The idea of being a “Karen” has become a major phenomenon in the last few years. From viral videos, halloween costumes, a movie, and themed diners it has become a term that is widely used. In this episode we’re trying to untangle - what does it really mean to be called a Karen? And why are so many people fixated on viral videos showcasing Karen behaviour?
Since it first emerged, the Karen meme seems to have morphed and taken on a life of its own. So much so that content creators appear to be deliberately going out off their way to find strangers to film and publish on social media to meet the demand for these ‘payback’ videos. But has this Karen Hunting now become a sport? Has Karen started to become a catch-all term thrown at women for any disagreement?
And is it ever ok to ask for the manager?
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This series is produced by Emily Crosby Media.
Click here for the full episode transcript
Sarah & Lisa
The idea of being a Karen has become a major phenomenon in the last few years,
So much so that it's become a Halloween costume. And even inspired establishments like Karen's diner, where customers willingly subjected themselves to staff insults.
Today, we're going to try and untangle. What does it really mean to be called a Karen? And why are so many people fixated on viral videos showcasing Karen behaviour?
Has Karen started to become a catch all term thrown at women for any kind of disagreement? And is it ever okay to ask for the manager?
Well, let's find out and go straight to the comments.
So the other day I was on the Mail Online, and one of the top stories was titled, “Neighbor's petty war hits new heights as nightmare ‘Karen’ is caught on camera damaging wooden panels between their homes at night”. And this was actually one of the leading stories of the day, which I found quite surprising for a major, major publication.
And it made me think of the term Karen, and how it's used now in daily life. And this is something that we'd already talked about between the two of us.
Yeah, we had. And I was telling you about how I found all these YouTube videos with titles like “the worst 20 Karen moments ever.” So of course, I had to watch them. And they all have the kind of the same formula, basically filming, I would say, a middle aged or older woman, or so called Karen's having anything from a mild disagreement to a full on full blown tantrum in public. And Sarah, there are literally hundreds of these videos,
I can imagine it and you know, what was so interesting about that article on the Mail Online was that when I was reading the comments, more than half the comments were actually about the use of the term ‘Karen’ than the content of the story itself. So for example, there was one that said, “fed up with people using the name Karen is an insulting term. I know some lovely Karens and it's such a shame that this term has caught on”. And another “this trend of using Karen as a catch all term for any and every form of bad behaviour is so inane. It seems you cannot disagree with anything or anyone these days without being labelled as a Karen”.
I mean has really become a go to phrase to describe a wide range of disagreeable behaviour. Like we said in the intro, it's become comedy content, you know, you can wear a Karen Halloween mask, which is actually truly frightening. Have you seen it?
I haven't seen it.
Well, the mask has like these bloodshot eyes. And she's just like really ready to have a go at you. And there's also like a Karen board game where you can leave one star reviews.
But actually, what I remember of Karen, when it first started, it actually came out to describe really, really deeply problematic behaviour. So let's just start with, you know, you've done some research on this. What is the Karen meme all about? And where did it come from?
So there are different ways of looking at it. So the MailOnline defines it as “a Karen is a term for a self righteous woman, sometimes racist and usually middle aged, who tells people how to do their jobs, asserts their rights, and complains to the manager.” And in the New York Times, Sarah Miller described Karens as “the police women of all human behaviour.” And she used the example of a suburban white woman who calls the cops on kids' pool parties. But some of the Urban Dictionary posts got a lot more specific and quite hilarious I have to be, to be honest. So one was “the demon of any store that the employees fear. This dangerous creature lurks in the layers of unvaccinated children's homes. And her number one goal is to talk to your manager, you would know if this woman is a Karen by their hair, they usually wear a bob and it's typically blonde.”
But what I find incredible is that this haircut has become like the universal symbol for Karen. It's almost a bit like the bat signal for Batman. As you said, it's that bob that's longer in the front and then short in the back often with chunky highlights or as it has been described, “soft waterfalls in the front and knives in the back”.
Well, basically a Kate Gosselin cut if you know who she is.
Yeah, and it's so recognisable, and I don't actually know what it is about that haircut that’s so, so associated with the behaviour.
Yeah, I agree. I mean, I didn't know where it came from. So I had a good old look on Reddit.
And there was three theories. Three theories where it came from. It’s because most parents are middle aged white women. It is a very easy star to manage or flattering or most face shapes. And then two - “white women of European ancestry seem to lose their hair from the top of their heads because of menopause. So it's the go-to haircut for older women. And number three, it's because of Natalie Imbroglia, it’s her fault. She rocked the Karen haircut before Karen was even a thing.
