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My Name is Karen, and I am Okay with the "Karen" Caricature

People try to pity me, as if it is hard to have the name Karen when it has become synonymous with a certain kind of white, female, entitlement. I don’t need pity. It is funny. I don’t take it personally. And I also think the name is well chosen.

Most Karen’s are white, mid to late 50’s, and from middle to high income childhoods. We are something between boomers and Gen X and I experience us, for the most part, having a specific flavor of entitlement inclined to ask for the manager. I experience us as interested in other peoples activities, and opinionated about how things should be done. Basically, I don’t think it is coincidence that we got saddled with this particular characterization of a nosey, presumptuous woman who feels entitled to comment on and even attempt to enforce our sense of social norms and expectation.

To be clear, I am not proud of this characterization. I absolutely believe we Karen’s should learn how to mind our own business. I absolutely think we need to become less aghast when a service provider is unable to provide us with a service in the way we expect. But again, for me, that the name Karen was chosen to exemplify this type of person tracks.

My teen son thinks it is hysterical, and since he was 8 or 9, he frequently stops me mid action, saying “Did someone ask your opinion Karen” or “Why don’t you tell me what you think Karen”, or “Are you wishing there was a manager you could speak to Karen”. When I do indeed want to talk to a manager, he reminds me that at some point I am going to need to give my name, and suggests I might want to reconsider lodging my complaint. 

I suspect part of why I do not feel persecuted by having the name Karen is that I am not a particularly racist version of this caricature. I certainly have unconscious bias, but have worked on it for a lifetime and feel good about my ability to be honest with myself and others when I get it wrong. I am not particularly fragile in general, and don’t need people to take care of my embarrassed feelings or a fragile ego.

It is hard to look at oneself honestly. Many people are crippled with self loathing when they see things about themselves that are unflattering or problematic. I think that is why many people with the name Karen are so injured by what feels like an accusation. Surely there are some people with the name Karen who do not reflect any of the qualities of entitlement the coined term Karen is meant to highlight. They could choose to comfortably laugh it off, knowing it doesn’t actually apply to them. For the rest of us however, why not just own the pieces that successfully shine a light on a mentality of our microcosm of a generation/personality/race/economic background, and own it/admit it/work on it?

The most dangerous entity in the word is a fragile ego. It can be so easily injured. The injured ego can imagine itself threatened, even persecuted. If our goal in life is to be good people, people who grow and change, we must develop the ego strength to be challenged, to see ugly components of our character, to understand our work is searing honesty. This is no different than the challenge of hearing our partners complaints about us, seeing our kids struggle with how we parent them, or getting called out by co-workers about ways our behaviors hinder and good work vibe. 

Instead of Karens, and other white middle aged middle to high income woman avoiding being accused of being horrible, we could look into our souls and see if indeed we have some self work to do on minding our business.

Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists' personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.

 

Check out other posts on similar topics below:

It Isn’t Irony, It Is Projection: Threatened Karen’s and Victimized Cops

Treating Nazis (and other Racists): Analytic Considerations on Racism

Liam Neeson’s Comments and Racist Impulses is All of Us

Want to Raise a Diversity Savvy Kid?: 3 Traps and 2 Solutions

Author
Full Living Founder and Director Karen L. Smith MSS, LCSW Karen L. Smith MSS LCSW Karen is the founder and director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which provides thoughtful matches for clients seeking therapists in the Philadelphia Area. She provides analytically oriented psychotherapy, and offers education for other therapists seeking to deepen and enriching their work with object relation concepts.

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