In the Middle of a Pandemic
Like everyone else, women whose name is Karen are scared, isolated, exhausted and confused by the contradictory messaging about Covid. We’re worried about loved ones, about our jobs, and about how the world may be changed forever by the virus. Most of all, like everyone, we need to feel connection with other human beings.
The one thing we all share right now—whatever our names are—is a feeling of separation from others. The sense of “in it together” has taken a huge hit as attitudes toward the pandemic itself have divided us. Physically, most of us are isolated, practicing social distancing. We connect with people mostly through the internet.
But for women whose birth name is Karen, going on social media is like going to a party where other guests keep yelling your name at the top of their lungs, their voices full of mockery and anger. Even the most innocent, non-political Facebook groups are often awash with demeaning “Karen” remarks and memes. As one real Karen said sadly, “Even a group for painting kindness rocks isn’t safe.”
In the middle of a pandemic is a heck of a time to fill the internet with jokes, insults and abuse targeting the name of some two million people. And it isn’t only on the internet. Even as we’re longing (like everyone else) to rejoin society, the “Karen” fad is spreading like a toxic waste spill in the real world.
One woman named Karen decided, after months of staying at home, to venture out for what she hoped would be a bit of normalcy: lunch in a local restaurant with her daughter. When they got there, a signboard at the door said, “Wear A Mask—This Means You, Karen!” She didn’t want to make a fuss, so she went on in—but once seated at the table, she found that despite her best efforts “not to take it personally,” she was no longer hungry and she couldn’t stop a quiet trickle of tears.
And yet when women with the name Karen object to the name-shaming, we often get comments such as, “In the middle of a pandemic, this is what you’re worried about?”
The idea that people shouldn’t be hurt by humiliation and rejection in the middle of a pandemic assumes that when the stakes are literally life and death, we stop caring about human connection.
Of course, many of the people pushing “Karen” memes aren’t thinking of women named Karen as people at all. They’re thinking of meme-”Karens” even when they’re harassing flesh-and-blood women whose actual name is Karen.
One Friday night in August, a popular YouTuber made a video mocking the idea of support groups for women who share the name Karen. He encouraged his followers to “troll” one specific support group, which I belong to.
Inside the group, the post that had the most activity that night was by a woman named Karen whose mother had just been taken to the hospital by ambulance. The doctors weren’t sure her mother was going to survive until morning. Women were commenting with encouraging messages and prayers for her mother to make it.
Meanwhile, the moderators were busy fending off dozens upon dozens of men who were trying to get into this group that is only for women with the name Karen. It was clear that these men were answering the call to “troll” the group, to ridicule the “Karens” by posting “Karen memes” and insults.
For me, that night epitomized what the “Karen” name-shame fad is like. Women named Karen trying, like everyone else, to hold onto human connection, love, caring, and life itself—while outside is a raging storm of mockery and abuse coming from people who think they have societal permission to make fun of complete strangers.
So yes, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. That’s all the more reason to be kind to one another, not to turn to “jokes” that hurt and divide people.
As a friend of mine (who is not named Karen) summed it up: “In the middle of a pandemic, this is what they want to do to people?!”
Surely we can treat one another better than this.