It started off as “a speak to the manager haircut’ meme, but it evolved into the Karen meme, which started to take off around 2018 after several viral incidents that were huge. And some sources have linked it to the 2004 film ‘Mean Girls’ where a character says outraged. “Oh my god, Karen, you can't just ask someone why they're white.” And yet others link it to a Dane Cook comedy special that aired in 2005 where he said “every group has a Karen and she's always a bag of douche. And when she's not around, you just look at each other and say God, Karen, she's such a douchebag.” But for myself, I actually remember hearing it first, the first time I ever came across it was in 2020, during that Central Park bird watching incident. That's where I heard of it. I mean, do you remember that story? It was really quite shocking.
Yeah, I do remember it. I remember it was like this white woman. She was with her dog, and she was being filmed saying she was going to call the police on this man who ended up filming her for just being in the park. And she was going to call the police and say that he had been harassing her.
Yeah, exactly. So essentially, she was a 40 year old white female dog walker called Amy Cooper. And she was letting her dog roam free in a section of Central Park, which is known as the Ramble, when Christian Cooper…
they're not related.
No, it was a weird coincidence that they have the same name. But he, he actually asked her to leash her dog, because it's required for the safety of the wildlife. It's one of those rules there. She refused, it escalated. And he ended up offering the dog a dog treat to try and move it away from the bird area and get her to put it on a lead. But he started filming her while she was threatening him, which was quite lucky, actually. And she was saying “I'm calling the cops, I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life”, which she, she proceeded to do. And the video went viral, she was charged with filing a false police report, although those charges were later dropped when she completed an educational course on racial identity. And she lost her job with a top New York investment firm. And she actually temporarily had to give up her dog pending an abuse investigation, because in the video she was seen dragging the dog on its lead in a way that was quite unpleasant.
I mean, she was so enraging to watch on so many levels.
And here are some of the comments we found in response to this video. “Just imagine if he had not recorded this incident - he assaulted me, I feared for my life, etcetera, etcetera. She would have gone to court or maintained that lie to the bitter end.” That’s quite scary, right?
And then this second quote, “I'm going to tell them that there is an African American man attacking me. This was her most telling statement, she knew exactly what she was doing and used his colour as a threat.”
Yeah. And I think you know, what's really important to remember is this incident occurred in America. And they, they have a very specific context for race there. So based on data collected by the Washington Post, black people are twice as likely as white people to be shot and killed by police officers. And this is something I didn't know originally, but this incident occurred on the exact same day as the death of a black man, George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. And that video went viral. I think everyone heard of it.
Yeah, I remember it was really horrific.
Yeah, I mean, I read about the story, but I couldn't watch the video myself. I just found it too upsetting. So that this central park video was the first time I actually heard the term, Karen, because they called her the Central Park Karen. And I notice it's really, I mean, it's used a lot now. The Guardian, even called 2020 ‘the year of Karen’.
I mean, when the term Karen first went mainstream, it was mostly associated with America and had that racial aspect. And I think that's because it's got you know, America's got this specific historical backdrop of racial issues and an ongoing legacy around that. For example, a white woman calling the police on an eight year old black girl who was selling water in the park. And the nickname Karen has been used to describe this behaviour. And as Aja Romana of Vox says, “black culture in particular, has a history of assigning basic nicknames to badly behaved white women, from Barbecue Becky, to Golf cart Gale, to Permit Patty to Talk-back Tammy.”
Yeah. And the history of race, particularly in the US, it means that there's this idea that white women have a privilege of power, which they can and have, at times wielded at the expense of black men. So for example, the most famous example that I'm sure most people have heard of this is when 14 year old Emmett Till, was lynched. He was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by two men, and this was after being accused of offending a white woman who was called Carolyn Bryant in her family's grocery store. I mean, she later admitted that she lied about it. But there were no repercussions for this either for her, or for the two men who, who murdered him, which were Bryant’s husband and his half brother, and they were actually acquitted by an all white jury. So I mean, it's a really horrific story that, that's quite well known. But within this context, these incidents like the one in Central Park, they have a much darker and scary undertone to them, because it really is a weaponization of privilege. So Helen Lewis in the Atlantic describes it as “the target of Karen's entitled anger is typically presumed to be a racial minority or a working class person, and so she is executing a covert manoeuvre. Using her white femininity to present herself as a victim when she is really the aggressor.”
So you can really understand why people are filming these public run-ins. I mean, the stakes can be really high. However, where it's really gone to another level with these Karen videos I found on YouTube is that they're kind of seeking out these Karen's, the producers of these videos and publishing them on social media. Robin Abcarion, in the Los Angeles Times writes, “because Karen is white, she faces few meaningful repercussions. Embarrassing videos posted on social media is usually as bad as it gets for Karen”.
But is it usually as bad as it gets for Karen? Because for me, it feels like it's evolved into a sport or a form of entertainment. So as soon as any kind of disagreement seems to be happening, people are instantly grabbing their phones and filming complete strangers. But also with things going viral these days and cancelled culture resulting in losing jobs, etc. I mean, in many ways, that can be as much of a meaningful repercussion as anything else. So when asked later about the Central Park incident, the victim Christian Cooper, he actually told The New York Times, “any of us can make not necessarily a racist mistake, but a mistake. And to get that kind of tidal wave in such a compressed period of time. It's got to hurt, it's got to hurt. I'm not excusing the racism, but I don't know if her life needed to be torn apart”. And he just sounds like a really reasonable person to be honest.
