The Karen Meme: What Is It Exactly? Why Is Everyone Fighting About It? And Why Is The Name Karen So Unpopular?

One couple have even had an argument about whether to call their unborn daughter Karen, and 'Karen,' the movie is coming to our screens soon...

Karen memes

by Rhiannon Evans |

There’s a lot going on when you turn on your social media feeds these days, so you’ll be forgiven for not keeping up on every meme that’s got everyone talking. In fact, according to Google Trends data, you're never alone in searching for what certain memes mean. The most Googled of late? The Karen meme. So, if you're behind, let us try to explain what the 'Karen' meme is, and why it allowed someone to actually make Karen the movie.

Over lockdown, it was especially being used as a term for women who refuse to wear face masks or get vaccinated. But why aren't Kens also getting called out? Because, lots of evidence shows that, if anything, it's men who are more likely to disregard coronavirus rules. Because of that, many are now calling the use of the term Karen sexist...

But first, some background:

Who is Karen? What is the Karen meme?

The ‘Karen’ meme has been around for a while. It started in America and is used as a catchall for a group of women who look, talk and think in a certain way, in the same way ‘Chads’ or ‘Gammons’ have been popularised previously.

A Karen is generally from Generation X (the one between baby boomers and millennials), so in her late 30s or 40s. She is generally a middle-class white woman, with a specific haircut – a what is often called a ‘can I speak to the manager’ haircut. The hairstyle is that kind of American soccer-mom haircut – blonde, highlighted and short/bobbed, maybe a little longer around the front. Think early noughties Posh Spice.

Karen Meme
©Twitter

There are a lot more traits that have been tacked onto Karen as she has gained popularity… she might be a soccer mom; divorced; in America, she is often an anti-vaxxer. In other memes, she can be racist, homophobic and transphobic. On the whole, the Karen meme speaks to the person having privilege, and specifically, white privilege.

So, to illustrate the privilege, as the haircut denotes, a Karen can often be found, well, asking to speak to the manager. Karen is self-entitled. She’s antagonistic and she’s irritating and obnoxious.

You don’t want to be a Karen. Basically.

You can now even buy a Karen Halloween costume. 'Scare all ur friends with ur big hair and narrow mind,' says Jason Adcock in a post that went viral.

What about Karen the movie?

Who are Kens?

And Kens are the male versions of Karen. That's... that's it really. But, as many have commented, it's a phrase that is used a lot less.

Why is the term Karen controversial?

Karen is an upcoming movie directed by Coke Daniels and staring Taryn Manning from Orange Is The New Black as the titular Karen, a racist woman who has a vendetta against her new black neighbours. She's all sorts of awful, and the first trailer for the film has already gone viral for all the wrong reasons - it's been criticised for its total lack of nuance when depicting racism and white privilege.

Film aside, Karens seem to have become particularly prominent since we’ve all been on lockdown for lots of reasons. Karens will have sent you the messages from ‘a friend of a friend who is in the army’ before the country went into lockdown. A Karen might’ve complained about you picking up two loos rolls, when you were getting one for the old lady down the street. A Karen might've complained about you taking a state-mandated walk in the park near her house, while Karen herself has a garden.

Anyway, Karen became the subject of a hot Twitter debate in April 2020 when there was a Karen backlash.

People, including journalist Julie Bindel and others, posited that the use of Karen was actually a slur. (It’s probably worth noting here that there does seem to be some difference between the US and UK Karens, whereby some believe it denotes privilege and a certain level of wealth – see the American soccer mom Karen – while others, particularly in the UK, argue that the name is a classist joke.)

Some went even further on Twitter, arguing that Karen was a racial slur as it only applies to white women. This idea was violently rejected by many, who were upset at the idea that the meme could be considered this way.

Twitter of course responded to the row with humour and is eating itself with more memes.

Why don't Karens and Kens wear masks? Who is San Diego Karen?

Karens and Kens have become even bigger news recently, when in America, they became linked with people who refused to wear masksand were filmed and put on social media after having meltdowns in stores and coffee shops when they were asked to put on a mask. See, for instance 'Trader Joe's Karen'.

One of the infamous mask Karens, was 'San Diego Karen'. Californian Amber Lynn Gilles posted on Facebook about not being served at a Starbucks because she wasn't wearing a mask. The barista (who was pictured) then made a counter-video and has now raised $93,000 in tips.

