What’s in a name? Answer: if it’s Karen, quite a lot. Over the past week my moniker has come to denote a middle-aged, uneducated woman who is unaware of her white privilege and cares little about tackling racial inequality. So on behalf of other Karens, it's time to say: the joke has gone too far.
When Karen first became the butt of online gags a few years ago, she wanted to speak to your manager, right now. The brash mother of three typically sported an unfashionable bob. Friends sent me endless memes about her and I would smile. I’m a middle-aged mother with strong opinions and what can fairly be described as an overgrown bob. And it was hardly news to me that my name is not posh.
But I’m not smiling now. Karen-shaming has got nasty. A BBC podcast called 'No Country for Young Women' went out this week asking the question: how can white women not be Karens? The two people tasked with answering this were Charlotte Lydia Riley, a historian at Southampton university, and a YouTuber called Amelia Dimoldenberg. Dimoldenberg urged white women to 'educate yourself, read some books, so you are aware of the histories of white people and race'. She added: 'Don’t be so loud. Stop shouting and stop attacking black voices — instead you should be uplifting them.'
Oh, dear. To boil it down, this podcast amounted to women in a privileged position effectively telling others how to behave. This has nothing to do with fighting racism, and everything to do with class-hatred masquerading as political virtue-signalling.
Karen-shaming is also ageist. Do you know any women with my name under the age of 40? Thought not. It’s what parents called their bundles of joy in the Sixties and Seventies. When I was at school in the Eighties there were loads of us.
Karen, as we have established, is also a mother. With three children, naturally. A middle-aged, working-class mum. Of course Karen is fair game. And then there’s the sexism in which my name is now mired. There are lots of Karen memes in circulation. But some of the most prominent are thanks to a misogynistic rant from an anonymous Reddit user in 2017 about his ex wife, called Karen. Several thousand memes were made in the wake of his apoplectic post, helping to make Karen-ish behaviour mainstream. So my name has become a classist, ageist, sexist trope. If only mum could have known.
She first heard my name in her native Warsaw when she was around ten years old. She read a book in which the main character was called Karen and fell in love with the name. When she escaped communist Poland in the late Sixties she still had it tucked away for the daughter she hoped to have one day. We’re Jewish and when I was a teenager I did enquire, half-jokingly, why Mum hadn’t plumped for Keren, the Hebrew version of my name, instead. So sophisticated and, within these shores, unusual. What a difference one vowel can make.
Dad, meanwhile, a grammar school boy from the South Wales valleys, did understand more about the social information that comes with British names and wanted to call me Miranda. He has always loved the Hilaire Belloc poem Tarantella which opens with the lines: 'Do you remember an inn, Miranda? Do you remember an inn?' And a week before I was born he had been to see The Tempest at the Globe. But Miranda Glaser was not to be. Mum won the name war.
Had Dad won, I’d be navigating life with a more middle-class name and, over the years, I have wondered if it would have made a difference. Miranda Glaser is certainly a nice byline. She might have been teased at school for being posh, though. But at least she wouldn't be a Karen.