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In these trying times, lesbian radical feminist Julie Bindel is debating whether ‘Karen’ is a slur. Yes, really

Vic Parsons April 6, 2020
Is Karen a slur? In these trying times, some people are actually asking this

Stock image of an angry woman. (Envato/microgen)

With the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic passing 70,000 and the UK government considering keeping us all indoors, this morning we awoke to a vital debate that started on Twitter: Is the name Karen a slur?

This was sparked by a Twitter account that started a poll: “The term ‘Karen’ is being used as a sexist and racist slur. Considering this is an equivalent of the n-word for white women, should it be banned on Twitter?”

Obviously, white women being called out using the name “Karen” is not the same as white people using the n-word – because reverse racism doesn’t exist, for starters – and 96 per cent of the almost 130,000 people who have answered so far said “No”.

But then Julie Bindel, the controversial Guardian journalist and radical feminist, asked: “Does anyone else think the ‘Karen’ slur is woman hating and based on class prejudice?”

And so, the discourse expanded.

Bindel’s peers agreed with her that using “Karen” is “sexist, classist and ageist, in that order”. People of colour asked whether Bindel and co understood that “Karen” is used as shorthand to describe middle-class white women being casually racist.

White women defended themselves, saying they didn’t mean it that way, but the other way.

So far, so familiar for a day on the internet. And like so many of the days on the internet during coronavirus lockdown, tensions were higher and emotions stronger than usual.

Karen: a brief history.

To backtrack slightly, the name Karen is often used to describe an “annoying, middle-aged white woman” with a bob, according to Urban Dictionary.

Synonymous – in internet discourse, at least – with a white woman who lacks empathy in certain situations, gets annoyed and asks to speak to the manager, Karen as a meme has been around since at least 2016 and took off in 2017 when the /r/F**kYouKaren subReddit began.

Bindel equating “Karen” with a slur follows on from the commonly insisted “TERF is a slur” – an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”.

The acronym is used to describe “gender critical” activists and feminists, like Bindel, who don’t include trans women in their feminism or in their fight for women’s rights (confusingly, not all “gender critical” activists are happy being called a feminist, and not all feminists who exclude trans women are happy being called gender critical, although the two groups are comprised of mostly the same people who state almost identical arguments against trans rights).

While “TERF is a slur” is used to shut down conversations, usually led by trans people, about the impact of transphobia in society on trans rights, denoting “Karen” as a slur shuts down a different conversation: the one about the casual, everyday racism meted out by privileged, middle-class white woman towards people of colour.

But what do people called Karen think?

Is Karen a slur?

A very scientific sample of three people called Karen was conducted.

Karen Pollock, whose viral tweet insisted that Karen is not a slur, told PinkNews that “people offended by Karen memes kind of need to stop behaving like Karens”.

“I love the memes they make me laugh,” Pollock said. “Those PTA /soccer moms/Karen’s can be so toxic.”

Pollock added that using “Karen” in this way is “not about an individual called Karen but about an attitude lacking in empathy, which reeks of entitlement”.

As for the beginning of the meme, they said: “As far as I know, it’s origins are African-American vernacular and it refers to white women who use privilege over service workers who are often women of colour.

“It means a privileged middle class white woman who talks over, won’t listen to others and lacks empathy with those outside her social circle.”

Given that the world is facing a global health crisis of proportions not seen since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, Pollock thought that focusing on whether “Karen” is a slur is not the best use of time currently.

“When women are locked in with their abusers, child abuse is going to explode and mothers can’t feed their kids it cements Bindel’s increasing irrelevance,” they said.

“I expected nothing more from someone who has tried to insist ‘cis’ is a slur. I suggest she buy a dictionary.”

The second Karen, Karen K, also disagreed that Karen is a slur.

“I think the Karen meme is hilarious, I have laughed about it myself,” she said. “I like to post naughty things on Facebook, I don’t care what people think of me!”

Karen K added that she thinks the concept of “Karen” being used as a slur is “ridiculous”.

“The name actually has a really good meaning, it means ‘pure’,” she said.

Karen Self told PinkNews that she wasn’t aware of “Karen” being used negatively in the UK until she saw it on Twitter.

“I think it is disgraceful and ageist to use Karen as a slur,” she said. “To tar the many hard working, decent Karens with an ageist connotation – not my kind of feminism.”

Self added, though, that “Julie Bindel is known for her opposition to the acronym TERF, which she regards as a slur.

“To call out the name Karen and question whether that is a term of offence – when she herself continuously offends the trans community. Hypocrite.”

Meanwhile, offline, 1.3 million cases of coronavirus have been confirmed around the world.

Julie Bindel has been contacted for comment.

More: Julie Bindel, Karen, racial slurs, slur, terf

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