“Does anyone else think the ‘Karen’ slur is woman hating and based on class prejudice?” This was a question posed by self-proclaimed “left-wing Republican” Julie Bindel on Twitter yesterday, which caused a plethora of conversation. It was a delightful hot take from the woman who called bisexuality a “fashionable trend” caused by “sexual hedonism.”
So, first, to answer the question at hand: not at all. It’s quite telling that a certain demographic of white women really would like to position themselves in a state of perpetual victimhood so much so that they would consider something like “Karen” a slur.
A slur is not just something that gets passed along in pop culture slang. A slur is a word with generations of trauma attached to it—a history of violence attached to that word. Many LGBTQ+ people do not like the term “queer” because it was a slur in a context in which many experienced violence physically, emotionally, and institutionally. While it is in use and many people identify as queer (including myself), that is still a part of queer history. The n-word, while having been reclaimed by Black people, is a term that many Black people heard before they were murdered. Right now, in a time of pandemic-induced xenophobia, Chinese people and all East Asian people in general are getting called slurs and having stereotypes thrown in their faces.
Yet, amidst all of that … Karen. I’ve never been an upper-middle-class white woman academic who used to be progressive but now hates young gays, so maybe that’s on me, but this rush for people who have some type of privilege to frame jokes about that privilege as some sort of parallel to hate speech is just irritating.
White women are so used to being oppressed due to their gender that they sometimes have no awareness of the space they occupy due to their whiteness. If the worst thing you have been called in your life is a sarcastic “Becky” or “Karen,” or even an antagonistic “Becky” or “Karen,” consider yourselves lucky, because people are actually committing hate crimes against Chinese people simply for being Chinese—not in response to people parading their privilege around.
Bindel did attempt to bring working-class women into it and turn it into a conversation about women’s rights: “When I was in my 20s, the slur against younger working-class women was ‘Sharon and Tracy’. I honestly cannot think of any equivalent for men. But I am so sick of women, including those of us that have devoted our lives to women’s liberation, being spoken about so disrespectfully.”
The term “Karen” in the popular lexicon today is almost always to call out the middle-class entitlement and rude behavior of white women. Can people use it to perpetuate misogyny? Of course, anything can be used that way. However, if you actually spent time on the internet, you’d know that it’s mostly used to call out what I mentioned before, and the failures of white feminists to care about anyone other than … well, themselves.
Additionally, the male equivalent of a Karen or Becky is Chad, Trevor, Gavin, Brenden/Branden. You would know this if you spoke to Black people.
Plus, I’m sure that bisexual women would have liked not to have been spoken about so disrespectfully, with comments like “If bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men.”
Bindel once wrote a statement in 2013 saying that, as a lesbian feminist, she felt “well qualified to understand the meaning and implications of bigotry,” yet, despite that, here we are—discussing whether Karen is a slur.
Gotta love centering white womanhood in every situation. Thanks, Karen.
As someone whose name is actually Princess, if I could survive the “Well, excuuuuuse me, Princess” jokes, the Karens will persevere.
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