Uncovering the meme: What is a Karen?

If you’ve been on the internet in the past few years, you’ve probably come across the term ‘Karen’. But what exactly does it mean?

According to the popular meme, ‘Karen’ is a middle-aged white woman asking to speak to the manager. She is often depicted as both entitled and ignorant which adds to the humour. Despite everyone knowing the meme, where exactly did it come from?

In this article, we’ll explore the origins of the ‘Karen’ meme and how it has become a ubiquitous part of popular culture.

The origins of Karen

First off, let’s define what a ‘Karen’ is. According to the stereotype, a ‘Karen’ is a middle-aged, entitled, and demanding white woman who is quick to complain or ask for the manager when things don’t go her way.

She is often depicted as having a certain haircut (a short, asymmetrical bob) and a specific style of dress (athletic wear paired with UGG boots or oversized sunglasses).

The term ‘Karen’ originated on social media, specifically on Reddit, around 2017. It was used to describe women who exhibited the aforementioned entitled behaviour, often in retail or customer service settings.

Over time, the term grew in popularity and evolved to encompass a wider range of behaviours, such as making racist or homophobic comments, refusing to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even calling the police on innocent people.

The Karen meme has been popularised through social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, and has become a way for people to express frustration with entitled behaviour. There are countless memes, videos, and TikToks featuring ‘Karen’ behaviour, and the term has even made its way into mainstream media.

Harmless fun?

However, the Karen stereotype can be damaging. It perpetuates the idea that middle-aged white women are entitled and demanding, which is not necessarily true. It also ignores the systemic inequalities that lead to certain groups feeling entitled or privileged, and it can be used to dismiss valid complaints or concerns raised by women who may be labelled as Karens.

It’s also worth noting that the term ‘Karen’ can be used to mask or excuse racist or sexist behaviour. Calling someone a Karen may seem harmless, but it can be a way for people to avoid addressing the underlying issues of racism and sexism.

While the Karen meme may seem like harmless fun, it’s important to remember that it can be damaging and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Rather than labelling people as ‘Karens’, we should focus on addressing the underlying issues of entitlement and privilege, and work towards creating a more equitable society for all.

Words by Charlie Vogelsang

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