He does. Look, I understand why filming public run-ins or people misbehaving has become a common method nowadays to hold individuals accountable, especially when there's a power imbalance. But as this commentator responds to this video, “the video of Karen's behaviour highlights the power of social media in exposing and holding individuals accountable for their actions. The incident was recorded highlighting the importance of capturing evidence to reveal the truth and situations involving confrontations with entitled individuals like this, Karen.”
As things have gone on, it feels like these videos now are less of a response to a naturally occurring event. And it seems that for some people are actually going out of their way to find video of Karens in the world, or as you described Karen Hunting to actually meet the demand there is for this kind of content. So there was one comment that said “there should be one day out of the year where it's legal to slap a Karen”.
I mean, really…
That just makes me think of the purge films. A slightly milder version.
Exactly. And like I said earlier, like there's, there's hundreds of videos dedicated to Karen hunting, they also have channels dedicated to it as well. And I mean, Sarah, they're getting huge watch numbers in the millions. And for those who haven't seen them, the videos normally start with a voiceover like this, “with an appetite for drama and blood that boils hotter than a kettle, Karens are becoming a force to be reckoned with. They can take down whole neighbourhoods, spit venom, and shout louder than a siren. So let's watch some Karen's in action.”
I think you have a future as a voiceover artist there.
Thank you. The videos often have titles like this “18 minutes of Karen's messing with the wrong people.” “Karen's who got what they deserved”. “Karen's who get instant karma”, and then my favourite, “Karen's who got owned and humiliated number 19”.
Wow. So they're 18 already, this was the 19th one.
Yeah but where it gets scary is often the YouTube thumbnails, which is like the video kind of cover art that you see, it features a Karen being thrown to the ground or some sort of physical faceoff. Like, it's almost like, you know like wrestling,
WWE or something, WWF.
Yeah. And I think a big appeal of these videos is that they show the consequences of these entitled Karens, who pick fights, and, you know, getting unexpected and big paybacks.
You know, I definitely think that this idea of seeing entitled people get their comeuppance is a huge factor in their popularity. So, Justine Smith in Hyperallergic writes, “unloading on Karens online serves some much needed catharsis. People work underpaid jobs, where they have to smile while customers walk all over them. Black people minding their business are harassed or worse for no reason. Publicly shaming individuals for their entitled tantrums feels good, like a much needed comeuppance.”
But here's the thing, it's not always clear what is going on in these videos, like you know the way they edit them. Often they start mid interaction, and they film from the point of view, obviously, from the person recording. For example, in one video, it's just a woman complaining that a girl has been really loud during a phone call in the gym that she's making. And the girl turns on the woman and starts recording her fake apologises and starts asking her - so you don't like people laughing in the gym? Or like what's your problem? You know, that kind of attitude?
And she proceeds to follow her around the gym, which is quite empty, from room to room, holding the camera up in her face, getting her to repeat her initial complaint. And she almost becomes very intimidating. And then the woman turns around and says, “look, please Honey, stop following me and filming me and learn some respect”. The girl then follows her out to the carpark and then the video suddenly just abruptly ends. And I would say the girl was extremely antagonistic towards this ‘Karen’ and wanted to record a fight.
Yeah, yeah, I mean She's essentially harrassing her at that point, you know,
We all know what it's like, well, if you have siblings, if someone is like following you around…or do you remember that thing where you'd hold your hand to their face but not touching them? You'd be like, “I'm not touching you. I'm not touching you. I'm not touching you. So you can't get annoyed”. And it's just really frustrating. And they'd do it for ages and you'd end up slapping them or something. Maybe it's just me. But you know, and they'd be like, “well, technically, I didn't start it because I didn't touch you”. And you'll be like, “Yeah, but like, what you did was way more annoying”.
You’re absolutely right. And these videos, these people that the more I watched them, I saw a pattern of behaviour where they really antagonise the initial quotation, ‘Karen’. And what's interesting is the language that's used in these voiceovers, and it's usually a male. No, it's always a male actually. And they use language like, “look at how tightly wound this Karen is in the gym. She's about to get payback”. And then another one where a woman's in the park. “You cannot even take your dog to the park with an ugly old parrot repeating age old beliefs that are even older than her”. And then another one just a woman walking around like doing Neighbourhood Watch - “these nosy Karen's are terrorising our neighbourhoods”.
So since those initial viral incidents, which had a certain tone to them, like the Central Park Karen, it does feel like the definition of a Karen has actually changed and morphed. So for example, in comments on a Washington Post article, there was one that said, “like a lot of things, it has an understandable origin, but it seems to have morphed into any white woman who complains about anything ever. Kind of like how ‘snowflake’ more from a statement of how everyone is unique. And to someone who is so fragile, he or she can't handle even the slightest bit of adversity.” And there was another comment that said, “I see Karen memes as sexist. Why no male equivalent? Because males are allowed to complain and behave badly.”
