Confessions of a ‘Karen’
And no, I’m not sorry at all
I have a dear friend. Her name is Karen and she is a talented weaver, a tireless worker, a loyal friend, soft-spoken, intelligent and kind. I can’t imagine her calling the police on a bird-watcher who happened to be Black or threatening a Brown family of picnickers/barbecuers in a park or accusing her Asian neighbours of spreading the Corona virus. Neither would I behave that way. I also wouldn’t assume that a dark-skinned person in my neighbourhood didn’t belong there or was up to no good. It wouldn’t occur to me that a person with more melanin in their skin than I have had any less of a right to live, work, walk, play and be wherever they wished.
It’s hard to imagine my friend Karen getting angry enough to indulge in outbursts of any kind but I am assured that she’s been known to voice her opinion. So have I. I’ve actually been accustomed to having my opinion sought out about various things and therefore respected. I understand that that is a level of privilege that a number of people have not experienced.
I firmly believe that being ignored or actively excluded is never acceptable. We all deserve respect and inclusion. Therefore, I try to use my voice to assist in enfranchising people who otherwise might not have their voice heard. However, recently I’ve had some experiences that have angered me enough to speak up for myself.
I just read an article in defence of ‘angry Karens’ and it got me to thinking. Does speaking up make me a ‘Karen’?
This article pointed out that just having a complaint and voicing it if you are a white, middle-class woman of a certain age can be perceived as ‘karen-ness’. That voicing any opinion with energy, often perceived as anger in women, tends to put you in the category of ‘difficult’. I’ve certainly been called bitch to my face and told I was throwing a ‘hissy-fit’ and/or having a tantrum. But that was hardly fair. Let’s not call expressing an opinion strongly a ‘tantrum’ unless it’s inappropriate. Not all complaints voiced by women are inappropriate. If we act as if they are then we have silenced women — again. Haven’t we?
What made me angry enough to speak up and then reflect about that experience and my behaviour and wonder if I’d crossed the Karen-line? It was being treated as invisible.
There are times when I am grateful for my cloak of invisibility. Once you reach the age of invisibility you no longer have to shrug off unwanted comments, cat-calls or touches by men who think they own you because you are female and they are male. I never once felt nostalgic for those days. But now, I sometimes feel as if I’m not only invisible but that I have shrunk to Rick Moranis size and that my voice is the unheard squeak of a mouse. That makes me mad.
I was in a local builder’s shopping centre. You know the kind of place, where 90% of the customers are men, buying man things to hit or chop up other man things. Pardon me. I see my pique is showing. I was there in the man bastion because I wanted paint. I approached a clerk, a young man, with a question and was literally elbowed aside by an older man (who should have known better) who also had a question. I waited and when he left, I was two words into my own question when the same man reappeared from the opposite side and elbowed me out of the way again! I seethed in politeness and waited. Then as I started to talk again my own darling husband comes up to the clerk and begins asking a wholly unrelated question. All the time these one-two-three blows are going on, the clerk never once acknowledged that I was standing right in front of him.
Pause a moment for some remembered vexation. “Hold on a minute!” I interjected and then proceeded to explain just why I was peeved.
“Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean that I don’t need paint!” formed part of my mini-lecture. But the upshot was that this clerk just ignored me even though he had three chances to see and hear me and I felt that sort of behaviour for a person in a service oriented business was unacceptable. If you want to stay in business, do business with the people who are there to do business with you. Treat everyone with respect. SEE the person who needs your expertise and who’s waited patiently until all patience has fled.
Did my ‘Karen-esque’ meltdown do any good? I really don’t know. The young man kept saying ‘okay, okay, right, okay’ in that slow, calm way that you use to talk to the possibly, dangerously deranged. Eventually, I ran out of steam. My husband, who is a gem, supported me and said he should have pointed out that I was there and that he was sorry he’d barged right in. As for me, no, I’m not sorry I gave that young clerk a ‘piece of my mind’. But that’s my privilege.
Now, for the personal reflection and the real lesson here; despite how ‘right’ I might have been in this instance, I probably would not have been able to get my points across if I’d had more melanin in my skin. My voice would likely not have been heard because I probably would not have made a scene like I most assuredly did. I’d have absorbed one more instance of micro-aggression and felt diminished by it.
Being older and invisible is new to me. Being a woman and ignored in certain settings isn’t really new. But I have never been Black and I cannot feel what it is like to experience the daily insults and injuries that racism inflicts. I can however, extrapolate and acknowledge how awful, how exhausting and painful it must be. I can empathize and vow to consider and to think and to advocate when I can. I can try to be an ally. I can work to change things for the better. But please, please help me to do that.