Reclaiming 'Karen': I'll wear the name badge with as much dignity as I can muster

As problematic 'Karens' pop up all over social media and a new tongue-in-cheek 'Karendar' is in production in Co Wexford, Karen Murray says she still loves her name - and she never demands to speak to the manager
Reclaiming 'Karen': I'll wear the name badge with as much dignity as I can muster

"No, I’m not famous. I’m just called Karen," says Karen Murray. Picture: Larry Cummins

When I was an impressionable tween many, many moons ago, a good indicator of having ‘made it’ in life was getting your own calendar.

I remember one hanging over the bed featuring Adam Ant, resplendent in war paint, for March and Simon Le Bon emanating a moody smile for June (am guessing at the dates here, it was a long time ago, but you get the drift).

Now I’ve finally made it. WeirdWatercolours, a print and design company run in Wexford by an LGBTQ couple, has unveiled “The Karender”, featuring a strongly worded complaint for every month of the year.

So, no, I’m not famous. I’m just called Karen, I’m not actually a Karen - although, admittedly, I am the right age, colour, and sex. No crew cut though. And while I’ve never been accused of being backward at coming forward, it would take a pretty dismal service for me to ‘demand’ to see the manager.

Karens have become a bit of a joke over the past few years. Our worst crime up until then was having a fairly nondescript name (I'm pretty sure my mother had a very different vision when she chose the moniker). Now we have become a widespread meme depicting angry, rude, entitled and often racist white women of a certain age.

It’s no wonder CSO figures show only three people named Karen were born in Ireland last year.

“The Karender” by WeirdWatercolours is a fun calendar that has a strongly worded complaint for every month of the year.
“The Karender” by WeirdWatercolours is a fun calendar that has a strongly worded complaint for every month of the year.

The meme became popular around 2018 as a way for people of colour, particularly black Americans, to satirise the class-based and racially charged hostility they often face. Reflecting the growth in technology, incidents and confrontations were increasingly filmed on smartphones and uploaded to social media. When they went viral, perpetrators were assigned names that seemed to fit in with the absurdity of the attack and ‘Karen’ was one of the ones that stuck.

In New York last summer, white woman Amy Cooper called the police after an altercation with a black man who had asked her to put a leash on her dog in Central Park. A hysterical “An African American man is threatening my life” phone call was filmed and uploaded. It went viral and Amy Cooper became a ‘Karen' that day. She also got sacked and the viral clip sparked new hate crime legislation in the US.

The pandemic also spawned 'Coronavirus Karen', who doesn’t feel the need to wear a mask in public, complains about her civil liberties being breached as a result of restrictions, and generally thinks Covid is an awful lot of fuss about nothing. She’s not too keen on vaccines either and loves nothing better than a really loud rant about conspiracy theories.

There has been a counter-movement by those who feel the term is sexist and ageist. 

A Facebook group called Karens against ‘Karens’: A Positive Group has 1,200 members and there are several other ‘Karens United’ pages. However, some might say that only Karens would bother to retaliate.

WeirdWatercolours has yet to get any backlash from the Karen brigade over its latest product.

“We’ve seen the growth of calling someone a Karen in the past few years and with the decline of the name in Ireland, we thought it’d be fun to create a calendar about these people we’ve all experienced,” says Abigail Denniston, one of the co-founders.

“It’s all a bit of fun and it seems to be a hit already as we’re getting pre-order requests for it,” adds partner Audrey Gleeson.

So, I’ve decided to take the high road and wear the name badge with as much dignity as I can muster. My daughter reassures me that she told her friends that I didn’t act like a ‘Karen’. In the same breath, though, she said she’d buy me a Karendar for Christmas.

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