Recently, a female journalist on Twitter posed an interesting question. She asked if other people believe that the phrase ‘Karen’ is a slur. Specifically if it’s “woman hating and based on class prejudice.” Yes, she was serious.
The name Karen has certainly gained notoriety in recent years, but to call it a slur?
For those who may not know, a “Karen” is typically a middle aged white woman who is unnecessarily demanding or annoying. Probably drives a minivan or SUV and has kids named Brayden and Karleigh. Sometimes she has an asymmetrical haircut that’s the soccer mom version of a mullet. Typically asks to “speak to the manager” even though she’s holding an expired coupon. She’s very likely to call the cops on people of color expressing joy and is the head of the HOA. Karens leave inflammatory comments on Facebook articles without reading past the headline. She thinks she’s above rules or common sense manners. Karens reek of middle class white privilege, and they choose to weaponize it when it benefits them.
Typically, words that we consider to be slurs are not ones you repeat. Most people won’t say anything other than “the n-word,” not daring to utter any extra syllables. No one is running around making memes about it like they do with “Karen.” In the words of the great John Mulaney, “If you’re comparing the badness of two words, and you won’t even say one of them? That’s the worse word.”
It’s important to acknowledge that Karens are always white women of a certain age. Usually over 40, but under 60. Whiteness is intrinsic to the privilege that it takes to be a Karen. And before you ask, of course this “journalist” is a white woman. Look, only a white woman can say something so outrageous and be completely serious. And the kicker is that this particular white woman is named Julie. So like, what skin does she have in the game exactly? Like, okay Julie, please tell me how Karens are oppressed — I’m on the edge of my seat here.
Let’s try to unpack why Julie seems to think Karen is a slur. Because there is clearly a lot to unpack here. Her initial stance on the term being “woman hating” is the first questionable part. Yes, the word is aimed at women. But the phrase isn’t mocking her for being a woman. It’s mocking her for being a very specific kind of woman. Usually one that has no basic regard for other people. When someone tried to point out the specificity of the term, Bindel tried to defend her stance on its sexism.
“It is certainly used by enough white men for it to be morphed into a misogynistic slur,” she replied. Okay Julie, that’s really a reach. I wonder if her arm hurts from stretching so hard. Sure, misogyny is a huge issue, especially with white men. But again, white women aren’t the victims here.
From what some replies to Bindel’s tweet say, the term originated from black women. They created it out of necessity to discuss how white women treat them in the world. It could be the aforementioned customer who tries to insult your intelligence and try to have you fired. Or maybe it’s your passive-aggressive coworker who complains about you to HR for no legitimate reason. The trait of a true Karen is that they like to weaponize their whiteness. Use it as a shield to deflect criticism. Their whiteness has them believing they are above the rules of common decency, and the world fuels their (entitlement) fire because the world allows it.
Because these women see themselves as the victim and never the perpetrator, believing Karen is a slur makes sense. In their minds, because they’ve turned into the joke, they’re somehow marginalized now. Of course it’s a load of nonsense, but that’s how the Karens (and Julies) think.
See the tweet above? This is another strong example of how this type of white woman thinks. Let’s move on to classism.
Going on what we know about the stereotypical Karen, they’re usually middle- to upper-middle class. These women have money to spend, and they often do so on $200 throw pillows from Anthropologie. Karens roll up to Target in their slick black SUVs wearing their Lululemon yoga pants sipping a Starbucks latte and ready to tackle someone on Bullseye’s Playground. In no way are they being “marginalized” by their financial situation. But they like to believe other people hate them because they have money.
So let’s set the record straight here. It’s not the fact that they have money. It’s that they use their money and financial status to do harm. Whether it’s direct harm by threatening minimum wage retail workers, or maybe just wielding that financial power to get themselves ahead, it’s all bad. “Isms” always work in favor of the marginalized group. Middle class white women are largely not marginalized. So to say that calling these women Karen is classist is irresponsible and untrue.
When the system is built to benefit them, pointing that out doesn’t mean you’re discriminating against them.
The type of white women others call Karen often see themselves as victims. And the type of white women who defend them, like good ol’ Julie, try to paint them as oppressed. But middle-aged, middle class white women do not face oppression by any stretch. In fact, they reap huge amounts of race and class privilege, and then they turn around and use that privilege to step on the necks of those under them, especially black women. Pointing out these realities is not oppressing the oppressors. It’s pushing back on the constructs of whiteness, the systems that enable these women’s actions. Calling a woman by the phrase is calling her out, not degrading her.
To say that Karen is a slur, akin to some truly derogatory words, is categorically false. The fact that this even has to be explained shows how truly off the rails Karens/Julies are willing to go to center themselves.
Calling someone a “Karen” is absolutely not like calling them the “n-word.” It’s a way to call out irresponsible, rude, and entitled behavior. These are things that are important to point out. White women like Julie Bindel, and those agreeing with her, need to take a good, long, look in the mirror and do some serious self-reflection.
They probably won’t though, and that’s why we will keep callin’ it like we see it.
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