I am Karen, and I have known many a Karen in my time. Growing up, Karens dominated my grade school, middle and high schools. There was Karen Klein, Karen Kleker, Karen King, Karen Koglin, Karen Leske, Karen Fahey, Karen Rogin, Karen Ledford, Karen Bermudez and probably several more I’ve forgotten.
I came to bear the name, according to family legend, when my older sister became enamored of a precocious blonde named Karen from “The Mickey Mouse Club” TV show. Although she got a little sister, she was disappointed when my mother brought home a redhead from the hospital.
As I got older, I became accustomed to the familiar feeling of running into more Karens. There were a few in my college dorm, and three more in my sorority, Karen Maish and two Karens with Lees attached and a couple here and there at various jobs.
Then the little-girl and young-women Karens vanished. Until, if you believe the internet memes, they began showing up with three kids asking to speak to the manager.
There are variations to this meme, but the main depiction of Karen is a middle-aged blonde, mother of three, who drives a Volvo, wears acrylic nails and styles her hair in a side-swept bob. In some versions, Karen is a wicked divorcee who has run off with the kids. In almost all adaptations, Karen has a problem with your tone and is going to insist she talk to someone above your paygrade to get what she wants.
Before long, I noticed this dis being played out more and more. It reached its pinnacle in my world at my daughter’s high school variety show with some stand-up comedy about life at a bagel shop. The young comic/bagel slinger detailed how a “Karen” went too far in her outrageous demands with a fellow coffee barista. This produced rousing laughter and head nods from the teens in the crowd.
Just recently tropical depression Karen began forming in the Atlantic, which brought out another round of weather-related jokes about the hurricane nature of Karen. But the storm fizzled out. Obviously this was a faux-Karen because a real one would have taken it up with a supervisor at the National Weather Service and demanded an upgrade.
I am Karen, but am I a Karen? No Volvo, no fancy nails, no blond hair. But I do have some Karen-esque traits, and I’m proud of them.
My three kids will tell you they can’t stand when I ask to speak to the manager, but they forget what a little extra effort might yield. Like that time at Disney World when they gave us the wrong room and it was late at night and there was nothing more the desk agent could do because there was no manager available to call.
After a little cajoling, I was awarded a partial room credit and three extra fast passes. That’s the real power of Karen on display, getting what she wants without having to talk to the manager at all.
And I have to hand it to the meme originator for sensing potential Karen backlash and sticking to the common spelling of Karen — otherwise I was going to have to insist that Caryn, Karyn and Karin are NOT proper spellings and if the correction was not made I was going to have to take it up with the web host.
We Karens — and all the moms and women who won’t back down — have no reason to change.
I plan to embrace the notoriety and ignore the wisecracks, safe in the knowledge that one day the attention will be focused on another generation of forceful women named after Mouseketeers. Probably one named Britney.
Karen Anderson is a former Chicago Tribune sportswriter and singer/songwriter.