Examining why middle-aged white women are just the worst.
Karen. You know her. Her daughter is Becky, her ex-husband is Brad, and she is about to lose her shit if the long island iced tea she ordered one minute ago doesn’t get here in the next two seconds.
“Karen” is the name that has been bestowed upon those middle-aged-to-elderly white women who have made it their life’s goal to ruin the lives of anyone who dare to work in customer service. She is usually making outlandish requests or blowing small situations out of proportion, showing us what throwing an adult temper-tantrum looks like, and permanently associating the saying “I’d like to speak to the manager” with this particular class of white woman.
“But wait, aren’t you a white woman?”
Yes I am. And it has happened more than once that I received the wrong Starbucks order and just drank it anyway because I didn’t want to become just another angry white women who is too irrational to be taken seriously. I just want a plain black coffee, dammit.
“….and you’re writing an article bashing other women during Women’s History Month?”
Fair point. Though, I would like to point out, that this “Karen” label refers exclusively to those women who choose to raise their voices over issues that are nonsensical and absurd, usually making them seem hysterical. Yes, I said it. Hysterical: the word that is derived of the Greek word for uterus. Since the beginning of time, men have been using “she’s just being crazy” as an excuse to dismiss women. Knowing this, isn’t it important to call out a significant number of women who are furthering a false stereotype that is cast upon our entire gender? I think that it is fair for women to say “this faction of women is not representative of us all.” Which leads me to my next point…
Ending the “Karen” stereotype is the responsibility of white women.
While all people are welcome to read it through to the end, this article is not meant for everyone. It is not a guide on how to deal with Karen. We know how to deal with Karen. If we didn’t there probably wouldn’t be any Karens left because the customer service workers of the world would have united to revolt and destroy them all. This article is written for the white women, like me, who are embarrassed and ashamed by the actions of our predecessors. It is our responsibility to make sure that we never become this — and ensure that “angry Karen” becomes a thing of the past.
So, what made Karen this way?
Why is it that when I say “I’d-like-to-speak-to-the-manager hair” you know exactly the highlighted, asymmetrical pixie cut that I’m referring to? Memes, yes. But the reason those memes ring true is because so many of the women that we refer to as “Karen” are notorious for having the same half-bangs-half-spikes haircut. While this article will go into greater (and funnier) detail, I will give you the abridged version. The hairstyle was made popular in the early 2000s by Sharon Osbourne: the mother figure of America’s first mainstream and unfiltered reality TV family. This haircut was edgy enough to make a statement, but normal enough to grace the TVs of soccer moms everywhere. It came at a time when no one was sure what was coming next — America was fighting in a war we didn’t understand, and the world was trying to learn how to maneuver this new thing that had grown popular and was suddenly in our homes: the internet. We were somewhere in between “that’s retarded” and “I’m offended.” No one really knew what was right, so an entire generation found themselves angry, frustrated, and completely lost on who to blame. Women were used to being silenced, having spent generations stirring in anger and having no voice. Now, they didn’t even know where that anger was supposed to be pointed. It was amongst this wave of confusion that emerged The Karen-cut: a haircut that says “I’ll speak my mind, even if I’m wrong.”
There’s a reason I started this article by mentioning Karen’s ex husband. Since 1990 divorce rates among people 50 and older has nearly doubled. And among adults 65 and older? The divorce rate has nearly tripled. In fact, about one of every four U.S. divorces is a “gray divorce,” or a divorce occurs among couples aged 50 or older. Many of the women who fit the “Karen” demographic fall into this age group. Though divorce will have strong emotional consequences on people of any age, gray divorce may be hitting the hardest: one study found that people who have gone through a gray divorce are more likely to have higher levels of depression than those whose spouses have died. After years of marriage, these women are not only losing a spouse, but in many cases their main source of financial dependence. It is no wonder that they are having emotional outbursts: they feel that they are completely losing control. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing a full-on Karen meltdown, then you know that her anger is never limited just to “the unacceptable level of service” or whatever it is that she is yelling about. These outbursts usually come with a string of other things that have gone wrong (think “the library was closed and I couldn’t find parking and my dog is sick and NOW THIS?!”) In Karen’s case, a lack of control over her given circumstances equates to a lack of control over her emotions. Servers, beware.
Oh, pre-political correctness. It was a simpler time. A time when Paris Hilton humped a car to sell a cheeseburger, and a fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields hinted at going commando to sell Calvin Klein jeans. In the 1960’s sex culture went mainstream — and it was everywhere. Ads, movies, TV, everywhere you looked photos of hot white women in bikinis covered the world. And it was those images that taught women what they were supposed to be in the world.
