Why There’s No Male Equivalent to “Karen”
“Karen: A racist white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.” --Wikipedia
Recently, a White woman in a workshop said she was offended by the use of the name Karen and felt it was sexist. Other people shared they knew women named Karen, or were named Karen themselves, and felt offended being grouped with racist White women. Then a friend posted her frustration with men belittling Karens on Facebook. She asked what the male equivalent would be to this term.
I recognize the way the Karen meme ridicules White women in a way men never experience because of misogyny. When I see White men repeatedly pointing out the racist behavior of White women, it turns my stomach. When I see White women take pleasure in highlighting out how different they are from “those” problematic Karens, I wonder about the ways we’ve internalized the sexist competition to be the best White woman in the room.
And asking if there is a male equivalent sets up the conversation as if there could be some kind of false equivalency in this gendered form of white supremacy. Instead of looking for male equivalents, I think we're better served by understanding how White women and White men exercise our racism differently.
The Karen meme gave a name to an insidious form of racism where White women's assumed innocence is used to uphold both patriarchy and White supremacy and has resulted in lynchings--both metaphorically and literally--of Black men that continue today. When she asks to speak to the manager, she expects to be speaking to a White man who believes her. Karens are buying into our role in perpetuating both racism and sexism as we abdicate our own agency, claim we're being attacked, and then ask White men to fix it for us.
Wielding racism by calling on systems controlled by White men is a unique and privileged characteristic of White women. The male counterparts tend to act out their racism more directly, including George Zimmerman who followed and murdered Trayvon Martin, even after the 911 operator told him not to, and the men who deputized themselves to hunt and kill Ahmaud Arbery.
When individual White women (including those named Karen) focus on and personalize being associated with the racist actions of other White women, we're missing the point and centering our feelings rather than the feelings of those oppressed by racism. We may feel implicated when People of Color point out the racism they experience from other White women and respond defensively. Instead of trying to prove we are personally "non-racist", we can take anti-racist action to change ourselves and other White women and ensure we stop the behaviors being called out by People of Color who coined the term Karen. We can explore together what White women can do to counter our complicity with patriarchal White supremacy that results in the actions of Karens in the first place.