Karen" is used in white spaces, and apparently that's like, "teens on reddit use it to make fun of middle-aged white women!" But that's not at all how it started, or how it's currently used by PoC. I'm sorry you all think your experiences are central, but it is mindblowing that you would all prefer to talk about how hurtful it is to (mostly) white women named Karen than the racial aspects of it, and a direct illustration of why we use the term?
posted by Conspire at 1:34 PM on December 8, 2019 [40 favorites]


ScarJo is another another classic Karen, by the way.
posted by Conspire at 1:42 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


Megan McCain is your standard Republican Karen
posted by primalux at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


it is mindblowing that you would all prefer to talk about how hurtful it is to (mostly) white women named Karen than the racial aspects of it, and a direct illustration of why we use the term

conspire, I am sorry you have had to write this and I am sorry that my post focused, in part, on one woman's reaction to a similar name (Becky) instead of addressing what you raised.
posted by sobell at 2:13 PM on December 8, 2019


Off the top of my head, I know two women named Karen. One is African-American, a telephone worker who raised one of the best kids I ever taught, and the other is a white colleague, a quiet reading specialist with two sons, who worked wonders with my middle school students. So I don't love the "Karen" nomenclature. But then one of the commonest forms of bullying in middle school is calling people out of their names, so my years of teaching have perhaps gotten me sensitized to the process.
posted by Peach at 2:15 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


It is specifically gendered, because their weaponization of privilege is gendered. By claiming that the term is "easily recaptured by misogyny", it seems like you're putting the blame on PoC for daring to specifically name the way gender interacts with the violence they experience

Please read this in a sincere and non-jerky way, because I'm going to really try to describe what I saw, not logic-chop. I may have misunderstood what I saw, and I'm not claiming that I saw the whole internet.

From the very first times that I saw the whole "Karen" thing online, which was in POC-run spaces, there was always a salting of "look how old and fat and ugly this person is, you can tell what's wrong with her by how she looks". I never saw the term used without at least one or two negative comments about weight, age and beauty.

And now that I think about it, I do see that since white women are always held up as the standard for what is beautiful, I can see that it makes some political sense in that context.

But I feel like this and only this is what white people took and ran with when the whole thing became common in white spaces, but it was there from at least relatively early on.

There were a couple of really good comments upthread - or at least I thought they were good - talking about how the white/reddit conversation loses the race and class and keeps the "middle aged white women" angle.

In my comment, I was trying to distinguish between the use of the term in white spaces and its use in POC spaces, and if that wasn't clear, I apologize.

~~
I'm totally willing to believe that people refer to ScarJo, etc, as Karen and I just haven't seen it, so I was wrong about that.
~~
Maybe I just hang around spaces where the discourse isn't especially sharp or feminist so I'm only seeing the crummiest fraction of the conversation and mistaking it for the whole thing.
posted by Frowner at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]




Thank you, Conspire.
posted by TwoStride at 4:38 PM on December 8, 2019


Yeah, I absolutely read the end of the article as Miller calling out the white privilege that she and every single person she had grown up with lived fully into every day of their lives. She thought she was special and oppressed by and different from all the Karens, but the Sarahs were still just privileged, self-absorbed white girls/women who had no idea what the real world was and all held their heads the same way. Seeing all these reactions makes me wonder how many people got frustrated by the build up and didn't stick around for the final punchline:
After college, I moved to Manhattan. After about a week of seeing lots of other women from around the world, particularly more women who were not white women, I realized that essentially all the women I had so carefully divided were almost identical.

Sure, the Karens wore black overcoats and Emilys wore bright ones and the Sarahs wore shearling denim and the Alexandras were all drowning in scarves. But these were just costumes. We all spoke in a manner that was sort of pre-annoyed, and a way of holding our heads in public that said “this is how you hold your head.”

Aura-wise, we were clones.

But still, we are not Karens, the Karens that have now proudly taken their place in the center of the world stage, the policewomen of all human behavior. All non-Karens of all ages should be on the lookout for Karens — mocking you when you ask for a raise, cutting your best jokes, shaming you for losing your lanyard — and their assaults on our happiness, selfhood and freedom.

