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The Reason Why There Is No Male Alternative for 'Karen'

New meme format, same old misogyny

By Katie JglnPublished about a year ago 6 min read
Photo from AdobeStock

One time my former boss got my Uber account suspended.

I always thought that was impossible. But it turns out that if you're a massive dick, nothing is.

It was over a year ago, in the middle of the pandemic and our Uber driver said my boss couldn't sit up front with him due to the change in the company's safety policy. Yup, that was enough for him to flip the fuck out.

He yelled at the driver for a good few minutes, threatening to report him to the authorities (not sure which ones), and then continued unleashing his anger at my coworker and me after the car drove away.

Unlucky for me, I was the one who called the Uber. And my account got temporarily suspended after the driver had reported it.

I ended up leaving the company shortly after that since it wasn't really an isolated incident. My boss was an obnoxious, angry, entitled middle-aged man who used to throw tantrums at strangers, my coworkers, me, or even his kids (in front of his employees).

If he was a woman, he'd perfectly fit the description of a 'Karen.' But he isn't. And for whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be a male alternative to that term.

Weird, huh?

The 'Karen' phenomenon

A 'Karen' is generally a Gen X, middle-class white woman, with a specific 'can I speak to the manager' type of haircut (usually a blond bob with highlights). She is self-entitled, antagonistic, and irritating. A bitch.

Even though the 'Karen' meme has been around for a while now, it wasn't until last year that it became a mainstream trope because of a trending Twitter hashtag #AndThenKarenSnapped. And now the term is also used for women who refuse to wear face masks, get vaccinated or are racist. There is even a 'Karen' movie that came out at the beginning of September.

But as the meme became more and more popular, some people started arguing that 'Karen' is actually a sexist or a racist slur since it only applies to white women.

Obviously, no one wants to be called a 'Karen.' It's clearly an insult. And while it can hardly be classified as racist, it has been used by enough white men for it to be morphed into a misogynistic umbrella term for a woman who is all sorts of awful. As a result, in the UK it was just added to a list of words deemed as potentially offensive by the media regulator. And the same happened at one university in the US.

Now imagine my surprise when I started being called a 'Karen' as well. For the record, I'm not a Gen X, middle-class, anti-vaxx, racist, or any other thing from the 'Karen' checklist. Actually, I'm probably as far from the 'Karen' archetype as a person can possibly be.

But clearly, some people - ahem, primarily men - think me expressing my opinions on the Internet is enough of a reason to throw all sorts of insults my way.

Which makes me wonder: would that still be the case if I was a man?

Men are Karens, too

My former boss is a bigger 'Karen' than I ever could be. But no one would think to call him that. Not many people would even call him an asshole or a dick.

Because he is the boss. He is assertive. He has every right to his anger.

Well, if I ever behaved like him - especially in a public space - I'm pretty sure people would assume I belong in a mental hospital. Or prison. Or both. And I'd be called every single name from The Ultimate Book of Women-Hating Insults.

The thing is, men are 'Karens,' too. Maybe even bigger ones than us women. But the difference is that men get a free pass to let their inner bitch out whenever they want because many stereotypical 'Karen' characteristics are assumed to be an inherent part of 'masculinity.'

And so, the Karen phenomenon exists solely because men being impolite, rude, or aggressive is seen as normal male behavior, but women standing up for themselves is seen as abnormal and, as a result, less tolerated.

In short: an assertive man is a boss, and an assertive woman is a 'Karen.'

Ah, the good, old double standard strikes again. How lovely!

Now, I did try looking for a male alternative for a 'Karen.' And there are some people who swear that it's Chad, Brad, Brian, Jeremy, Richard, Frank, or Ken. But none of these names seems to have stuck.

Which is a bit weird, especially in the context of anti-vaxxers and wearing a mask since evidence suggests that it's men who are less likely to comply with Covid restrictions and get vaccinated. Yet somehow, it's women, classified as 'Karens,' who became a butt of most anti-vaxx jokes.

Of course.

New sexist slurs only add more fuel to the fire of misogyny

One recent study analyzed Twitter for gendered insults and found an average of 2.9 million tweets per week containing instances of 'bitch', 'cunt', 'slut', or 'whore.'

That's 419,000 sexist slurs per day, directed mainly at women.

Personally, I don't find that surprising at all. Almost every single day, I'm called most of these and more across my various social media platforms. In most cases, these comments and messages are coming either from men or anonymous users. And 'Karen' is a recent and somewhat unexpected addition to the list of insults I get.

Obviously, you can't control a word, or an idea, once it's been released into the Wild West of Internet. 'Karen' is here to stay for some time, I know.

But as harassment of women - both online and offline - constitutes an everyday, routine occurrence, I believe it's worth asking ourselves, why do we still allow double standards to sneak into seemingly innocent things, like Internet jokes and memes?

Language and words do matter, especially when they add fuel to the fire of misogyny that results in women being relentlessly bullied and harassed daily.

According to a recent Amnesty International study, one in five women in the UK has suffered online abuse or harassment. Almost half of them said the abuse or harassment they received was sexist or misogynistic. A worrying 27% said it even threatened sexual or physical assault.

And sadly, this online hatred starts to translate into real-life violence, with more and more incels coming out of their parent's basements to unleash their misogynistic fury.

Internet memes, jokes, and other fads die as quickly as they arise. And the 'Karen' insult will eventually meet its end, too. At least, I hope so.

But for now, it clearly reflects the underlying social biases that women still have to deal with.

Women who speak up for themselves, seek to clarify they aren't being taken advantage of, or dare challenge someone with authority (the manager) are told they don't know their place. They are ridiculed and bullied until silenced.

Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?

New meme format, same old misogyny.

This story was originally published on Medium.


About the Creator

Katie Jgln

Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, always stirring the pot. Social sciences nerd based in London. Check out my other social media:

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