“Karen” entered the American lexicon during the age of social media to refer to white women who behave in a way that seems entitled, creating a high-drama, public scene as they demand their (perceived) right or privilege over another person. Pop culture and media outlets now refer to 2020 as “the year of Karens.” But this girl-name-turned-synonym-for-obnoxiousness reveals more about our culture than meets the eye. It is not just about the calling out of racist, classist and generally terrible attitudes toward fellow humans that are ingrained in the Karens and too many other people, but arguably the whole Karen bandwagon also shows the ease with which women are demonized. After all, men have been behaving badly and acting like “Karens” and much worse since time immemorial. Yet even now when a man oversteps his bounds and footage of him doing so goes viral — and even though there’s a push to introduce the male version of the name as Ken — these terrible men are still called Karen.
This should not surprise us. After all, most languages in the world today have been advanced, shaped and bolstered by patriarchy, a worldview that casually promotes the male gaze and male toxicity.
We find this in the common proverbs used anywhere in the world — from Egypt with its endemic culture of sexual harassment, to Germany with its shockingly high rate of femicide, to the United States where women’s health is not yet enshrined as a human right — that objectify and demean women, even encouraging violence against us. “Al mara afaa,” one saying goes, meaning “women are snakes.” Another goes “darb al habib zay akel el zebeeb,” meaning “hitting a loved one is (as mild as) eating raisins.” And in the English language dismissing women as “hysterical,” “desperate” or “crazy” continues in some shape even among sophisticated circles. Not to mention the endless and vulgar misogynistic phrases unfit for print, yet casually sung in songs or traded, say, during the Super Bowl, when domestic violence around the country spikes. [Continue reading…]