Karen (pejorative)

Karen is a pejorative term for a woman seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal. The term also refers to memes depicting white women who use their privilege to demand their own way.[1][2] Depictions also may include demanding to "speak to the manager", being racist or sporting a particular bob cut hairstyle.[3] The term has been criticized for being sexist, ageist, misogynistic, or seeking to control female behavior.[3] As of 2020, the term was increasingly being used in media and on social media as a general-purpose term for middle class white women, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.[1][unreliable source?] The term has also been applied to male behavior.[3][4] The Guardian called 2020 "the year of Karen".[5]


Pictures of Kate Gosselin are often used to depict Karen[6][7]

In African-American culture, there is a long history of calling a meddlesome white woman by a certain name. In the antebellum era (1815-1861), she was referred to as "Miss Ann".[8] In the early 1990s, Becky was used.[9] As late as 2018, before the use of Karen caught on, names matching particular incidents were used, such as "Barbecue Becky", "Cornerstore Caroline", and "Permit Patty".[10]

For the term "Karen", several possible origins have been proposed.[11] Early uses of Karen as a joke punchline include the airheaded character Karen from the 2004 film Mean Girls, Dane Cook's 2005 sketch "The Friend Nobody Likes" on his album Retaliation,[12] and a 2016 Internet meme regarding a woman in an ad for the Nintendo Switch console who exhibits antisocial behavior and is given the nickname "antisocial Karen."[6][13] In December 2017, Karen memes regarding entitled women went viral on Reddit, the earliest being from user karmacop9, whose rants about his ex-wife, Karen. The posts led to the creation of the subreddit r/FuckYouKaren, containing memes about the posts, and inspiring spinoffs including r/karen and r/EntitledKarens dedicated to criticizing Karens.[6][12]

A more pointed explanation, which involves race, is it originates among Black people to refer to unreasonable white women.[14][9] The term was popularized on Black Twitter as a meme used to describe white women who "tattle(s) on Black kids' lemonade stands"[15] or who unleash the "violent history of white womanhood."[16] Bitch described Karen as a term that originated with black women but was co-opted by white men.[17]

Meaning and use

Kansas State University professor Heather Suzanne Woods, whose research interests include memes, said a Karen's defining characteristics are "entitlement, selfishness, a desire to complain", and that a Karen "demands the world exist according to her standards with little regard for others, and she is willing to risk or demean others to achieve her ends."[9] Rachel Charlene Lewis, writing for Bitch, agrees, saying a Karen "sees no one as an individual, instead moving through the world prepared to fight faceless conglomerate of lesser-than people who won't give her what she wants and feels she deserves. She'll wield the power that, yes, might be very different from that of a white man, as she makes her demands. And that feeling of entitlement is what makes her, undeniably, a Karen."[17]

The meme carries several stereotypes, the most notable being that a Karen will demand to "speak with the manager" of a hypothetical service provider.[6][18] Other stereotypes include anti-vaccination beliefs,[9][6][19][3][20] racism,[21] excessive use of Facebook, and a particular bob haircut with blond highlights. Pictures of Kate Gosselin and Jenny McCarthy's bob cut are often used to depict Karen,[7] and their bobs are sometimes called the "can-I-speak-to-your-manager?" haircut.[12][6][22][18]

Male context

The term is generally used to refer to women, but The Atlantic noted that "a man can easily be called a Karen", with staff writer David A. Graham calling then-president Donald Trump the "Karen in chief".[4][23] Similarly, in November 2020, a tweet calling Elon Musk "Space Karen" over comments he made regarding the effectiveness of COVID-19 testing became viral.[24][25] Numerous names for a male equivalent of Karen have been floated, with little agreement on a single name.[26][27] The Jim Crow era male equivalent to Miss Ann was Mister Charlie.[28]


The term has been called sexist and anti-woman. Hadley Freeman, columnist and features writer for The Guardian,[29] argues that use of the meme has become less about describing behavior than controlling it and "telling women to shut up".[30] Jennifer Weiner, writing in the New York Times during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the meme had succeeded in silencing her, saying she had had to balance her desire to complain about a nearby man coughing into the open air, hawking and spitting on the sidewalk, with her fear of being called a Karen.[31] In August 2020, Helen Lewis wrote in The Atlantic, "Karen has become synonymous with woman among those who consider woman an insult. There is now a market, measured in attention and approbation, for anyone who can sniff out a Karen."[3] Lewis also noted what she called the "finger trap" of the term, saying "What is more Karen than complaining about being called "Karen"? There is a strong incentive to be cool about other women being Karened, lest you be Karened yourself."[3]

