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Cultural Nuances Of The U.S. & Italy

What Does It Mean To Be A “Karen”?

Do you know what it means to be a Karen? Are you the type of woman who demands to speak to the manager when you feel you’ve been wronged? Well, you just might be a “Karen.”

Karen is a given name – however on the internet, it has come to stand for so much more

Stereotypes are as depressing and necessary for democracy as a coffin lid is for… well, a coffin. It might sound confusing but by creating and promoting superficial, derogative, or excessively generalized images of people, behavior patterns, or whatever, society simultaneously generates an efficient detection tool aimed to identify what needs to be criticized and eliminated. In other words, without stereotypes, many people would not know that something is univocally wrong. In this sense, a stereotype is truly a metaphorical coffin lid. It both covers and sends a vibrant, I-am-here signal.

to be a karen in Usa

A product of contemporary society

When trying to figure out who “Karen” is, why she is here, and what should (or should not) be done about “Karens” nowadays, it is essential to remember that “Karen” is a product of contemporary society, thus her emergence is a clear sign that something is not right and needs to be corrected. Moreover, not everything about “Karen” is bad or uncomfortable as she can be a source of joy, for instance, by causing genuine laughs with no additional effort applied or even intentions involved. “Karen” can be hilarious, specifically to watch her from a safe distance or when being beyond the immediate scope of her reach.

No quotation marks

Whereas “Karen” is already in the limelight of this article, and proper attention is paid to emphasizing that she is no particular person but a collective image, a stereotype at its best, no quotation marks will be used from this point onward to protect the readers’ sight against typographic motley.

to be a karen

Here a few Karen’s versions

Version One. To be a Karen, the Shopper. Part I.

Not everything has gone online as Generation Z would like to believe. People continue visiting shops in person. They surf through the shelves, migrate along the rows, and scan available products with no laptop or phone screen as an obligatory mediator. When the search is over, and the shopping bag is full, customers flock toward the cashier’s desk. Now that they have (or have not) satisfied their shopping goals, their internal timer is on. People are willing to pay and leave the shop as soon as possible because this item from their daily lists calls for a checkmark so that other errands can intervene. Pick up the laundry. Take Daniel to the dentist. Sign the divorce papers. Go to an AA meeting.

The after-shopping list is as diverse as Elon Musk’s posts on Twitter are. Feel sorry for this impatient queue because here comes Karen! The most fortunate customers will never get to know how lucky they are simply by standing in front of her and closer to the cashier. Those standing behind Karen and looking distractedly at her back that is literally bursting with resolute and intransigence risk losing as little as an hour or two of their precious time. But the cashier! Feel sorry for the cashier!

Assume that the cashier is a man to make things specifically difficult for him. He is mindlessly checking out one item after another, giving change, and smiling automatically at the next customer. Little does he know that when Karen comes, his smile will crawl off his face and hide somewhere in the darkest corners of his corporate etiquette, shaking with fear and unwilling to reveal itself days after Karen leaves.

Version One. To be a Karen, the Shopper. Part II.

So, please, welcome Karen, the Shopper. A white, middle-aged, single woman with a symmetrical bob-cut hairstyle and an impenetrable wall of superiority and assertiveness, covering her head-to-toe. If asked, she would never admit that her attitude to others derives from her race or any other external factors. On the contrary, whenever appropriate (or not), Karen loves to talk about feminism, equality, and inclusion, the way Hannibal Lecter would engage in culinary disputes. Karen does not assume that she is right. She does not try to impose her opinion. Karen KNOWS that her viewpoint is the only one that matters.

With this thought in mind, she enthusiastically begins her verbal assault on the unsuspecting cashier. The reasons may vary – from the newly found difference between what she expected to pay for the product to complaints about the assortment, arrangement, availability, or A-something-else. Karen loves bombarding the victim with hyper-verbal vocabulary vomit. However, no matter how long the execution takes place, making the cashier shimmer with various shades of red, it never ends with only one sacrifice made. The final accord rests firmly on call-the-manager demand uttered in a voice, which coldness can easily compete with the iceberg that drowned the lives of hundreds and fueled the dream of one (James Cameron if the analogy seems to be too obscure).

Even if the manager is away, having lunch, on sick leave, or abducted by aliens, Karen still summons this unfortunate person to her. Every time. She is stubborn, persistent, and unresponsive to pleading or common sense. Her mission is over when the cashier is covered with sweat mixed with tears, and the manager pictures what it would have felt like to live in Salem, be a woman, and be caught singing in the woods in the twilight, and desperately longing to change places with her.


Version Two. To be a Karen, the Mother.

Beware, working moms, divorced moms, and non-traditional moms because here comes, Karen, the Mother. A white, middle-aged, married woman with an asymmetrical bob-cut hairstyle and an impenetrable wall of superiority and assertiveness, covering her head-to-toe. She participates in all clubs and activities involving parents or requiring parental control. If Karen could, she would have become the head of each of them. Sadly, it is impossible not because Karen lacks time but because some weird (her wording) rules direct diversity in control and supervision.

Karen is an expert

Karen is an expert in everything that concerns children (from toddlers to college graduates) and their upbringing, household management, happy marriage, and self-actualization. She chooses the last point as the main topic in her short, albeit vibrant conversations with every non-Karen she meets in dangerously close vicinity to her children’s school. Karen’s educational achievements can be limited to community college and her professional development may not extend beyond minor office positions in the early stages of her relationship with her future husband.

However, it never (1) serves as a valid reason to be less confident or eloquent in her advice on education and career, Karen spreads as a malfunctioning fire hydrant. Her self-assurance amazes and terrifies anyone, especially during one’s first acquaintance with Karen. It may seem improbable that white supremacy bordering on explicit ignorance can manifest itself so freely and fearlessly. Karen sees no obstacles in her way when mentoring, lecturing, and enforcing her thoughts and ideas with a shining racist crusting and supremacist aplomb.

She may seem harmless

Karen, the Mother, is even more dangerous than Karen, the Shopper, because the former is in immediate contact with young, inexperienced minds in an environment meant to encourage views opposite to hers. Yet, a few confront Karen not because she is a perilous enemy but essentially because a few can identify her as such. Karen often evokes barely suppressed laughter, an evident desire not to contact her, or even pity. She may seem harmless (not for the poor cashier, though) or capable of small damage only.

A belief in one person’s superiority

Yet, as long as she exists, she is that utmost hazardous coffin lid, hiding the filthiest, most disgusting, worst thing of all – a belief in one person’s superiority over others, a stereotype bordering on evil, the first step to wreaking havoc in democracy.

Male context

The term Karen is generally used to refer to women, but The Atlantic noted that a man can easily be called a Karen although Ken and Kevin are among the most common names used.


by Severino Ricci


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