A couple of weeks ago in a Kiwiblog post I included a compliment to Andrea Vance for pointing out how closed shop this government was. I really thought ANDREA (lets go for the one-word name thing) had turned an identity politics corner. A week later ANDREA flipped right back around the corner she had just come from.
“Boomers, Karens, middle-aged, gammons … whatever verbal eye-roll we use, they are unnerved by climate change policies, cycleways, gender inclusivity and te reo Māori greetings.”
You see – I married a real, live, literal “Karen” – as in that is her name – she can’t escape it. To have ANDREA misuse it in NZ is one thing but, in 2020 Chicago had been suffering the worst gun violence and highest murder rate in 45 years. In one June weekend 85 people were shot and 24 killed. The mayor there is the first openly gay African American woman to be elected in a major city. She clearly has overcome stereotypes and prejudices. As this crisis builds White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany encouraged Lightfoot to request Federal help – Lightfoot’s response (on that hub of intellectual discourse called Twitter) … “Hey Karen. Watch your mouth.”
Sensing these things were meant as deep insults I felt the need to know why my wife would be dragged into it. We have for many years negated the disease of stereotyping – and for good reason. As Karen O’Leary (of NZ TV comedy Wellington Paranormal fame) said in an interview; “Labels disable.”
It got worse this week with a Hollywood movie – called – you guessed it … Karen. Here is an appropriate treatment of it.
Even though I am incredibly chivalrous – the last thing the Karen I married (and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”) needs is for me to defend her. She is strong, assertive, intelligent, a phenomenal business-woman and leader for the good of others (once a finalist in the Charity category of Woman of Influence). Karen has been a brilliant life partner for 32 years and was an incredible mother to our three grown up children and new grand-mother to two. The youngest of our children – our daughter – is currently a PhD student who not only has the wonderful traits of her mother – but also has Karen as her second name.
Sensing the need for deep research I went to Wikipedia – to find out what Lightfoot (and ANDREA) were talking about.
“Karen is a pejorative term used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for a woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others … As of 2020, the term was increasingly being used as a general-purpose term of disapproval for middle-aged white women.”
Emily Brookes of Stuff summed it up as: [I]t’s the result of a few years of cultural aversion to the name as it became associated with a certain type of privileged, white, middle-aged woman whose mantra is “I want to speak to the manager.”
I immediately thought of the assumption of being “white” and those we make about heritage. Not judging people by the colour of their skin surely remains valid. Karen’s skin is olive – as far as we can tell through Spanish heritage in the family of her father – possibly even Crypto Jewish. Karen’s father survived as a child in Nazi occupied Netherlands and came to New Zealand in 1951 – with a suitcase and hope.
Karen was the youngest of four in a home without much. They were what we now call “working poor”. They called it normal. Their one treat each year was a Trumpet from the Castlecliff dairy on Guy Fawkes. The youngest gets stepped on becomes strong, assertive and independent. No one seemed to understand this driven little girl.
I met her when she was fourteen. Like another strong New Zealand woman did – she was working in a fishn’chip shop – to buy a bike, save for a car, save for university (the first in family).
Her work ethic is legend as are her expectations for the 65 people who are her employees (including myself). There is a difference from the stereotype though. Her demand is for the good of others – especially those marginalized in our education system. People love working with her for the vision she brings and the encouragement she provides.
She is now “middle-aged” – and she does have one of those “bob-cuts”. But her energy has not flagged for a moment. I am in awe of her daily and can only imagine how good the world would be with many more of her type.
Children are learning way too fast about social media pile-ons and bullying stereotypes. We are endangering any hope on intelligent discourse and genuine social progress. We are heading towards; “Waiter there is a fly in our soup – but we would hate to make a fuss so we will just passively eat it. Please don’t bother the manager.”
ANDREA – Karen deserves apology. To associate yourself with such stereotyping was beneath you.