British journalist and feminist Julie Bindel asked, "Does anyone else think the 'Karen' slur is woman-hating and based on class prejudice?"[32][20] Freeman replied, saying it was "sexist, ageist, and classist, in that order". Kaitlyn Tiffany, writing in The Atlantic, asked, "Is a Karen just a woman who does anything at all that annoys people? If so, what is the male equivalent?", saying the meme was being called misogynistic.[9] Nina Burleigh wrote that the memes "are merely excuses to heap scorn on random middle-aged white women".[33] Matt Schimkowitz, a senior editor at Know Your Meme, stated to Business Insider in 2019 that the term "just kind of took over all forms of criticism towards white women online", and that it had risen to popularity due to that demographic being seen as entitled.[12]


The term has been called a racial slur for referring to white women.[19] Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire wrote, "A racial slur is a racial slur. They are all bad — even when used against White people, believe it or not."[34][better source needed] Time called the meme "Internet shorthand...for a particular kind of racial violence White women have instigated for centuries—following a long and troubling legacy of White women in the country weaponizing their victimhood."[35] The Guardian notes that "the image of a white woman calling police on Black people put the lie to the myth of racial innocence".[5] Apryl Williams of the University of Michigan called it a black activist meme, saying it was ultimately beneficial in helping people recognize problematic behaviors, but warning that jokes downplayed the threat posed to black and brown people.[35] On the other hand, Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor for The Washington Post, argues that it lacks the historical context to be a slur, and that calling it one trivializes actual discrimination.[36]

Professors agree that Karen historically refers to racism. University of Virginia media researcher Meredith Clark has said that the idea of a white woman in the vicinity of whom blacks need to be careful because she won't hesitate to use her "privilege" at the expense of others "has always been there; it just hasn't always been so specific to one person's name".[9] Karen Grigsby Bates agrees that Karen is part of a succession of characters like Miss Ann and Becky, adding that the concept of Karen, as black people had been using the term, became clear to whites when Saturday Night Live played a Jeopardy sketch with Chadwick Boseman playing as his Black Panther character T'Challa.[8][37] Contemporary Karens have been compared to Carolyn Bryant (a white woman who accused Emmett Till of offending her, resulting in his lynching) and Mayella Ewell (a fictional character in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird).[5]

The meme became most popular in 2020.[5] Andre Brock, a Georgia Tech professor of black digital culture, connected the virality of the meme in the summer of 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, and the Central Park birdwatching incident, noting that both incidents had occurred the same weekend during a period when much of the world had been forced to stay home and had plenty of free time to watch the videos.[35] He said the virality of the two videos was the result of an "interest convergence" in which the pandemic "intersected with collective outrage over police brutality" and "highlighted the extreme violence—and potentially fatal consequences—of a white woman selfishly calling the cops out of spite and professed fear."[35]

Notable examples

The mid-2019 formation of Tropical Storm Karen in the Atlantic hurricane basin led to memes likening the storm to the stereotype; several users made jokes about the storm wanting to "speak with the manager", with images photoshopped to include the "Karen haircut" on either the hurricane or its forecast path.[38]

In November 2019, an anonymous woman was recorded from inside a vehicle on the West Side Highway boulevard in Manhattan, New York, after she pulled over in a traffic accident and confronted a driver in the vehicle for "almost running over [her] children," and the passenger for "acting like a bitch." She justified her language by exclaiming, "My kids can't hear me because they're listening to Kidz Bop." She was mocked all throughout social media for the strange body language, facial expressions, attitude, and claims she made in the video, being dubbed the "Kidz Bop Karen."[39][40] She eventually tried to explain the situation and told TMZ that she "deserved the online mockery for [her] bad behavior on tape."[41]

In December 2019, Australian media reported that in the town of Mildura, a woman named Karen had been filmed trying to pull down an Aboriginal Flag being displayed by her neighbors. She was unable to pull it down, leading to a Twitter hashtag #TooStrongForYouKaren and other social media responses.[42][43]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the term was used to describe women abusing Asian-American health workers due to the virus's origins in China,[44] those hoarding essential supplies such as toilet paper, and both those who policed others' behavior to enforce quarantine[31] and those who protested the continuance of the restrictions because they prevented them visiting hair salons,[9] as well as over being forced to wear face masks inside of stores, prompting one critic to ask whether the term had devolved into an all-purpose term of disapproval or criticism for middle-aged white women.[9] Use of the term increased from 100,000 mentions on social media in January 2020 to 2.7 million in May 2020.[33]