Like many generations before them, Baby Boomer and Gen X women were taught that all of their worth was based on their appearance. This still holds true for those women today. Picture a woman saying “I’d like to speak to the manager.” She has makeup on, doesn’t she? Maybe she’s had some work done. She’s carrying a designer hand bag. And of course, there’s the hair. She is constantly nostalgic for “the good old days” and why wouldn’t she be? If her entire self-worth is based on her appearance, and now the world is telling her that she is no longer hot, of course she feels irrelevant. When you take all of these factors, and then add the cherry on top that white women are in danger of no longer reigning as “hottest” under Western beauty standards? That’s when you get the perfect storm to create the hypocritical backlash over the Superbowl LIV halftime show. Her nostalgia is toxic, and is probably why she finds the concept of “making America great again” so appealing: it is an empty promise of the impossible task of taking her to “back in the day.” These feelings of irrelevance only add to the frustration that she has been building up for years.
So we know what makes a Karen. What now?
Now, we do everything we can to stop the archetype, and to prevent the next generation of white women from making the same mistakes as their predecessors.
Learning about your privilege
If you are reading this thinking “Karen sounds like a brat” you’re right. She is used to getting what she wants, even if her requests are unreasonable, and it’s not just because she is aggressive. Ultimately, the reason that Karen is not used to hearing the word “no” is because she is white.
One of the most disturbing trends seen throughout history is the inclination of oppressed groups to fuel each others’ oppression. Rather than uplift one another, persecuted factions often tend to fight one another to be more highly favored by their oppressors, and white women are one of history’s worst offenders. Some of the cruelest recorded treatments in history were committed just little more than a century ago by white women to their black (usually also female) slaves. Since then white women have been appropriating black culture while simultaneously contributing to oppression, segregation, and blatant racism. And the worst part? This trend is still very much alive and widespread in the United States through systematic racism. Look at the 2016 election: only 43% of white women voted for Hillary. Are white women really going to claim to love people of color when only 43% of us are going to vote for the candidate who does not have a decades-long history of shameless racism? If you are a white woman who hasn’t spent time learning about inclusive feminism, it’s time to educate yourself. No one is free while others are oppressed.
Finding healthy outlets of expression
I hate Yelp. Like anyone in the service industry who has been berated by a manager who cared too much about what some stranger on the internet said about their level of service, I hate Yelp/Google Reviews /Foursquare (may it Rest In Peace) and any other application that allows strangers to bash on people who already have an income below minimum wage. However, it may be the best outlet that these women have to feeling relevant, or like their opinions hold any power. The argument can be made that ripping apart small businesses online is not a healthy outlet due to its real-life consequences, but it is definitely healthier than screaming at the person standing behind the customer service counter. Many people associate negative connotations with the word “confrontation,” but face-to-face discussions to solve issues can be a positive experience, and much more effective in the long run. Learning how to maneuver these discussions in a peaceful and mature manner instead of letting feelings of frustration and helplessness run the show would be the best resolution for Karen and anyone that she encounters, which leads me to….
I am very lucky that, for many millennials such as myself, seeing a therapist is no longer a scandalous skeleton in the closet that we don’t talk about at Christmas dinner. Seeking help from a professional therapist or counselor is finally being seen for what it is: healthy. Therapy is not only a place to vent about problems (see: “what made Karen this way?”) but can also help patients think differently about their problems, or learn ways to cope with difficult situations. Have you ever heard the saying “hurt people hurt people”? The most toxic people are those who refuse to seek help for themselves. If you are someone who has had a positive experience with therapy, tell someone who may need it. The only way that we can end the stigma is by talking about it.
Maybe this isn’t you
The majority of people that I look up to in my life are part of the demographic that “Karen” sits in: white women aged 45 or older. I would imagine that many of those women are reading this article thinking “this isn’t me” and you may be right. Maybe it’s not you. But maybe it is one of your friends, or a family member. Is there someone who you hate going out to eat with because they always belittle your server or bartender? That’s her. And it is your responsibility to hold her accountable. It can be ask easy as asking “why do you treat servers so badly?” Quietly canceling all of your plans with her may be the easy way out, but it will only fuel an ongoing problem. Anyone who comes into contact with her will be subjected to her misguided anger, she will continue to suffer through problems that she refuses to face, and ultimately you will be lumped into a demographic that has you reading articles written by some asshole millennial that make you say “hey, this isn’t me!”
Do us all a favor, and call her out.