'I'm a Woman Called Karen—Please Don't Drag My Name Through the Mud (Or I'll Call The Manager)'

I live in Seattle, Washington with my husband and two teenage children. I've lived here my whole life apart from a year in North Carolina just after I was born.

A few months ago I was on a call with some colleagues of mine. A couple of us have teenage children and we were talking about the "OK Boomer" meme, when one person said that she was starting to hear "OK Karen".

I started searching for it on Google and realized that "Karen" was a meme too. It's become more nuanced over recent weeks and morphed to have deeper political undertones, but when I first found out about the "Karen" meme it was more about this obnoxious woman in retail spaces, causing a fuss and complaining to the manager, or making a stink to her kids' teachers.

I don't like to complain to the manager. I worked in retail for a long time, so I know that "Karen" type of person. She's annoying and unpleasant and you don't like her. I work really hard not to be obnoxious and to treat my servers well at restaurants.

And I try really hard not to be difficult with my kids' teachers. I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated, which is not how a "Karen" treats people!

But at the same time, we all have moments where we think, "this isn't ok and I need to speak up." Now I'm in a weird situation where I am not going to speak up because I'm named Karen, and I don't want to be anything like the "Karen" who is going to speak up about anything that could be wrong. I'm having to constantly filter myself. I will now ask my kids, "is that something a "Karen" would do?"

Karen, meme, zeitgeist
Karen Nelson, who loved her name until 2020, when the "Karen meme" became part of popular culture. KAREN NELSON

I'm kind of a name nerd, and I like looking at the trends of names. I think as a 48-year-old Karen I was kind of on the tail end of the trend of naming kids Karen, based on what I can tell. Karens in real life are closer to 50-years-old, which is maybe why the meme is attached to our name.

My question now is often, "is that a Karen thing to do?" I do try not to be an "in your face" mom. My son's football coach came over yesterday, social distancing but bringing new uniforms. My son went out and I wanted to go out there, but I didn't want to be the mom who's hovering. I was wondering if that would be too "Karen?"

I'm now hyper vigilant about behaving appropriately so I don't accidentally become the stereotype. I have never worn my hair short like a "Karen"—that's not my style. I colour my hair but I prefer a natural look, so I've never had frosted tips. I like to be put together, though maybe "Karen" has more fashion sense than I do.

Really, most of the Karens I've met are generally quieter, less in your face, bossy or domineering. We want to treat people well. It can be problematic when you vilify any group of people according to one defining characteristic. But at the same time, it's a joke and it is funny. I want to have a good sense of humor—I do think all of us Karens want to have a good sense of humor.

I am completely a "soccer mom" and a "sports mom" though, my son plays football and my daughter plays soccer, but I'm the quiet mom at the sidelines. I'm not the one yelling at the ref, whereas I'm sure "Karen" would yell at the ref all the time.

My son turns 18 soon and my daughter is 15-years-old. Mostly they find the "Karen" meme funny. But we have had some serious conversations where they tell me I'm not a "Karen." Their friends know my name too, so they can all have a laugh about it being Karen. I feel really lucky we're doing lockdown with teenagers. They manage their school and their own lives, and it's been really good for us all. We've had more family time, and a little less school stress.

We miss seeing friends but we've connected more and I like that. My husband is an attorney and also working from home. I'm in the living room, he's in the kitchen, my son's downstairs "at school," and my daughter is in her bedroom "at school."

My husband's reaction to the "Karen" meme is a little like mine, I think both of us are just wondering when this is going to blow over! I kind of want it to go big so it can be over.

I registered my business in the middle of this whole pandemic and "Karen" meme situation—my business name is "Karen Nelson Digital". Now I'm wondering if that was a smart move. I hope so.

What's interesting is that within my demographic I'm not seeing a lot of the "Karen" meme. It's not showing up in my social news feeds. And in fact, during zoom calls with my friends I was making jokes about it, and one of my friends asked, "what's the 'Karen' thing?!"

But because I run Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest ads for my clients I probably notice it more, and saw it earlier.

Interestingly, I have noticed a lot more passion and vitriol on the internet and social media lately. Sometimes you get comments from users on the ads I run, and usually they're benign. But as soon as the pandemic hit, I started to notice a lot more angry responses on posts. People are stressed, and when they are stressed they can become angry.

Karen, meme, popular culture, Seattle
Karen Nelson (far right) with her husband and children. Karen admits she is a "soccer mom" but says she is not obnoxious like the "Karen" from the now viral meme. KAREN NELSON

I think it is problematic that the internet can present a false image. If we were to pretend the "Karen" meme was a real person we could talk to, you're really just seeing her one bad moment in the store. You're not seeing the other 90 percent of the time where she's a good mom to her kids—advocating for them and helping them. That is exactly how social media works, you see a one dimensional version of a person.

And to have people defined by one moment is unfortunate. Even the nicest people in the world probably have a "Karen" moment here or there.

Karen and her husband, Sven, live in Washington state where they are raising their two teenagers. She owns Karen Nelson Digital, a social media advertising agency specializing in Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest ads. Up until 2020, she loved her name, and has no plans for a "Karen" haircut.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.