In May 2020, Christian Cooper, writing about the Central Park birdwatching incident, said Amy Cooper's "inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn" when he started recording the encounter.[45] He recorded her calling the police and telling them that an "African-American man" was threatening her and her dog.[46][45] In July 2020 a video of "Permit Karen", a New Jersey woman calling the police to report her black neighbors were putting in a stone patio without a permit, went viral.[47] A San Diego woman who posted a photo of the barista who refused her service because she wasn't wearing a mask was labelled a Karen; she later announced she was planning to sue the barista for half of donations raised on his behalf after her post went viral.[48]

In July 2020, "Whitefish Karen" was arrested after a video of her, unmasked, showed her coughing intentionally in people's faces after being asked to put on a mask.[49][50][51] "Kroger Karen" stood in front of a black woman's car to block her from leaving a Detroit grocery store parking lot while she called police to report that the woman's child had stood on a shelf to take down an item too high for the child to reach.[49][52] "San Francisco Karen" called the police to report a Filipino man stenciling "Black Lives Matter" on a retaining wall on his property.[35][49][53] "Bunnings Karen" threatened to sue the Melbourne, Australia, hardware store Bunnings for requiring her to wear a mask.[54]

In July 2020 an internet meme in the form of a parody advertisement for a fictional Girl of the Year character depicted as a personification of the "Karen" stereotype, wearing a track suit, bob haircut and openly carrying a semi-automatic pistol while defiantly violating face mask guidelines mandated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, provoked criticism from American Girl who took umbrage to the use of their name and trade dress, stating that they were "disgusted" by a post from brand strategist Adam Padilla under the online persona "Adam the Creator", and "are working with the appropriate teams at American Girl to ensure this copyright violation is handled appropriately."[55] Boing Boing however expressed doubts over the merits of American Girl's proposed legal action against the "Karen" parodies citing the Streisand effect, though it has also noted the debate on whether the satirical intent of the parody advertisement is protected by law.[56]

In July 2020, Domino's Pizza ran an ad in Australia and New Zealand offering free pizzas to "nice Karens";[20] the company later apologized.[20][54]

The BBC called the Wall of Moms "a good example of mainly middle-class, middle-aged White women explicitly not being Karens. Instead, the Wall of Moms is seen by activists as using their privilege to protest against the very same systemic racism and classism that Karens actively seek to exploit."[20]

In February 2021, Juliana Carlos, a social media influencer, along with her husband Chris Carlos, were kicked out of a Lakers game after an altercation with Lebron James. This followed an exchange of words between the athlete and the couple, where Mrs. Carlos pulled down her mask and exchanged more words. Aside from the disruption, this violated NBA rules, where all spectators must wear a face covering at all times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carlos later submitted an apology video via social media. She has been dubbed as "Courtside Karen", where James tweeted this that same night after the incident.[57]


