One of my coworkers is the biggest Karen I know. She started a campaign to redecorate the office earlier this year. She thought it looked “very unprofessional.” She called it “embarrassing.”
Nobody can stand our Karen. She stalls everything with her self-proclaimed high standards, which are really just her personal preferences about how the world should look and sound.
She’s kept students from graduating over comma splices in their papers that weren’t even comma splices.
Our Karen complained her way to full professor. Every year since then, she’s complained about her salary — even though she makes more than people who publish twice as much as her.
So yes, I quietly resent Karen.
And yet, I also pity her.
Our Karen has mastered the skills needed to ascend to the throne of her own little bee hive. She’s taken most of her life to get where she is, but she’s burned herself down in the process. She’ll never get any further in life. She has no friends, no family, and nothing to enjoy. So, what are some habits of Karens — and what makes them act this way?
1. They try to correct your grammar.
Karen wants you to understand that you’re butchering the English language. She hates it when you turn nouns into verbs. She confuses real grammar with everything her seventh grade English teacher taught her. Since then, everyone else has been an idiot.
Karen is often wrong, but she doesn’t know it.
2. They interrupt absolutely everyone.
There’s someone even worse than manterrupters in meetings, and that’s Karen. She doesn’t care who’s talking. She’ll say whatever she wants, when she wants to — even if she doesn’t know what she’s going to say. She’ll take long pauses to finish her thoughts. If you try to get a word in, she’ll say, “I’m not done yet,” or “Let me finish.”
3. They K-splain all the time.
Karen listened to a mansplaining once and decided she wanted to try that. She liked it, so now she does it to everyone regardless of age, rank, or gender. Here she comes, lecturing experts on their own topics and declaring her own ideas the only ones worth hearing. Karen knows more than medical doctors, statisticians, and political scientists. A K-splain is just like a thunderstorm. All you can do is wait it out.
4. They refuse to learn technology.
Karen is always breaking the copier, and it’s always the copier’s fault. She loves to share her opinion about how technology is corrupting our culture — until she needs to figure out how to use a wireless mouse. Then she bombards you with questions. If you’re under 40, Karen believes you’re obligated to show her how to do one specific thing on a computer at a time. Karen doesn’t want to learn how to use software. She wants you to always be there to help her rotate a PDF or attach a file.
5. They come up with work for everyone else.
Karen wants you to host a party at your house sometime soon. She wants you to plan a fundraising event. She wants you to organize a conference. She wants to hold meetings where someone else writes down all of her brilliant ideas and then makes them happen.
6. They love pointing out mistakes.
Karen never admits mistakes. But if she makes one, it was because someone else created a situation that allowed human error. Karen’s favorite line is, “Why did you let me do that?” Karen’s problems are always caused by someone else, or by technology. It is Karen’s right and duty to point out every single thing that’s wrong with the world.
7. They put a hair in their own salad.
The rest of us are trying our best to find something good in life, something to enjoy and appreciate. Not Karen. She lives to find the hair in her salad. She loves sending food back. She scales up this behavior. It doesn’t matter what Karen gets. Karen will complain. And if she can’t find something wrong, she’ll screw it up herself. Ask anyone who’s worked in a restaurant. Karen will ruin her own food so she can demand a refund.
8. They can’t take yes for an answer.
Karen masters the art of getting her way — usually over trivial things that nobody cares about. They think they’re skilled in the art of negotiation and being the squeaky wheel. Honestly, everyone just wants to get rid of them. Over time, getting what she wants doesn’t satisfy Karen anymore. Talking to the manager isn’t enough. Getting the refund or the expired coupon validated isn’t enough. Now she needs a signed letter of apology, and a lifetime supply of salad dressing and/or cat food. She also needs at least one person to get fired. And she needs to give that young man a lecture.
9. They devour your lunch break.
Being Karen is exhausting. After a full day complaining, Karen needs her beauty sleep. But Karen can’t sleep. She’s spent her entire day in hand-crafted misery. So what’s Karen’s next move? Finding at least one person to tell about her day. If she can’t phone a friend, she’ll track you down tomorrow at work. She’ll wait by the coffee maker until you come by, then she’ll pounce. She’ll devour your entire lunch hour sharing her worldview with you. You can’t tell Karen you’re busy, or that you were planning to run an errand, or schedule an appointment. Your time belongs to Karen. If you even hint that you can’t talk, that makes you rude.
10. They protest absolutely everything.
Karen is always the first one to start complaining about Starbucks cups every Christmas. She’s the one who makes a big fuss about black Disney princesses, and having to wear a mask at Costco. During the off seasons, Karen is trying to return something at Target without a receipt. She wants to know why her coupons don’t work. She wants to know why she can’t take her 75 items through the express checkout.
Why Karen acts like this all the time.
Karen does all this because she lacks actual autonomy in her life. She’s been taught since childhood that feminism is poison and toxic masculinity doesn’t exist. Instead of challenging sexism, she mimics it. Karen treats everyone the way she feels she’s been treated.
Karen thinks the only way to earn respect or authority is to act like a mediocre, entitled white dude.
Karen used to be pretty. She used to get attention from men, but only because of her looks — which faded a few years ago. Now she’s just invisible, unless she stands up for herself. But she doesn’t know what to stand up for, besides her own wants and needs.
Odds are, she’s raised a couple of her own mediocre offspring to depend on her for everything — food, laundry, housekeeping. When her kids fail their math class, she browbeats the teacher for a C+.
This is Karen’s life. She has no real control over it, and opts out of any struggle that would give her some.
Karen reigns supreme over the few things she can. She’s desperately clinging to the little bit of turf she has left. That’s why she gets so prickly about trips to the hair salon or the spa. These are the last few places where Karen feels any respect. We’re all irritated by Karen. But she’s just a symptom of a bigger problem we need to deal with.
It’s probably too late to save all the current Karens out there. But we can socially-distance ourselves from them. We can fix our culture to stop producing them. And we can vaccinate future generations by giving them a clearer sense of purpose.