That's a really fair point.
Yeah. So that's actually been one of the criticisms that has come up a lot more recently. Karen is specifically a female name. And when I looked online for a male version, I found different names proposed, like Kevie, Ken, Chad and Henry, but none have really taken off as like a single term that matches the Karen. And some people have actually said that you can just apply the term Karen to men to. So in May 2020, David A Graham wrote an article titled ‘The Karen in chief’, which is quite clever title. And what he said was “the term is most commonly applied to middle aged women, but why abide by that sexist standard? A man can easily be a Karen as Donald Trump is proving this week”. But you know what it made me think about, you know, when reading that is that is using Karen against a man considered the greatest insult because it's associated with middle aged women, like is he thinking that's the worst thing a man can be called, because it's female, you know?
Exactly. And like you said, I only found a very small fraction of the video content I watched, and believe me I watched a lot of this Karen hunting videos. There was just a few men called a Karen, like I would say, 1%. And actually, I remember there was a big backlash when Judy Bindel, a UK feminist, and journalist, she tweeted a couple of years ago. “Does anyone else think that the Karen slur is woman hating and based on class prejudice?’ But a lot more comments seem to be reflecting this opinion. Philadelphia community organiser Gwen Snyder also tweeted “that it has been co-opted by white boys who stole it and turned it into code for ‘bitch’’. And there was this Mail Online comment. “You're absolutely right. I got called a Karen for making a stand against fox hunting. These people see that you have a valid point, but are unable to construct an intelligent argument. So they just shout, Karen. Quite literally, they are morons”. And then this quote, “Karen is lazy misogyny. Yes, even we have a legitimate cause to complain.”
Well, I mean, I actually read a really good description by Helen Lewis in the Atlantic on how the term has evolved. And she said, “You can't control a word or an idea once it's been released into the wild. Epithets linked to women have a habit of becoming sexist insults. We don't tend to describe men as bossy, ditzy or nasty. They're not called Mean Girls or prima donnas, or drama queens, even when they totally are. And so Karen has followed the trajectory of dozens of words before it, becoming a cloak for casual sexism as well as a method of criticising the perceived faux vulnerability of white women”. And it has started to feel like now it's being used at times to shut down any complaint or disagreement whether it's valid or otherwise.
Absolutely, it has. And for me, a lot of this Karen stuff is older people, like I think of proper adults sort of, you know, like that word reprimanding. I don’t know if I sound a bit severe?
Reprimanding people for bad behaviour and trying to uphold standards particularly in public spaces. You know, I remember growing up in the 90s in good old Poole, and I felt like there was a lot of police around bus conductors, park attendants, all sorts of people you know, around kind of, you know I think I even got told off for just loitering around Tower Park, car park…
What were you up to?
I think I was just waiting for my friend to pick me up, you know. But you know little gangs of teenagers can get together but we get told off for loitering, or you get told off, not that I ever smoked when I was younger, but trying to smoke on the top deck of the bus, you'd have the bus conductor come along and tell you off or an adult turn around and you'd be scared. I'd be scared to get told off in public. Do you remember that feeling?
Yeah, yeah, that shaming of like, I had a friend once who was told off for not giving her seat up for an older woman. And the woman was probably not that old. But like, yeah, it's you’d just be like, Oh, shit, I've been told off. You know, but, but I was someone who was very afraid of authority, so I was constantly worried about being told off, it would have been the worst thing ever.
I mean, it definitely felt like there was a lot more of an authority around to keep things in check, than there are now. But maybe I'm just sounding like an old person who's like - “back in my day”, you know?
Like I said, I was back in London in spring, and I was really taken aback. I mean, I lived in London for 12 years. But suddenly, it felt very antisocial and threatening to me. I wonder if that's because I've lived in Norway for six, seven years.
Yeah, maybe you've lost your thickened skin.
I have like, I used to be tougher. But like I got on the bus. And I just don't know if it's normal, I don't know, to have your phone on speakerphone, like your music and blare it out. And like generally doss about on the chairs and not get up for older people. It just felt really, yeah, I did feel like it just felt like standards have dropped. And it felt intimidating. I definitely would have been terrified to turn around to one of these (I shouldn't call them kids) children, young people and say, “Excuse me, do you mind turning your speakerphone off”. Do you know what I mean?
No, I would definitely not do that. But it feels like more and more people are afraid to stand up against rudeness or what's considered a misconduct because of that fear of backlash. And and, and it feels like there could be, you know, you hear about knife crime and all these things. And you're like, oh, it's not quite the same as it used to be. I mean…
But that's that's the feeling I had Sarah. So like, it feels like, I honestly feel like it feels risky to speak up or say something in public if you see something. I mean, like if I saw something really bad, I would say something. But you could be potentially attacked. And now we've got this issue that someone could be filming you. So..
