My Name Is Karen. What Can I Do About the Meme?

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I am one of the many women who now find our name used as an insult or shorthand for an obnoxious, entitled, occasionally racist creature who demands to speak to the manager or calls the police for no good reason. I know this is not the biggest problem. But it really hurts me, especially since I try not to exhibit the behaviors associated with the insult. How should I respond when I hear someone being called “a Karen”? Ignore it, defend myself or change my name?


You are in excellent company! I have a flurry of letters from women named Karen whose feelings are really hurt. I confess I’m flummoxed by the depth of emotion. Sure, your name has been hijacked. But the insult isn’t aimed at you specifically. According to census data, there are more than a million Karens in the country!

It’s not personal at all, unlike the recent misogynistic attack on a congresswoman by her male colleague, or the racist slurs and dog whistles applied to Black Lives Matter protesters. Those are instances of direct abuse.

Now, I object to the sexism of the meme. It’s no coincidence that Karen’s male counterpart, Ken, never really caught on. (An angry white man is just a man.) And I hate to think of you feeling bad. So, the next time you hear the insult, say: “I know it’s catchy, but it hurts my feelings. Can’t you call out the bad behavior without using my name?” Keep in mind: Memes fade fast. Remember Becky?

My elderly mother has cancer. She went to the emergency room after a fall and tested positive for coronavirus. My sister, who was exposed to my mom while she was positive, is isolating and waiting for a negative test result so she can go on a family vacation. I told her she should skip her vacation and stay with our mother when she is released from the hospital. She expects me to drive eight hours to mom’s house, then quarantine away from my family afterward. I told my sister she is sacrificing my family for her vacation. She disagrees. How can I persuade her she is being selfish?


You don’t seem measurably less selfish than your sister, so I fear you will not persuade her. Unless the initial plan was to leave your mother (with cancer and prone to falls) alone during your sister’s vacation, you were always going to drive to her house to take care of her. The only change is her coronavirus diagnosis.

I doubt the hospital will release a geriatric Covid patient, especially one with cancer, while she is sick with the virus. (She may also need rehabilitation after her fall.) If I’m wrong, please don’t expose yourself to undue risk! But your mother’s diagnosis argues for fuller discussion with her, your sister and the doctor; it doesn’t take you off the hook for shared responsibility for her care.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

I have shared an apartment with my roommate for three years. We get along well. In December, she went to China for three months. So, we invited a mutual friend to stay in our guest room and help with the rent. When my roommate returned, the pandemic was on, and it didn’t feel right to ask our friend to leave. Also, my roommate is a yoga teacher, and her income is reduced. She says she can’t afford to pay her full share of the rent now, so having our friend here is helpful. The problem: I can’t stand living with this friend anymore! What should I do?


The easiest solution (unfortunately) requires your forbearance: Ask your friend to stop doing whatever it is that bugs you. During this period of economic turmoil, your friend allows you and your roommate, with her reduced income, to stay in place.

If that’s not feasible, talk to your roommate about finding a different person to rent the spare room. Or set a reasonable deadline for your roommate to begin paying half the rent again. Depending on your lease, this may be the toughest route: You may be jointly responsible for the entire rent, and it may be hard for your roommate to increase her income now.

Over the last year, I became close friends with another man. Recently, things shifted. He invited me to spend the night with him several times in the last month. I did. Nothing sexual happened; we just spooned all night. I took this as a sign of romantic interest. But two days ago, he announced he has a boyfriend, whom he never mentioned before. He claims he often spoons with friends. Am I wrong to feel blindsided and used?


It seems odd that a close friend never mentioned his boyfriend. But platonic spooning all night seems odd to me, too, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Next time, use your words. If a situation feels weird, ask what’s going on, OK?

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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