Sunday August 9 2020
A non-pandemic thought for your consideration on this Sunday.
What is middle-aged? And is it different for women than men? After all, our culture generally considers men the better at keeping their rugged looks as they mature into their forties and on up. While women, though we do keep up global commerce by trying real hard, we tend to, I don’t know, sag in more places that our fairer silver fox counterparts.
Stay with me here. I’m going somewhere with this thought.
Merriam-Webster, always a sober material to reference, defines middle-aged as between 45 to 65 years. And I guess that sounds about right. You could wiggle the numbers a little up or down, but I think most of us would agree with M-W’s assessment.
Now a scenario to consider:
The person in front of you at the grocery check-out is taking longer than the usual transaction should. Of course, you’re standing on the big X sticker on the floor – the marker to ensure you maintain a six-foot distance – so, it’s hard to hear the conversation between cashier and shopper. Until voices are raised to signify an injustice has befallen upon the loyal customer. And by voices, it’s merely the shopper who’s shouting. The cashier is calm, safely behind the plexiglass, which will be helpful to avoid the impending spittle storm.
Turns out, there’s a disagreement regarding the store’s limit of how much bottled water a customer can purchase in one transaction. Just when you wonder if this is going to take forever to resolve, the shopper demands a manager, and so you start looking for another checkout line to get in.
Ok, so who did you picture as the shopper? Did you imagine a woman of a certain age, perhaps she was white?
Yeah? So she was being a Karen, the trendy new way to insult women.
A Karen is defined these days as a middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to police others and generally get her way. She’s obnoxious, bossy, entitled, nosy, and usually blatantly racist. In the countless memes of the day, she is shown with short highlighted hair, the I-want-to-speak-with-the-manager style. Even if you don’t have someone like this in your social circle, you probably can recall an unpleasant encounter.
Being a Karen is thing. Don’t be a Karen, they say. But what if we switched genders in the grocery scenario? Because, plot twist!, that’s how it actually went down. I witnessed a guy losing his shit with the cashier about the bottled water limits. He was an entitled, belligerent … what? A jerk? An asshole?
Using the Merriam-Webster definition, a middle-aged woman today would have been born between 1955 and 1975, a neat thirty-year span. According to ssa.gov’s database, Karen was the #8 name given to babies born in the 1950’s, fitting between Debra and Nancy in popularity. In the 1960’s, baby Karens rose to #4, in between their sisters Susan and Kimberly. She suffered a steep drop to #25 during the turbulent 1970’s, below Tracy, but higher than Dawn.
The new Karen memes make me uncomfortable, and not just because ssa.gov places Karen’s popularity so very, very close to my own name. But hey, I already have my own problems with the whole Prima Donna thing. We don’t need to add to it.
Did you notice the guy at the grocery doesn’t get a meme with a name that shames a very defined demographic of people. Sure, we could give him the age-old label of calling him a Dick, but that’s the closest to a noun he gets.
It’s how the woman-shaming is tied up all neat with a pretty bow that bugs me. It’s specific to who’s being targeted, while somehow blurring the line between a woman standing up for herself and someone being an insufferable bitch.
“Be a woman,” they say. “Don’t let people walk all over you.”
“Yeah, ok. Dial it down a notch, Karen.”
And it’s a gender specific and well, personal, attack. White entitlement, privilege, and arrogance are bigger than this and defies personification.
I know this will pass and the collective hive mind of social media will move onto another dragon to slay. Give it another couple of weeks, maybe.
And if you’re reading this and your name is Karen, I’m sure you’re a very nice person. Stay strong, sister.