No, I mean, I think in those situations, even if it was really bad, I don't even know if it depending on the situation, whether whether it's best to stand up or actually just call the police because it's like, don't intervene. I remember hearing a story of a guy in Australia, who stepped in after this woman was being, you know, slapped around by her husband on a street and they were all drunk. And he stepped in and she turned on him as well. And he ended up getting well he was murdered. He was killed by them. So it was sort of like, is it safe to step in these days?
So I'm really not into these Karen Hunter videos that sort of focus or make a storyline around someone telling someone off in public, you know, for example, a video of a woman telling off some skateboarders who were skating in a pedestrianised area. For me, this is low level stuff. Whereas, you know, the original videos, they were highlighting, I think, legitimate, abusive behaviour towards people, especially in customer service.
Totally. And I think we live in this culture, and I think it's quite an American, it comes from America, this idea that the customer is always right. And it's perfectly reasonable to expect a basic level of customer service when you're paying for something. I've definitely been places where they almost, it's like they're doing you a favour for selling you something and it's like, you've got this the wrong way round. But you also see, and I've witnessed it myself, people who, because they're spending money, they feel entitled or even invited to abuse the service worker, it's almost they don't see them as people anymore. You owe me this, because I'm paying you.
Exactly. So you know, I work part time in this five star hotel in Bournemouth from the age of 15. Shout out to the Royal Bath Hotel. It was very smart, very posh and fancy. And I was a waitress in the lounge, you know, doing all the high teas and silver service. And I really, really, really loved it. And I prided myself on giving really good customer service. And you know, I was taught then, you know, the customer's always right. And mostly they were lovely customers. But occasionally you would get these people and I'm not joking, Sarah, they would kick off about the number of finger sandwiches they would be given. They wanted cucumber and salmon and they didn't have them. And I was just shocked at the kind of reactions we would get. And as soon as I say okay, they say we want to talk to your manager. And the manager would just be the lounge manager and he’d come over and he was dressed very smart, dressed in a morning suit. That's how fancy we were. And as soon as he started talking, he was very, you know, smoothly handling them, smiling, “oh, I’ll make some fresh sandwiches for you”, and they seem, you know, they started to calm down. But what I really always felt even from a young age, it's really weird, like it's like we rewarding them for having a tantrum and llike the worst behaviour, because we're scared of like not having their money, or even getting bad reviews and complaints, and I just really feel uncomfortable with that abuse of that power dynamic.
Yeah, I think I think it's taken off even more now that we have these, these online reviews. You know, people use it as a threat. And you know, it…have you ever heard the phrase “a squeaky wheel gets the oil or something”? It's almost like people know, if they complain, they can get something.
In those cases, it does feel like a deliberate power trip, in how they're dealing with the people in customer service. Some of them, it's not even just to get out, you know, if I complain, maybe I'll get it for free, if I you know… Some of them, I think their goal is actually just to beat up on someone verbally or emotionally, like they've had a bad day. So they're going to take out on someone who can't fight back. I mean, I've witnessed that myself. And yeah, yeah.
So, I mean, so whenever I complain, or I want to complain, I think, oh, my gosh, are they giving the service that I put in? Like, I really put in great service, and if they haven't matched that, I do feel cheated on some level. But then number two, I'm starting to think well, am I being, because I'm a middle aged white woman, am I being a bit of a Karen? You know?
Do I have a right to complain? And and do I want to be that person? Do you know what I mean?
I completely know what you mean, because I'm about to turn 40 in November. I'm white. I'm middle class. So I'm definitely in that prime Karen territory.
I don't have the haircut, because it's super curly. It wouldn't, it wouldn't work. But I've really noticed in the last few years that I'm almost uncomfortable about complaining about things, particularly in public, in case I'm accused of being a Karen. I even have that phrase in my head. It's like, oh, well, I don't want to be a Karen…but. Now full disclosure, I was never really that comfortable complaining anyway. I'm British, I’m middle class, I once apologised on entering an empty room. I'm the kind of person like every other word is sorry, you know, I did that. And I thought, Oh, this is a new low, there's, I'm just apologising to the room for entering it. And I do think that I have got better, I've got more assertive. I've got… as I've got older. And I do think actually, I've noticed a shift since moving to South Africa, because there is a different culture here, people are much more direct. I definitely will assert my boundaries if something's wrong. So if someone had brought me the wrong orde, in a cafe a few years ago, I would have just like not said anything. But now you know, if they bring me like hot milk and I asked for cold milk, I'm like, Oh, I'm so sorry. I did ask for cold milk, will you, can you change it for me? You know, but I think that is the key point, is how you do it. It's okay to ask for new things or complain, well not complain, but point out if something is not right. But how are you treating the waitress or the customer service person? Is it with respect? Do you see them as a person, that I mean? They're just a normal person who with a job who happens to be there, they're not less than me. It always surprises me how there are certain people who think well, if I'm paying and even if it's like someone when they're not paying very much. Oh, well, now I own you. I can treat you like crap. I have the right to do whatever I want. You know, It never fails to surprise me.
