Had your fill of the IG Report and Impeachment Theatre for the day? I submit to you some musings on… “Karens”.
Just as their elder Boomers, Gen-X “Karens” have come under fire of late. In some ways, rightly so, for the archetypal “Karen” is your bitchy privileged nosy neighbor – a woman who largely expects the world to conform to her needs and expectations and will kvetch loudly – and often – to (and at) anyone whose misfortune places them within ear/eyeshot. Particularly managers. She’s Gladys Kravitz without the charm. She is, in most respects, a miserable person to be around — including to her own damn self were she forced to reflect honestly.
I’m here, however, to speak in defense of Karens. Sort of. First of all – full disclosure – one of my sisters is named “Karen,” and she’s about the least Karen-y person you’ve ever met. She’s wicked smart, funny, witty, chatty, quirky, goofy and – did I mention chatty? But she’s no Karen-Karen. (Cue Whoopi Goldberg.) In truth, the world is full of Karens who aren’t really “Karens” — and Beckys and Lindas and Sharons and Sues who are. But, for some reason, we’ve slapped “that woman” with the label of “Karen” because labeling and pigeonholing are some of the things we do best.
We sit on the eve of 2020 and our primary currency is clicks and likes and viralosity. (She says while composing an article intended to be shared via social media.) We traffic in outrage and humorous memes — but mostly outrage. There have been a spate of viral “Karen” stories in the past year or two. So when I first saw the title of this article in the New York Times Style Section over the weekend, I anticipated tsk-tsking at the latest installment of bitchy-privileged lady. “My So-Karen Life” just smacked of an author sadly surrounded by “Karens”.
It wasn’t what I expected. In fact, my initial reaction was irritation — not with the subjects of her piece, but with the author herself:
This is a bad – really bad – Mean Girls version of Green Eggs and Ham – no offense to Dr. Suess. “I do not like Karens who lead. I do not like Karens who follow. I do not like Karens who prosper. I do not like Karens with compassion. I DO NOT LIKE KARENS!!” https://t.co/DC4a0qGFqQ
— Susie Moore (@SmoosieQ) December 8, 2019
It’s a long read and what it really amounts to is the author venting about the sorts of slights and indignities visited upon most of us as we attempt to navigate friendship (and frenemy-ship) through childhood and early adulthood. It’s meandering and poor-me-ish. And it doesn’t really have much at all to do with the archetypal “Karen” — nor the archetypal “Emily,” “Alexandra,” or “Sarah,” who the author murkily endeavors to portray.
I was an insecure, awkward dork of a Susie as a kid and young adult. In many ways, I still am, though I can’t really blame it on my youth anymore. I’m on the north end of Gen-X as it is. The travails described by the author of this piece struck me as slightly modified versions of my own life experiences, only with an unhealthy dose of antipathy toward just about every female friend/acquaintance she made along the way. Which prompted me to question whether the issue — such that it was — were not so much with the “Karens” of her life but, perhaps, her own outlook/attitude.
I fired off the tweet above and began mentally composing this retort. But somewhere along the way, I got to thinking more about insecurities and being a writer and the irony (or hypocrisy?) of penning a verbal takedown of another writer’s attempted takedown of all the mean (and/or disappointing) girls of her life.
Isn’t one of the primary problems with “Karen,” her utter lack of reflection and self-awareness? The juice she seeks from being a judgmental buttinsky as to others an effort to assuage her own emotional empty pockets? Was Sarah (the NYT author) perilously close to being a “Karen” herself in dishing on the many “Karens” in her life?
Was I, in thinking to rag on her work?
I don’t know Sarah Miller. A brief perusal of her Twitter feed (and knowing where her piece was published) tell me we likely have different politics, maybe even worldviews. I do know we were born a year apart and both products of public schools back in the days of non-helicopter parents. I know we both write. I assume she loves dogs based on her avi and cover pic. (And, frankly, anyone who loves dogs earns a little extra slack from me.)
She took time to write what she wrote. Maybe it hit every note she’d hoped for or maybe it morphed into something else. I don’t think it quite made the point she appeared to be trying to make. But I do wonder – would her “Karen” grievances recede a bit if she were able to see all those “Karens” as not so different from her after all? Maybe those “disaster capitalists in pigtails” had their own stashes of insecurities. Maybe some of them love dogs and write, too. Maybe they have scars from the “Sarahs” in their lives.
Maybe the world would suffer less from “Karens” if we quit pigeonholing and projecting our own flaws onto others.