Now, the meme has crossed the Atlantic and with face masks now compulsory in shops in the UK, as of Friday July 24, the characterisation of Karens has come too. The phrase Karen was trending on Twitter in the UK on the day the mask laws came into place.

As many have stated online, while there appears to be a lot of men also (or moreso) not wearing masks, why is it that Karen - and therefore women, not men ignoring the rules - is trending?

Ken, for the record, wasn't trending...

What's Karen got to do with BBC podcast No Country For Young Women and a licence fee fight?

In a now-deleted social post, advertising the latest episode of BBC Podcast, No Country For Young Women, presenter Sadia Azmat asked her guests Dr Charlotte Riley and Amelia Dimoldenberg, 'How can white women not be Karens?'

Taking about how white women could better educate themselves about race, Dimoldenberg (of Chicken Shop Date) said: 'Read some books so you are aware of the histories of white people and race.'

Historian Dr Riley added: 'I think as well just try not to be defensive about things, and particularly try not to be defensive about your whiteness. I think a lot of the time when women are Karens, it is because they are completely unwilling to accept that their whiteness is a privilege and, you know, instead they want to be treated in a special way because they are women.'

Hadley Freeman, was amongst those who tweeted about the post.

Conservative MP Ben Bradley then claimed he was cancelling his TV licence over the tweet, saying it was racist: '. @bbc spending £100m on diversity and this junk (which honestly is racist! Would not be acceptable the other way around!) whilst at the same time ditching regional news in order to save £25m #Wrong Absolute joke. Cancelling my TV license. I don't need to pay for this.'

Laurence Fox also weighed in, saying: 'It’s so sad to watch the once great @bbc swap the complex and unifying goals of rigorous inquiry, for race pandering tribalism. #DefundTheBBC'

The social post has now been removed and a BBC statement said: 'These comments were not part of the podcast and featured only in a short social media clip. The episode itself is an in-depth and broad discussion on racism, class, feminism and stereotypes.'

What's wrong with the name Karen? Why is the name Karen unpopular?

Unfortunately (if you are called Karen, or have always really hankered after calling your child Karen) the Karen meme, as well as a general decline in popularity has made Karen a less-than popular choice of name for new children. This was played our recently on a Reddit thread when a man expressed concern that his wife wanted to name their daughter after her late mother - Karen.

“My wife and I recently found out we’re having a daughter. We hadn’t really talked about names before but we both agreed that each of us will retain veto power.

“When we did start discussing names, both of us wanted to name her after our late mothers.”

He continued: “Her mum’s name was Karen and my mum’s name isn’t a meme.

“I told her the baby can take my mum’s name as her first name and her mum’s name as a middle name, or have an entirely different name, but I can’t okay ‘Karen’ as a first name in any case.

“She got offended because she just wants to honour her mother and thinks I have a problem with that.

“I just don’t want to set our daughter up to be bullied throughout her life.

“I told her I’d be fine with whatever first name she picks as long as it doesn’t lead to the baby being picked on later in life, but she’s pretty insistent on Karen.”

The father-to-be asked for advice on how to deal with this conundrum (and interestingly Reddit users seemed to side with him, rather than suggest that his wife, who will actually be giving birth to their daughter, might be due extra naming privileges). To date we have no word on how that particular domestic played out, and whether there will, in fact, be one more Karen joining us earthside soon.

Infamous Karen memes...

Fajita Karen
©Twitter

In recent times there's been 'Fajita Karen' - a woman who refused to eat her fajitas without shredded cheese. Her husband posted a picture complaining to the restaurant they'd had to wait '18 minutes' for the cheese 'as it's the only way she can eat fajitas'. The internet, of course, saw the funny side and Karen-branded her.

What does 'Respect The Drip Karen' mean?

There may be another Karen meme you've heard of - Respect The Drip Karen.

The phrase comes from a TikTok by @Drewbreeeeze, from July 2019, who is saying his step-mom Karen won't let him out wearing an outfit he's been working on. He then reveals the outfit in a mirror, saying 'Respect the drip, Karen'.

The video has been viewed more than 6.5million times and spawned many memes, using the phrase, like this one...

READ MORE: ‘Wear A Damn Mask’, Karens - And How Covid Face-Coverings Became Political

READ MORE: From Jofra Archer To Michael Gove: Why Do Men Seem To Take Coronavirus Less Seriously Than Women?

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