Some years back, an internet meme gained notoriety referencing middle-aged white women demanding “speak to the manager” when they are upset with poor service or lack of attention. Over time, however, this trend has taken on a more sinister hue.
Karens, commonly described as a “white woman with an asymmetrical bob,” are notorious for throwing sneakers at retail staff and wrecking shop displays. Additionally, they frequently cough on patrons and threaten to sue anyone who asks them to wear masks during a pandemic.
1. The Female Karen
The Karen has become an umbrella term for entitled, spoiled white women who act like they have the right to do whatever they please. This has made them a favorite target of viral comedy videos.
But the term has also caused outrage from Karens United, a global anti-bullying group. They assert that it’s hurtful for Karens to be mocked online.
As the term spread on social media, many women condemned it as racist and sexist. Some even labeled it a woman-hating slur.
This has led to the creation of several subreddits dedicated to making fun of the “Karen” phenomenon, including one which originated from a subreddit which once ridiculed an account named Fuck_You_Karen.
One of the most popular subreddits for “Karen” memes is Eff You Karen, where people can post their humorous takes on the “Karen” concept. Some posts are quite funny, such as this one about a young Karen who refused to accept no for an answer when asking for a haircut at an adults-only salon.
Another popular satirical comedic take on Karen comes from YouTuber Rachel, who creates humorous “suburban mom” ASMR videos. In her most recent videos, she’s reimagined Karen as a cat-owning lesbian.
Although the exact origins of the “Karen” meme remain uncertain, many believe it originated with a 2005 Dane Cook joke. Others have linked it to an intentionally misogynistic subreddit formed in 2017 to ridicule someone’s fictional, stereotypically bossy ex-wife named Karen.
Although the term has undergone substantial change in its short lifespan, it still holds a negative connotation for middle-aged white women. According to Know Your Meme senior editor Amy Moore, using it as an adjective carries with it elements of entitlement and racism that are problematic for those who use it as a label.
2. The Male Karen
The Karen is an iconic internet meme that has gained notoriety over the years. It’s often used as a disparaging term for middle-aged white women perceived to be acting inappropriately, rudely or entitledly, as well as being linked with racial and political issues according to Know Your Meme’s comprehensive encyclopedia of memes.
It’s often associated with the “Can I speak to the manager?” haircut, which has been criticised as an example of online misogyny that shames women instead of men for their alleged misbehavior in public. Additionally, this act has been linked to systemic racism and police brutality issues which caused social outrage and legal action in some instances.
One of the most prominent manifestations of this stereotype has been in relation to Coronavirus, when women shred masks in public and caused an online uproar. As a result, people have begun calling anti-masker activists “Karen”, often seen as expressing entitlement and harassing service industry workers.
Some feminists and social justice advocates have questioned whether memes have gone too far; however, others maintain they are an essential component of cathartic social interaction. They emphasize the need to show entitled brats the door, with public shaming being one way to help them understand that their behavior is unacceptable in society.
Shaming ignorant people like these isn’t the solution to the real issue, it’s only a band-aid solution to the symptoms of racism. To truly address the cause of racial inequality and end white supremacy once and for all – not just those who look or sound like stereotypical Karens – requires working towards equal rights for everyone, not just those who fit a certain mold.
3. The Karencore Aesthetic
The Karencore Aesthetic is a comedy aesthetic that features memes and parody cosplay of the iconic white, middle-aged blonde woman (usually with children) known for her entitled attitude and tendency to make mountains out of molehills. These characters have been featured in many comedic movies, TV shows, music videos – one of the most well-known Karens being Kate Gosselin from TLC’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
According to Know Your Meme, the Karencore Aesthetic first emerged in 2017 and has gained momentum ever since. Its most common depiction is of a white middle-aged blonde woman sporting an asymmetrical bob who “makes mountains out of molehills” with an overly confident, arrogant attitude.
Karencore Aesthetic is often depicted as a joke, but it also has an element of social justice. It draws inspiration from black American internet culture and attempts to find humor within real-world racism and oppression.
In the US, Black Lives Matter protests and racial tensions that erupted during COVID-19 pandemic in 2017 gained notoriety. A video showing a woman coughing on patrons at a bagel shop, calling 911, and pointing her handgun at an African American family at a car tap caused widespread outrage.
These cases cemented the Karen as a global symbol for weaponized entitlement and racial bullying. According to Karens United website, this term symbolized their perceived victimhood by others: you’re threatening me!
Karens have taken to the internet in protest over the misuse of their name, and they’re not alone. A global anti-bullying organization called Karens United has declared that this joke has gone too far and now poses risks for women with that surname.
4. The Karen Meme
The Karen Meme, which emerged online a couple of years ago, describes middle-aged white women who are perceived as arrogant and rude. They post inspirational quotes on Facebook, purchase merchandise with slogans such as “Love Life Laugh,” and generally ruin teenage fun for other people.
Karen memes are more than just an offensive jab at white people who are snobby. According to Know Your Meme, an online encyclopedia that tracks popular memes, they’ve become socially aware and political in nature.
Middle-aged white women often get described as condescending and argumentative with customers, especially service workers. They’re known for demanding to speak to the manager about seemingly insignificant matters such as an iced skinny vanilla lake with too many ice cubes or a Black family having barbecue near their table.
Early this year, the Karen meme went viral with videos of women blocking cars from getting their desired spots or complaining about neighbors using chalk to write “Black Lives Matter” on their homes. In March, a novel coronavirus spread across America and created a new type of Karen: someone refusing to wear a mask or quarantine themselves.
In Comedic Takes on Entitled Karens, Rachel (not her real name) takes the Karen Meme concept to a whole new level by completely rewriting Karen’s personality; going from being an entitled woman to a cat-owning lesbian.
These videos demonstrate that, even though the Karen Meme has been criticized as racist, it still gives Black communities a sense of agency. It disrupts White supremacist logics and performative racial ignorance, giving Black people an outlet to challenge White supremacy.
5. The Karens of the Internet
There’s a new form of internet slang that’s taking over the internet, finding its way into humorous and parody accounts. It revolves around white women who are perceived to be acting entitled and rude in public.
One such account, “Coughing Karen,” shows a woman coughing on customers at a New York City bagel shop. In another video that goes viral for calling the police on an unarmed Black man in Central Park, the white woman who called them out as “Central Park Karen” is labeled.
These stories have spread on Twitter and Reddit with a common thread: an middle-aged white woman who demands endlessly, is self-absorbed, and causes people distress with her uncontrolled rage.
However, they are more than a reflection of middle class pettiness or even the common petty rage among cisgender women in America. They are part of an expansive conversation about the responsibility of cisgender white women for upholding white supremacy, though in more subdued forms than their male counterparts do.
Apryl Williams, a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, noted that the Karen meme serves to highlight how white privilege has shaped American culture. It draws attention to the racialized violence which often ensues when white women are placed in power and feel entitled.
Karen explained that the Karen meme is an attempt to expose racist behaviors and spur social change. It has been instrumental in passing legislation such as the “CAREN” Act, which makes it a hate crime to arrest someone for doing nothing wrong.