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In defense of Karen

The headline pulled my eye because it said those two magic words: Trader Joe’s.

Yes, Trader Joe’s, the mecca of suburban privilege, my flat-out favorite grocery store (sorry Wegman’s, I love you, but if both you and Trader Joe’s fell in the water and I could only save one of you, I’m just saying you’d better start treading water). The next words said, “customer goes nuts,” in that precise order, which made the story absolutely irresistible! I had to know.

Forget that the news organization was TMZ; I will take that hit. But there was cell phone footage and a woman going ‘nanas because she would not wear a mask and they had asked her to put one on or leave. And she did not like that one bit! It’s priceless, view it here.

Now, before I get to the real point of my post today let’s just agree that this woman is the worst. She allegedly wore a mask to enter the store, because it’s the law in California. I go to my local TJ’s once or twice a month and they definitely make it easy for you to follow all the rules. There’s always a line to get in because they monitor the number of people in the store, and everyone wears a mask; everyone takes a freshly sanitized cart directly from the cheerful team member; and everyone just makes it work.

They wear Hawaiian shirts for a reason, y’all. Every little t'ing is always all right in Trader Joe’s. (Note: I know that I just used a Jamaican pop song to illustrate a Hawaiian shirt reference. I’m not racist, I just couldn’t think of any popular Hawaiian songs that mean “hey just chill why dontcha?”)

So this lady came into the store on false pretense, took off her mask (albeit because she says she has a breathing problem) and then challenged every other masked person in the place to eat it. As the written account noted, she certainly had enough lung capacity to throw a shit-fit they could hear all the way on the pier in Santa Monica.

OK, crappy lady zero, polite society one. Good.

Here’s where I leaned in. The dude recording the incident on his cell phone says, “Karen is shelling out in Trader Joe’s.…” And I think to myself, “Karen who? Does he know her?” 

Nope. “Karen” is apparently what we call spoiled, entitled white women now. This is news to me. I guess because I generally shun social media and have multiple functional brain cells. 

The Urban Dictionary, which is a thing, says “Karen” is, “The stereotypical name associated with rude, obnoxious and insufferable middle aged white women.” Wikipedia, another grade-A data source, says, “Karen is a pejorative term used in the Western world for a woman perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a racist white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.” 

I’m tracking – this woman in Trader Joe’s seems to check all those boxes. But why vilify the name Karen? I mean, that’s kind of rude, don’t you think? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have shorthand for these types of people. I like a good stereotype as much as the next person. I just wonder aloud why Karen is the chosen white woman name to carry the brunt of this particular type of person. 

And here I think it’s important to say that I am only in support of coming up with a “pejorative term” for this particular stereotype if we agree that words are just words and stereotypes are typically based in some grain of truth, and if you can reduce a bitchy white woman to a random name we should be able to do that with anyone, any archetype. I wouldn’t want this to become another one of those, “You can pick on white mainstream people but not anyone else because everyone else has had to suffer at the hands of white supremacy for centuries and so you just have to sit there and take it for the next several hundred years, you racist assholes” kind of things. 

Not because I don’t understand that reasoning, by the way – I get it. But because that kind of reasoning is how we ended up electing a president that endorses racism and xenophobia, and I would very much like for that not to happen again.

But back to Karen. 

I went to my phone and plugged in “Karen.” There are a couple dozen Karens in there. Some are business acquaintances I don’t feel strongly about one way or another. But some are pretty awesome people! For example, my first boss out of college was a Karen, and she’s the best! She not only hired me, she pushed her boss, the CEO of a hospital, to interview me quickly because I had another job offer and she didn’t want to lose me. Then, when it was time to start a family, Karen gave me my first management opportunity, ascending the corporate ladder behind her, with her support and grace. Karen’s first-born was the flower girl at my wedding!

OK, to be fair, she has the Dorothy Hamill haircut that apparently is associated with “Karens” – or at least she did 30 years ago – but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Karen was, and I’m guessing still is, a pillar of integrity, intelligence, professionalism and humanity, nothing at all like the Trader Joe’s lady.

Another Karen in my phone is someone I work with who isn’t even white! And she has longish hair. And oh, by the way, she is so friggin’ intelligent and well spoken and well liked, I’m thinking maybe she should change her name now because she is young enough to be damaged by all of this. (Unlike the first Karen, who is probably well past caring what people think about her first name. That’s the single good thing about getting older: the number of fucks you have to give about stupid things reduces to approximately zero.)

Don’t even get me started with the Caryns I know. That’s just unfair, they are screwed. One Caryn I know is an Ivy-educated, high-powered lawyer and corporate officer with global responsibilities who, I’m pretty sure, has killed people and gotten away with it. (And if not, she could, easily.) She’s one of the 10 most impressive people I’ve met in my entire life and now she’s somehow implicated in this because her name is a homophone? Unacceptable.

(I wanted to come up with some follow-up line about being “homophonic” but I stopped because my daughter reads these posts and I’m pretty sure she would not be inclined to let me get away with that. Yet I want points for thinking of it, because it would have been hella funny.)

An article I found on CNN says that the name Karen was in the top 10 most popular baby names between 1951 and 1968, according to the US Social Security Office. In 2018 it had fallen to 635th most popular. I guess by that standard the stylemakers believe they are not hurting anyone by assigning these attributes to the name. But I would beg to differ. If only one Karen is unjustly maligned I say it’s one Karen too many. 

Save Karen. Let’s come up with another name for these people, these mask-hating, leashless dog-walking, bowl-cut-sporting white women who care more for their own wants than the needs of others. I know they are out there, I respect that we need to call them something. But not Karen.

How about Cindy? I don’t think I know any of those.


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