So Sarah, is this an older middle aged woman thing being a Karen?
Well I mean, that's the thing, isn't it? Because it's not just about being a white woman, but a middle aged white woman. It's this sort of soccer mom style character. And in the Washington Post, they said, “a young Karen likely would have been the class snitch tattling on her classmates to the teacher to get them in trouble. Middle Aged Karen is the one asking to see your manager.” And Karen was actually a popular name for baby girls in the 1950s and 1960s. So it means that a lot of people who are called Karen are in fact part of the boomer generation.
And actually that's a term that I see thrown around a lot like ‘Boomer’. Like it's almost if you are of the boomer generation, that you're stuck in the mud and somehow ignorant. And I see actually all the time on the Financial Times on the ft. I don't know why, but every time someone makes a kind of intelligent comment, someone, I don't know why it’s like I think like underneath like, “okay, Boomer,” because like there's this inbuilt resentment of like, “okay, Boomer, just shut up, you know?”
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Instead of like countering the point that they actually made, it's like, well, that's it. But in the other direction I've actually seen ‘millennial’ used as an insult too. So on Quora, there was someone who posted a question, “Is generation wuss a good name for the millennial generation?” So, you know, essentially, I think people really love categorising groups and then comparing the other group unfavourably to the one that they're a part of. So identifying as part of a group it really fulfils this human need to belong that we all have. But group membership can also really inform our identity and sense of self, especially depending on the assessment of the quality of the groups that we belong to, and that really influences our collective self esteem. So, Crocker & Major, who…
Was that John Major? Is that his new career?
No, because I don't know, just you, you only get the last names as the… as the… who researchers are. But Crocker & Major did a study where they found that by comparing our group to other groups that we frequently discover that we're members of the better group, conveniently, then we can take pride in our superiority. And when we denigrate other groups, we actually elevate both our personal and our collective self esteem. And this is something that’s seen… a lot of people ,we all do it, you know, maybe not fully aware of it, but something that there is a natural tendency in humans.
Yeah. But I am reflecting you know, especially after I watched all these videos, you know, how much is ageism part of the current insult? You know, we've already talked about ageism in the media against women in one of our episodes. It's called I'm not sorry, the case of Madonna ageing. And it feels like there is something about the women sort of being middle aged and entitled. How much do you think that plays plays a role?
Well, I think on one hand, it really ties into that age old idea of curtain twitching nosy neighbour spinsters, who spend all their time reporting minor rule infractions to the council. You know, I think we all know of that trope.
Yeah, it's basically a bad version of Mrs. Marple, or the local, FBI.
I mean, absolutely. And I, I mean, I love Miss Marple, I want to be, that's my future, hopefully knitting in a cottage and solving random murders. But you obviously see people, both male and female, who as they get older, they get more bitter and angry, and they actually take it out on people. So there's also the Grumpy Old Men trope that we've heard of. So it does, it's not always about women. But I think as women get older, they get more comfortable with themselves, and they get more comfortable speaking out. And I mean, that's true for myself. I don't know if it's for you, as well?
I do think as you get older, you do have like to quote Rihanna “ Zero fucks to give”.
Yeah, it's such a paradox, because on the one hand, as you get older, as a woman, you get more confident, you care less about what everyone thinks. And at the same time, as you get older, you're expected by society to be quieter, to shut up, you're not, you know, you're no longer young, and we don't want to put up with your nagging and so you're really just be quiet in a corner and knit something. And, you know, whether you can knit or not. But Helen Lewis in The Advocate, she said, “as women shout and rant and protest in out of context clips designed to paint them in the most viral friendly light possible. They are portrayed as witches, harridans, harpies, and women who dare to keep existing, speaking, and asking to see the manager after their reproductive peak.”
Amen. We should end the podcast there. It's brilliant. No, I'm joking. That is a great quote, it’s a great quote. And in fact, I didn't actually find many videos of these Karen hunting videos featuring stereotypical beautiful or attractive women in these spats. I just don't feel like men go near them.
