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July 20, 2020
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

Why Karen?

July 20, 2020 15:54 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

The media have been calling certain, trouble-making, obnoxious kinds of women “Karen”. Before we investigate the genesis of of “Karen” as an individual to be avoided by anyone who behooves in equality, there are other aspects of the permutation of this name to consider.

Some descriptions of Karen’s demeanor, coincide with aspects of assertiveness that women have been encouraged to adopt, probably, since the 1970’s.

The original Women’s Lib movement believed that women should stop accepting unsavory attitudes, beliefs, and practices and begin to speak out against signs of sexism, or gender inequality. It has been determined that  absorption of dismissive behavior has a negative impact on women’s lives(actually, on all lives).  For at least 50 years women have, increasingly, refused to take a back seat on issues they believe in.

If something is wrong, speak up.  If you cannot receive an acceptable response from a worker, ask to speak to a supervisor.  Demand answers and treatment that is respectful, reasonable, and comprehensive.

Some of this behavior has been attributed to the much-derided female, Karen.  Where is the line of demarcation?  Is it the action itself, or the manner in which it is conveyed?  The answer seems to be the latter. It is reasonable to conclude that one must give respect if expecting to receive respect.

“Bad Karen” is arrogant, demanding, and believes she is entitled.  Bad Karen (now referred to as BK) believes herself to be at the top of the food chain.  She looks down on others, is rigid in belief and behavior, has no appreciation for the advantages that result from a mixture of cultures.  

It would be a mistake the ignore the differences between Karen, good and bad.  A healthy society encourages appreciation, given and integrated, from all citizens

Granted, such a society is a Utopian ideal.  Nonetheless, it is an aspiration that would benefit all.

A BK who is the subject of this discussion believes the world  must confer upon her a front row seat.  She is insensitive to the impact she has on those she encounters.  Other names that invoke a vision of spoiled and arrogant behavior are:  Becky, Jan, and, the unforgettable ,Bye Felicia.

In investigating the use of Karen, many suggest it grew out the the African-American culture on black twitter.  It is alleged by some that #Karen is a substitute for “N——R”.  The stereotyped Karen is middle aged and has a blonde streaked bob. 

Other explanations for the use of BK include:  

A comedy special performed by Dane Cook in 2005 in which he apparently trashed a Karen went viral.  His presentation was entitled “The friend nobody likes”. 

Another catalyst for the launching of Karen was, reportedly, in a sub Reddit group in which a man either in the throes of or just finished with his divorce from(you guessed it) Karen, gathered quite a following as he complained and cursed her.  This was in 2017.

Finally, Karens are middle aged and in 1965 (she would now be fifty-five) Karen was a popular name.  She could have just as easily been a Lisa, a Susan, or a Donna.

Incidentally, Karen has never been a popular name for girls within the African-American community. 

Of course the consummate BK is Amy Cooper.  Those who have avoided all news (which is frequently the case) do not know about Amy’s overblown and potentially dangerous, outburst aimed at bird-watcher Christian Cooper (unrelated). Amy was in the section of Central Park called The Bramble.  Signage requests that all animals (pets) be on leashes.  Christian, a black man, asked Amy to leash her dog.  Her response was to lash out and telephone the police, telling them that a black man was threatening her life.

This is reminiscent of the tragedy of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was lynched by a group of white men after a white woman accused him of threatening to sexually molest her. This happened in 1955.  Years later, the woman confessed that the story was untrue. 

In the days of slavery, which are, again, being scrutinized, white women saw African-American women as sexual competition.  White men, also, felt that their sexual prowess was second-fiddle to the imagined expertise of the black man.  Enslavement was a brutal and shameful way to keep sexy African-Americans “in their place”

There is a substantial history of white women weaponizing their social standing by, unfair accusation.  Not very long ago, all a woman had to do was accuse a man, of any race, of violence (real or counterfeit) and the man in question was likely to spend at least one night in jail.

The myth that prevails is that slavery was abolished in 1865.  In truth, the power of one person to enslave another was rescinded in 1865.  Institutionally, the belief in white supremacy has held strong.The Jim Crow laws (named after an individual in the minstrel shows) kept African Americans firmly in their “place” in the South. They were, finally, rescinded in 1968.  

Some have estimated that 25% of the white population in the United States are  white supremacists.  Given a population of 328,200,000, this means that over 82,000,000 people believe they are superior to non whites.  That is a more than sufficient number to ensure discrimination and polarizing points of view. 

It is not the purpose of this article to go into the philosophies held dear by white supremacists (and others).  When common sense rears its head, it is easy to ask:  Why is one person more valuable than another?  What scale is used to measure human worth?  Who has been anointed as the not-to-be-questioned judge in these matters?  Who anointed said judge. There are so many ways to look at racial, and other, discrimination.

There are compelling indications that 2020 may be a time of historic change in the society of the United States. The accuracy of these forecasts remains to be seen.  The demand for justice alongside the current pandemic makes for a stupefying partnership that could not have been foreseen.  

Change is inevitable.  The call for personal isolation makes this is a good time for inward reflection.  What will be the response to the resulting National shifts?  One can be certain that BK is not the only symbol of intolerance — both genders and established protocols will be put under scrutiny.  The “new normal” will most certainly differ from the old. 




Goggins, S. (07/01/2020)” Who is Karen, And Why Are People Constantly Dropping Her Name”


Greenspan, R (06/26/2020) “How the Name Karen Became a Stand-in For Problematic Women and a Hugely Popular Meme.


Lang, C (07/06/2020). “How the Karen Meme Confronts The Violent History of White Womanhood”


Queen, R. (06/12/2020) “How Karen Went From a Popular Baby Name to a Stand- In For White Entitlement” the


Strickler, K (07/01/2020) “The Truth About Karen”

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

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