Why Karen and how it all started?


Sophie Dorrance-Minch, staff writer

Karens have recently became a popular meme and a very toxic one at that, including the new breed ‘Coronavirus Karen.’ A lot of people are currently familiar with the term ‘Karen,’ but for those who still don’t know can read on. 

The first question is obvious: what are Karens?

In recent months, memes have depicted Karens as a specific type of middle-class white woman who exhibits behavior that stems from privilege. For example, she’s the kind of customer who demands to “speak to the manager” and belittle their services, is an anti-vaxxer, and carries out racist micro-aggressions. A predominant behavior of the Karen stereotype is that they weaponize their relative privilege against colored people. They’d threaten to call the police over minor, or even in most cases, fictitious infringements.

Where did the Karen meme come from? There’s no exact origins of where the meme came from, but some people argue it emerged from the “speak to the manager” meme. The speak to the manager meme started as a joke on Reddit in 2014. That meme began to spread throughout Reddit in 2016-2017. Spawning images. Speak to the manager were also known to have a certain hairstyle, which is a side-swept bob in the front with spiky and much shorter hair in the back. There are also some other notable theories about where Karens originated from.

Matt Schimkowitz, senior editor of a web site called “Know Your Memes”, argued that Karens originated from a Dane Cook comedy special that aired in 2005 due to this line: “Every group has a Karen, and she is always a bag of douche. And when she’s not around, you just look at each other and say ‘God, Karen, she’s such a douchebag!”

Mean Girls, which came out a year earlier than Dane Cook, is also another arguable association because of a line: “Oh my God, Karen – you can’t just ask people why they’re white.”

Because of Karen becoming a popular name for douchebags, the majority of parents gave up on naming their new child Karen and the name’s popularity declined. There are only four students at Ben Davis named Karen. Some existing Karens also hate their name being used improperly.

Who’d blame the Karens? How would you feel if your name is ruined by memes? Honestly, Karen isn’t the only name memes and pop culture ruined. There are several other names who fell victim as well and here are some examples:

  • Luke: Star Wars
  • Chad: Sexually attractive “alpha male” who’s typically in his 20s & single
  • Stacy: An attractive woman who’s vain and rude
  • Becky: A privileged, sheltered, generic, and unlikeable white woman
  • Mike: Mike Pence
  • Anderson: “Misssster Anderson”
  • Zelda: The Legend of Zelda
  • Thor: Avengers
  • Sabrina: Sabrina The Teenage Witch
  • Bart: Bart Simpson
  • Aaron: “A-A-Ron?”
  • Carrie: Stephen King
  • Ken: Barbie
  • Jack & Jill: Nursery rhyme
  • Nick: Nickelodeon
  • Elsa: Frozen franchise
  • Hannibal: Hannibal Lecter
  • Alexa: Amazon echo

There’s a lot more where that came from but back to Karens: how do they feel about memes ruining their name? Most Karens on the internet hate their names being ruined and wish that people would stop using their name as an awful stereotype.

For example, Karen Scott Browdy argued “Let’s just call the behavior what it is: elitist, entitled, and obnoxious.”

Vincent Brook, who’s wife is named Karen, also claimed “I’m writing on behalf of my wife, Karen, and I’m sure for Karens of all colors and ages when I say, please cease the senseless sexist stigmatizing of a name that means no harm to anyone” on her behalf. For the sake of all the victims, why don’t we stop with the ‘Karen’ meme and not use names overall for stereotypical memes. Using names to describe a specific kind of person is one way we’ve gone too far with memes.