No, no, they get away, you get away with a lot more. And, you know, people have pointed out the ageism in this. But there was something I thought about when I was doing this research and I haven't really seen it explicitly talked about, and that is the role of menopause. Because a typical Karen is usually menopausal age. Actually, you know, no one's actually saying that, they're not using that word. But it feels like the stereotypes that people have about menopausal women being angry and irrational are sort of coming in here and informing it. So for example, a study from the Harvard Business Review found that when confronted with a description, people saw menopausal women as less emotionally stable than non menopausal women, despite the fact that they had all the same attributes in the story. And it makes me think that, you know, as soon as a middle aged woman is seen to get upset, how much do we immediately start just thinking of them as irrational before even knowing the details of the context? Because, you know, sometimes it's okay to be upset and it's justified and it's sometimes it's okay to complain, right? Like, you know,
Ueah, but, I mean, the thing is, it's almost like a chicken and egg situation. On the NHS website, they inform us that, you know, the menopause includes anger and as one of the main, you know, symptoms associated with the menopause. So it might be the case that some of these women in the videos are maybe acting out more partly due to symptoms of going through the menopause. I mean, it's really impossible for us to know. When I honestly feel like yes, I know the menopause. Maybe I'm in perimenopause. I don't know yet. I feel like I’m a bit scared, like I'm going into the unknown, like I'm going into deep space. And it's one of those taboos that isn't really talked about and I feel like people are getting more and more vocal now talking openly about having hot flashes at work.
Is it hot flashes or hot flushes?
It’s the whole thing at work. But I noticed since the lockdown there's been reports that there was actually HRT shortages in the UK. And you know, Davina McCall. She has written a book about Menopausing, which was the winner of the British Book Awards and 2023 and Overall Book of the Year. And interestingly, Halle Berry also recently spoke to Women's Health, about going through the menopause. And she said, “I'm challenging all those stereotypes about how you have to look a certain way, or feel a certain way. I'm my best self now that I've reached 56 years old. I have the most to offer. I have zero blanks to give anyone, I'm solidly in my womanhood, I finally realised, all I have to say is valuable, even if no one else agrees.”
I love that quote, I love that quote. And I, you know, just as you know, I'm looking forward to getting older. I'm not necessarily looking forward to getting more wrinkles, but I like that idea of, you know, being solidly in your womanhood and I think it's a really challenging thing to go through.
I think there's a lot of demonization of women going on.
Well, I think there's always been a demonization of anything associated with female hormones. And it's such an easy way of invalidating female feelings. And I'm not saying they're all justified or reasonable these these videos, but I've got Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I have premenstrual dysphoria. And I've also, I struggle with a mood disorder and anxiety. So I'm just like, you know, like ticking all the boxes there. And I often question within myself the validity of my feelings. It's like, am I genuinely upset about something? Or am I about to start my period because it's so irregular, I don't know when it's coming? But the thing is, both can be true. I can be maybe premenstrual and also be upset about a situation because a boundary was violated. It's like it doesn't have to be either or, and it doesn't have to mean that because you're on your period that any of your opinions and thoughts don't count anymore, that sometimes they're just heightened. So I find it lazy, you know, the first thing, you know, that classic thing of like, ‘What are you on your period?’ It's like - even if I am you're still a dickhead, so…it doesn't, that's the problem, not my period.
I do think that you're onto something with these Karen videos. I think they're like, you know, what, if you are having like, a completely, a moment, like in the parking lot, like trying to get a spot and you're really stressed and getting flushed in the face, and someone's beeping at you loudly and you start a dispute, you know?
Yeah, yeah we all have bad days.
So what's interesting is I was wondering if, you know, we know that the Karen originated in the US and the Karen hunting videos are mostly America and I was curious what the UK version of Karen is, or if it's just like a direct translation, because I often think of like, when we think of entitled or arrogant behaviour in the UK, I think we do refer a lot to our class system or
Thinking especially of the upper class. Thinking of, we used to say at school or uni, Hooray Henry's, Raahs or Toffs.
Yeah, but you know, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you'd have stuff like fishwife.
Yes! “Don’t be a Fishwife”.
Yeah. I find it quite confusing because I feel like in in America the idea is that the Karen’s are usually middle class taking it out on working class people. But in the UK this sort of association of a Karen is often someone who's like lower middle class and is a little bit ignorant. So I'm conf… it sits weirdly with me what class way it's supposed to be.
Don't worry, I've got your back on this one. More research on and I went to Quora and you know, and then someone had written a question if Karen was actually something to do with Sharon and Tracy. Do you remember Sharon and Tracy?
Yeah. Birds of a feather?
Yeah. So someone replied, “No, no, no, Sharon, and Tracy were the sort of Woolworths..” Oh I miss Woolworths, well UK Woolworths. So “Sharon and Tracy were the sort of Woolworths finest types. Gum chewing shop assistants, who were totally uninterested in helping customers, preferring instead to endlessly natter to each other, about their boyfriends, etc. And doing their level best to ignore you. When you say Excuse me, where are your( insert Item)? The answer invariably would be if you got an answer at all. If it ain't on the shelf, we ain't got none. A bit different than the self entitled middle class Karen.”
Yeah, well, I remember Sharon and Tracy was definitely used as an insult and I don't, you don't hear it as much anymore.
You really don't do you. Well I don't I don't think it's used anymore. And then someone asked what the American version of Karen is in the UK on Reddit. And some of the answers are a bit rude. So prepare yourself. “A nosy old C-word”. ‘m not gonna say it today. Because when last time we did the C word we bleeped it and someone said that they nearly jumped out of their skin so I'm not going to do it again.
