Karen Should Not be Used as an Insult

It is not racist, It is not ableist, yet I still think that it should not be used as an insult, not by people who care about doing just by others.

In my opinion, there are several reasons that make ableist and racist insults not OK. One of them is obviously the long and painful history behind these words. This connects with the punching down when a dominant group uses words describing members of a group that is subjugated or discriminated against as insults, thus perpetuating negative stereotypes. These two of course do not apply to the word Karen. There is no long history of discriminatory/derogatory use and there is no punching down against a persecuted minority.

But there are more reasons that do apply, and to me, they are enough for me to conclude the statement in the title.

The first of those is the broad brush that paints people with certain characteristics as being all the same. You might see it as me arguing “not all white women are Karens” but that is not the case. I am arguing that not all Karens are Karens.

That continues on to the second argument – associating completely irrelevant, innocuous characteristics of a group of people with negative characteristics of some members of that group. Like connecting skin color with low intelligence or propensity to criminal behavior. Or like associating an ordinary, everyday name of some people of a certain group with being an obnoxious, self-righteous, and entitled asshole. Not the same thing, but in my opinion similar enough.

The third argument that I wish to mention is the association of characteristics that any given person has little to no power of changing with negative character flaws. Associating black skin with thuggery does not differ from associating someone’s name with assholery in principle, it only differs in degree and some context.

And lastly, I cannot of course speak for everyone, but my name and its derivative nickname that my close friends use, are very personal things to me. I could not and would not change it. I know people who changed names (trans people), but they never felt the connection with their given name that I feel with mine for reasons that are well beyond the scope of this short article. I would not take it well if my name – which by sheer coincidence differs from Karen in one single letter despite coming from entirely different etymological roots – became a meme and subsequently an insult. Even if there is only one white woman named Karen who is not a selfish, entitled, and racist asshole, I think it is still too unjust to her to use her personal name as an insult. And statistically speaking, it is unlikely there is only one.

I might not be right in this, but you won’t hear or read me using Karen as a go-to term for white asshole women. I will use the longer descriptive terms on an individual basis where and when they are relevant unless and until I am convinced that my reasoning here is ronk.


  1. StonedRanger says

    This is just my take but I think the name associated with the actions isnt always about being a white woman. There are plenty of women of color and latinx heritage (or any other heritage for that matter) that can be just as horrible. I accept that you dont like the name and I will make it my policy not to use it around you. I dont really get out much so Im not affected by that type of person so much that I need to use that particular pejorative when there are so many existing ones that will serve as well.

  2. Allison says

    One objection (of many) I have to using “Karen” as an insult is that it’s kind of misogynistic. It is explicitly female — I don’t see men who act that way (and there are plenty) being called “Karens” — so there’s a subtext that part of the awfulness is that the “Karen” is female. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up just meaning any woman whose behavior you don’t like, like any number of other misgynistic slurs.

    “Entitled asshole” may be a few more syllables, but it has the advantage that it explicitly expresses what you’re complaining about, and it’s not gendered.

  3. StevoR says

    Agreed, noted and I won’t use it as such. There are a lot of good human beings with the name of Karen just as there are a lot of bad human beings named many things including Karen but also, well, almost (?) every other name.

  4. kenbakermn says

    I agree. I know pretty well at least four women by that name and none of them are remotely like a ‘Karen’.

  5. flex says

    Thank you Allison @2,

    That is my feeling exactly. I tried writing a comment to express that feeling, but after I got over 1000 words, I realized no one would bother to read it, so I didn’t post it. I have avoided using the designator “Karen”, and will continue to do so precisely because of the concern you mention.

Leave a Reply