Because I know that Karens are going to Karen. They are unstoppable. All they see are open doors. We should blame the Karens, but maybe we should we blame the doors too? Incidentally, all Karens love The Doors, because they were a little rebellious, but not to the extent that they failed to achieve mainstream success.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:28 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


I really like the bit about blaming the doors at the end, too. If that is not a call-out of white privilege, what is it?
posted by hydropsyche at 5:29 AM on December 9, 2019


Maybe I just hang around spaces where the discourse isn't especially sharp or feminist so I'm only seeing the crummiest fraction of the conversation and mistaking it for the whole thing

Look, Frowner, I like you, so I will say this: this is not about being woke. I'm saying that "Karen" doesn't depend on whether someone is rich or attractive or not - a Karen can be JK Rowling or Sarah Palin, it can be an upper-middle class suburbanite soccer mom in her thirties, it can be an older woman or a fat woman or a woman who isn't conventionally attractive. I agree with you that when Karen discourse is applied to the latter group at least, there can be extra classism or fatphobia that is really not great. But the reason I say this is not about being woke is because I would encourage you to push past that, and think about why some PoC who might not be on top of all of the issues might be dwelling on that.

If you read the White Women LOL story I included, there's a line that I think highlights that:

...strangers began to denounce her directly by tagging her when they shared the video. The first message began Lady you should of minded your own damn business… The second, which was where she stopped, said in its entirety Ha ha Vodka Vicky, did you buy that dress at Talbots?

Is the second line kind of classist and shitty? Sure. But you need to look at it in it's context. Jill is attending a birthday party at a fancy bar in an exclusive private room at the back. She decides to accost, what the story describes as, a group of classy and stylish black people. One is an art curator at the museum of contemporary art. His name is literally Ronald William Fitzsimmons IV. She's a suburbanite soccer mom, and somehow she thinks she has to be the arbiter who interrupts them and accuses them of not belonging? How do you not expect people to react against her entitlement versus the sheer disparity in their dress and presentation and class in the video where she's scolding a group of the most stylishly dressed and well-spoken black people in a fancy ballroom?

When it comes down to it: white women who are older or fat or not conventionally attractive will write a lot about being invisible. But very rarely will I ever see them write about in whose eyes where they'll always be seen: no matter who you are or what your class or outward appearance is, by nature of being a white woman, you will always have the ability to call the entire authority structure of white supremacy down on any black or brown person anywhere - no matter how they're dressed or how rich they are or how attractive they are.

When PoC see a video of a fat or older woman doing this, sure, I agree that a lot of them respond in classist or fatphobic ways - I do agree that it's terrible, and I wish they would learn to avoid these responses, because it is a lot of lateral violence. But because you are a well-meaning white person, you do have the obligation to peer past that for a second and into the terror and outrage that fuels their response. They are specifically reacting to the disparity. They are specifically reacting in helplessness, to the knowledge that no matter what they do - what educational credentials they achieve or how they dress or how politely they speak - white supremacy will always value the perceived safety of even the most invisibilized white women, over their lives. Why would they not grasp for whatever straws of power might save them?

This is not a matter of wokeness - it is a matter of understanding.
posted by Conspire at 8:29 AM on December 9, 2019 [47 favorites]


I really appreciate this conversation (thank you to Conspire for adding so much to it), but I think, hydropsyche, that it's occurring despite the essay and not because of it.

From the piece you quoted: mocking you when you ask for a raise, cutting your best jokes, shaming you for losing your lanyard — that really doesn't say to me that the author is saying we should be on the lookout for white supremacy as held-up by "Karens," it's just...doesn't seem that deep. Maybe I'm not being generous enough in my read? To me this is an essay about how mean girls were mean to Sarah Miller but it turns out she's one too. I am not all that familiar with Miller, so again, I could be utterly misreading her but I did read the entire thing twice.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:49 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


Conspire, okay, I did think a lot about this on the way to work this morning, because my gut feeling was that usually when white people push back on statements about racism from BIPOC, the white people are wrong in some way, and it's unlikely that I alone among white people would be right.