Okay, so we're going to save you that. And then someone else said “we would probably have called a Karen a busybody in the past”. And then there's a bit of an argument on Reddit. And one person says “they are called Vicky, have six kids all by different dads who don't see them, are on benefits, incredibly lazy, xenophobic and racist. Have a ponytail and hoop earrings as big as the moon”. And someone replied, “you're confused on Karen she's a mum, very bitchy, not usually trashy:, and they continue on these threads one minute the British Karens are working class and loud, like you said, you know, to your kind of point Sarah, and the next minute they’re a four by four driving mumm who bullies others over Marks and Spencers parking spots.
Yeah, it's weird, because in America, it definitely feels like it is more associated with middle class women.
Yeah. So then I went on to the Mumsnet, the UK version, and they were discussing what's happened to the name Karen, and and they shared an interesting link to a website. So I opened up the website. And actually, it was designed to sort of counter the misuse of the name Karen. And it's pretty simple, like you just type in your first name. So I tried to put my first name, obviously Lisa, and then it creates a bunch of funny sort of memes as if you were Karen. And but then the content gets really aggressive as you scroll down, for instance, “live, laugh, and fuck off, Lisa”. And like “Lisa was the best selling Halloween costume of 2022” and stuff like this. But it really made me think and reflect like, oh my god, what would it feel like to actually be called your first name Karen, which is a hugely popular name. And it makes you reflect on it.
Yeah, and you know, that's the thing, people could have invented a whole new term for this meme. But instead, what they've done is they've co opted a name that other people already have. And it could potentially be really problematic for the really lovely Karens out there to have their name now associated with this. And not to mention that there's actually an entire ethnic group in Myanmar and Thailand, who are called the Karen people. Well, actually, it's pronounced Kar-en. But it just shows you how much a meme can end up casting a shadow over, just you know, a lot of people who if anything, you know, they had that name first. What are your final thoughts on this topic, Lisa?
I mean, at first, I understood the intentions behind these Karen themed videos. But in a short space of time, they've taken a very aggressive turn towards women. And while the initial videos aimed to highlight genuinely troubling behaviour, thier current objective seems to be to harshly jump on any woman who expresses a boundary or voices a complaint. And I think that's a really scary world to live in, where essentially, where we're being shut down, censored and oppressed. And I think we need to look really closely at these Karen hunters. I mean, their ongoing quest, and kind of almost thirst for new instances of Karens, and publicly shamed them is a trend that's only building momentum. And in my view, they're worse than the behaviour they're attempting to critique. So I mean, Sarah, what do you think?
Well, you know, I think catching videos of offensive behaviour, it's almost become a pastime these days, and the more shocking, the better. So on the one hand, this can be a way of naming and shaming people who previously had had no consequences for bad behaviour. You know, you think of cases like Rodney King and George Floyd, it becomes a last recourse for the disenfranchised, to sort of crowdsource justice when people in authority have far too much power and then abuse it. So you said to me the other day in the age of disinformation, it can feel like the camera is the only source of truth now. But just like anything else, it can also be manipulated. People chase the next viral video, and they start heading out with the intention of creating content, and it's so easy to film people without their permission. There's a really big difference between Christopher Cooper filming the interaction in Central Park to protect himself against false accusations. And then just filming women whenever they make a complaint or putting a boundary in everyday life. Especially when these videos are posted without the full context of the situation. In any of these interactions, there's often some kind of privilege at play, maybe it's race or sex or class, maybe it's attractiveness or an unseen disability. And it's really important to be able to see when someone is weaponizing their privilege, and then call them out for it. But it's also really important to question whether in some cases, women, particularly ones who are older and therefore considered, you know, less sexually appealing, are actually being silenced for speaking up or for giving feedback. It's so hard because you really have to judge on a case by case basis. But for myself, I always ask first, how would I feel if I was on the receiving end of my own behaviour? And can I ask for something whilst being as kind and respectful as possible? And mostly just try and give people the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes that's definitely easier said than done.
I love that Sarah. Thank you. And so that's it for today's episode. We hope you've enjoyed it and we have a quick favour to ask you. I've actually put together a quick and anonymous survey. It's completely anonymous, you don't have to put your email address in or anything. It's just a few questions to help us in shaping the direction of the show: what you love, what we could improve. Yeah, so we would love your feedback, and I've put a link to it in our Instagram bio. It’s actually a Google form. And also, I've put a link on our website, and our website address is straighttothecommentspodcast.com. And of course, we can put it in the show notes or in the summary of today's episode, so you can actually click the link directly there and go through. And it would really, really help us. I think it would only take you about three or four minutes or 10 minutes if you really want to go deep.
We are here and we're ready to hear your opinions. So.
Okay, well, I think that's it for today, Sarah.
It is, and we look forward to seeing you next time.
Bye bye for now.
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This podcast has been produced by Emily Crosby media