For a brief period in 2004, long before internet memes made insults so readily sharable, my given name had its moment of mockery. A group of linguists studied the effect of vowel quality in a man's name on his perceived sex appeal, and for at least a week or two people slyly asked me about the widely shared (for then) headline reporting the findings: "Matt is sexier than Paul."
So I can sympathize with the many decent women named Karen out there who unwittingly lent their name to a meme that pillories toxic white privilege and worse. Immediately after columnist Robin Abcarian's take on the subject was published earlier this week, a handful of readers named Karen mostly shrugged off the slur, but a smaller number took offense. Since then, more real-life Karens in the latter category have written to us; here is what they had to say.
Karen Scott Browdy of Fillmore objects to any name-based meme:
My name is Swedish, having come out of my grandparents’ family, who came to the U.S. from Sweden through Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century. I have spent my life as a teacher, striving to make quality education a priority.
So, it was disappointing to see Abcarian draw attention to the unflattering "Karen" meme in two recent columns. Why personalize that egregious sort of behavior with a specific person's name?
One thought would be to re-name it "Donald," after someone who actually exhibits that behavior. But that’s not fair for the very same reasons that the Karen meme is not appropriate. Any person's name used in this way paints with a broad brush, diminishing scores of people just like the attitude it supposedly represents.
Let's just call the behavior what it is: elitist, entitled and obnoxious.
Karen Goran of Anaheim speaks up for thoughtful Karens:
I read Abcarian's column with great sadness. Using a certain name in such a hateful manner seems to appeal to humanity's basest instinct. Three of my friends named Karen have lived their lives in thoughtful and caring ways, as have I.
What would Abcarian think if the meme were changed to "Robin"? It seems rather shameful to address shameful behavior with more shameful behavior.
Certainly, Abcarian can do better by encouraging more appropriate responses to objectionable behavior than using this insult.
Karen Heyman of La Jolla says she does not want to be bullied:
The Karen meme is misogynistic and ageist. Columnists should be objecting to it rather than making excuses for it.
As someone who was bullied as a child, I refuse to humor a trend that mocks my name. Woe be unto you if you keep insulting your middle-aged readers.
Vincent Brook of Los Angeles speaks up for his wife:
I'm writing on behalf of my wife, Karen, and I'm sure for Karens of all colors and ages when I say, please cease the senseless sexist stigmatizing of a name that means no harm to anyone.