Thank you for taking the time to write a kind and detailed comment, too. The way this played out as a dialogue helped me to think about it over time.

They are specifically reacting in helplessness, to the knowledge that no matter what they do - what educational credentials they achieve or how they dress or how politely they speak - white supremacy will always value the perceived safety of even the most invisibilized white women, over their lives. Why would they not grasp for whatever straws of power might save them?

That's obviously true and really clarifying, and I'll remember it in future. It's stupid and wrong to blame the people who didn't start it and who have been wronged for responding, and if I'd thought about it, I would have realized that this is a phony standard that I don't apply elsewhere.

You're right that I did lose my perspective. If I had been thinking with the injured people, I would have remembered times when I've experienced homophobic harassment and violence, and how the overriding feelings are panic, anger, etc - something immediate and intense.

~~
I was blaming BIPOC for the whole "does it make me a Karen if I ask my boyfriend to take out the trash" thing, which is wrong. Turning it into "a Karen is a woman who asks a man to do something, anything" is a totally separate thing, and something I have only ever seen in majority-white online spaces.

If white people take a term that is about a specific kind of racism and turn it into standard misogynist rhetoric along the lines of "you should be a cool girl", that's on them, not on the people who originated the term. It's not like it's new that white people take Black concepts and make them terrible, and I should have remembered that.

I should have reasoned from what I already knew, which is that white people are not the experts on racism.

In any case, thanks again for taking the time to engage with me on this.
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on December 9, 2019 [13 favorites]


After about a week of seeing lots of other women from around the world, particularly more women who were not white women, I realized that essentially all the women I had so carefully divided were almost identical.

Because I know that Karens are going to Karen. They are unstoppable. All they see are open doors. We should blame the Karens, but maybe we should we blame the doors too?

That is white privilege summarized in a few sentences.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:26 AM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Thank you, rather be jorting and hydropsyche, reading your comments gave me a much boarder perspective beyond just “I hate this and can't tell if I'm supposed to hate it and now I feel stupid so I hate it even more.”

I liked the “White Women LOL” short story too. It's stayed with me, reflecting back a lot of my own privilege starkly.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2019


Conspire's comment is absolutely fantastic and heartfelt and I urge everyone to read it again.
posted by suedehead at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


Hydropsyche, those two sentences could have led to a more expansive interpretation of this otherwise baffling article, but between one passage that you quote and the next, we have

"Aura-wise, we were clones.

But still, we are not Karens, the Karens that have now proudly taken their place in the center of the world stage, the policewomen of all human behavior. All non-Karens of all ages should be on the lookout for Karens — mocking you when you ask for a raise, cutting your best jokes, shaming you for losing your lanyard — and their assaults on our happiness, selfhood and freedom."

She had a real opportunity here, but she ultimately doubles down on her initial categories. The window of self-awareness closes and it just feels like the rantings of a bitter person who, years later, is still obsessing over being the misunderstood eccentric in a sea of conformists.
posted by microcarpetus at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't think it is exactly fair to say that the subtlety of Miller's writing is lost on a few of the commentators here.
posted by Pembquist at 6:27 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I came to this piece late but liked it (as I do a lot of Miller’s writing). What the idea of Karen (both in this essay and in meme-land), the White Woman LOL essay, and white privilege all have in common is a choice to exert the power a white woman has to step on others, rather than using it to change the system (whether that system is our society at large or the social dynamics of a high school). Karen is never on the very top of the heap, because she’s a Karen and not a Kevin. But instead of working in solidarity with others, even the Emilys and Sarahs with whom she has so much in common, she steps on them to try and hoist herself closer to the Kevins (while viewing herself as oppressed because she’s not at Kevin level, even if she is 75% of the way up the pile). Sheryl Sandberg is a classic Karen.
posted by sallybrown at 12:55 PM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


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