In July 2020, San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies (CAREN) Act. It would change the San Francisco Police Code to prohibit the fabrication of racially biased emergency reports.[58] The Act passed unanimously in October of that year.[59] Noting this, Williams said "these memes are actually doing logical and political work of helping us get to legal changes".[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b Nagesh, Ashitha (July 30, 2020). "What exactly is a 'Karen' and where did the meme come from?". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  2. ^ Greenspan, Rachel (October 26, 2020). "How the name 'Karen' became a stand-in for problematic White women and a hugely popular meme". Insider. Insider. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Lewis, Helen (August 19, 2020). "The Mythology of Karen". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Graham, David A. (May 28, 2020). "The Karen in Chief". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Wong, Julia Carrie (December 27, 2020). "The year of Karen: how a meme changed the way Americans talked about racism". The Guardian. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Romano, Aja (February 5, 2020). "Karen: The anti-vaxxer soccer mom with speak-to-the-manager hair, explained". Vox. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Abcarian, Robin (May 23, 2020). "Column: Is the 'Karen' meme sexist? Maybe, but it's also apt". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "What's In A 'Karen'? : Code Switch". NPR. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Tiffany, Kaitlyn (May 6, 2020). "How 'Karen' Became a Coronavirus Villain". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  10. ^ Narizhnaya, Khristina; Lapin, Tamar; Brown, Ruth (October 12, 2018). "'Cornerstore Caroline' says she's not racist, apologizes to kids". New York Post. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  11. ^ Greenspan, Rachel (May 27, 2020). "How the name Karen became a stand-in for problematic white women and a hugely popular meme". Business Insider. Retrieved July 17, 2020. While there are many origin stories for the Karen meme, it's not completely clear where it came from — as is the case with many popular memes. 'The origins of Karen are kind of really hard to pin down,' Schimkowitz said.
  12. ^ a b c d Greenspan, Rachel (May 27, 2020). "How the name Karen became a stand-in for problematic white women and a hugely popular meme". Business Insider. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  13. ^ Frank, Allegra (October 25, 2016). "Nintendo Switch's best, most revealing meme is antisocial 'Karen'". Polygon. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
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  16. ^ Lang, Cady (June 25, 2020). "How the 'Karen Meme' Confronts the Violent History of White Womanhood". Time. Archived from the original on January 11, 2021. Retrieved April 13, 2021.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
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  20. ^ a b c d e "What exactly is a 'Karen' and where did the meme come from?". BBC News. July 30, 2020. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  21. ^ Asmelash, Leah (May 30, 2020). "How Karen became a meme, and what real-life Karens think about it". CNN. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  22. ^ Dozier, Rob (August 21, 2018). "Why Memes Making Fun of White People Demanding to 'Speak to the Manager!' Are So Popular Right Now". Slate. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  23. ^ Queen, Robin (June 16, 2020). "How 'Karen' went from a popular baby name to a stand-in for White entitlement". NZ Herald. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  24. ^ Rahman, Khaleda (November 16, 2020). "Scientist's "Space Karen" response to Elon Musk goes viral". Newsweek. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  25. ^ Geske, Dawn (November 16, 2020). "Why Elon Musk Is Being Called 'Space Karen' After Latest Launch". International Business Times. IBT Media. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
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  27. ^ Berical, Matt (December 11, 2020). "What Is the Male Version of a Karen?". Fatherly.
  28. ^ Jaynes, Gerald David (2005). Encyclopedia of African American society, Volume 2. Sage Publications. p. 551. ISBN 9780761927648.
  29. ^ "Hadley Freeman". The Guardian. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
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  32. ^ Parsons, Vic (April 6, 2020). "In these trying times, lesbian radical feminist Julie Bindel is debating whether 'Karen' is a slur. Yes, really". PinkNews. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
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  38. ^ Mansoor, Sanya (September 22, 2019). "Tropical Storm Karen Has the Internet Saying the Storm 'Wants to Speak to a Manager'". Time. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  39. ^ ""Kidz Bop Karen" Speaks Out After Road Rage Outburst Goes Viral; Passenger Shares Her Side". Baller Alert. November 8, 2019. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
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  41. ^ "'Kidz Bop Karen' went viral for on-camera road rage. The Lyft passenger she targeted calls the tirade 'scary.'". Washington Post.
  42. ^ "Mildura woman attempts to tear down Aboriginal flag in viral video". SBS World News. Sydney. December 15, 2019. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
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  45. ^ a b Nir, Sarah Maslin (May 26, 2020). "White Woman Is Fired After Calling Police on Black Man in Central Park". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  46. ^ Perper, Rosie (May 25, 2020). "A woman in a video appears to call the police claiming there's an 'African American man threatening my life' – he apparently had asked her to put her dog on a leash". Insider. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  47. ^ Martin, Julia. "Video of white woman calling police on Black neighbor causes stir in Montclair". North Jersey Media Group. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  48. ^ "Woman who refused to wear a mask in Starbucks now wants half of $100,000 donated to barista". CBS News. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  49. ^ a b c Goldblatt, Henry (July 31, 2020). "A Brief History of 'Karen'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  50. ^ "Video shows 'Whitefish Karen' coughing on couple in parking lot". The Daily Dot. July 20, 2020. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  51. ^ "Whitefish Karen - WOMAN COUGHS ON COUPLE in Parking Lot of Super 1 Grocery Store in Montana". D-railed Radio. July 20, 2020.
  52. ^ Jordan, Jerilyn. "Metro Detroit's own 'Kroger Karen' prevents Black customer from leaving the parking lot in viral video". Detroit Metro Times. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  53. ^ "SF 'Karen' Filmed Confronting Pacific Heights Man Over Writing 'Black Lives Matter' on His Property". SFist - San Francisco News, Restaurants, Events, & Sports. June 14, 2020. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
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  55. ^ McCarter, Reid. "American Girl calls manager over "Karen" doll parody". News. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
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  57. ^ Boucher, Ashley (February 2, 2021). "Influencer Who LeBron James Dubbed 'Courtside Karen' Apologizes After Yelling During Lakers-Hawks Game". People. Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on February 14, 2021. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  58. ^ Bauman, Anna (July 7, 2020). "SF supe proposes CAREN Act to prohibit 'false racially biased emergency reports'". San Francisco Chronicle.
  59. ^ Har, Janie (October 21, 2020). "'CAREN Act': San Francisco officials let people sue over racist 911 calls". Mercury News. Associated Press. Retrieved October 21, 2020.

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