One of my friends brought to my attention a conversation around the term, “Karen,” in econ twitter.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Karen is the slang term for a privileged entitled white woman who uses her privilege and authority to harm a minority person. Karens are often seen in videos calling the police on an innocent black person or family, and have the catch phrase, “let me talk to the manager.”
But one important aspect of Karening in its original slang definition is that they are using their privilege for evil. They’re punching down. They’re using unjustified anger at minorities simply being in their space to harass and hurt people.
Unfortunately, the term Karen has been co-opted by white men and the occasional metaphorical Karen to mean any strong white woman who is not afraid to speak her mind or, mind-bogglingly, any white woman who follows rules. So a friend was called a Karen for very briefly blocking traffic in an alley to close a gate that needed to be closed. White women politely asking other white people to put on their masks have been called Karens. White women protesting racist and misogynistic men on twitter have been termed Karens by those same white men.
The term is no longer just shorthand for “privileged entitled jerk who uses authority to punch down” when white men and women use it. It has become a tool of oppression used by more privileged people to keep women down. Not because of people correctly using it in its originally intended purpose, but by others perverting the meaning to reinforce patriarchal structures of oppression. Instead of being a term used by the rebellion to free, it’s being used by the evil empire to oppress.
So after some discussion in which my friend said she did not like the term Karen and I noted that I liked its original use (though we both feel sorry for non-Karens named Karen), we came to an agreement.
First, we decided that white men are not allowed to use the term Karen. When white men use it, no matter how they use it, it is punching down. Next we discussed white women’s use and decided that it’s either punching down or sideways and there’s not much lost by white women no longer using the term. They can say entitled privileged jerk, or what have you. So we agreed that if white people stop using the term “Karen” then its powerful short-hand use can be preserved by the people who truly understand the definition and who need it most. (I reserve the right to use the term “Karen” when the woman in question is actually named Karen because puns.)
Language evolves, and if enough people use a sexist version of the term Karen, the term itself will do harm. (And c’mon, white men are even worse– can’t we stop protecting them from their terrible actions too?)
Who do you think should use the word Karen? What should white people say instead?