I suppose I shall never know how bestselling spiritual author and one-time presidential candidate Marianne Williamson came to see a tweet of mine she deemed offensive.
I swear my intentions were pure. Our big, stupid internet is currently saturated in memes mocking “Karen,” the archetypal name for an entitled, middle-aged white woman who demands to speak to a manager when dissatisfied with any element of the service economy. I merely suggested that this “Karen” label is too broad in our application. We must account, I said, for the relatively benign “Kim,” who generally does no harm.
Williamson wasn’t having it. But she did, thankfully, have time to go off in my replies.
The Karen Discourse™ has gone on long enough by now that you can read several columns on why the meme isn’t really a sexist, racist or ageist slur. Its value as a critique of privilege is self-evident; you can see for yourself just who gets mad about it. However, Williamson’s rhetorical question — “Is there an equivalent categorization for men?” — is worth pondering.
We do have the meathead Chad, and the wall-punching gamer bro Kyle, yet both are assumed to be young men. I’ve written on the awful legacy of American men named Bret(t), except their pathology is not a precise 1:1 match for the “Karen” figure. People have suggested a range of bland, waspy names for men — Todd, Bill, Gary, Steve, Chip, Kevin, Keith — without digging into the actual character.
To satisfy Marianne Williamson, then, I’ll go ahead and try to articulate the male “equivalent” of a Karen. Obviously, this fellow is married to Karen, and since my tweet used the name “Greg,” we’ll call him Greg. Imagine, if you will, the Greg husband of the Karen shown brawling with Red Lobster employees in the video above. This Greg loves fried seafood, of course, but he’s not going to fetch it himself. Even if it happens to be Mother’s Day, and the family is meant to be celebrating Karen, neither he nor their children (Hunter and Tyler) are making much of an effort. Besides, Karen enjoys the thrill of a fast-food franchise throwdown. Greg is waiting in the SUV, where he can record a video rant about “safe spaces” and watch Phil Mickelson golf tutorials on YouTube.
It’s probably for the best that Greg isn’t present when the refund fight gets physical. He’s got a hot temper, and he’s quick to escalate — though he’s likelier to injure himself or have a full-blown heart attack than land a solid punch. Greg won’t wear a face mask, either, because the president doesn’t, and it makes you less of a man. Greg has avidly posted in favor of “reopening” America right this instant, and perhaps attended a mass demonstration to that end, not so much because he’s skeptical of the coronavirus threat, but out of desperation after weeks at home with Karen and the kids. Normally, he has his job, happy hour, a softball team and poker nights to keep him away from the domestic scene — escapes that no longer exist. These days, he’s expected to wash the dishes? And help with the Zoom schooling? It’s agony. He dreams of “breaking bad.”
Trouble is, this boiling rage may cost him dearly. Greg often shoots himself in the foot.
Greg and Karen’s marriage is key to understanding either person. They met, courted and got hitched early in life, with little worldly experience, sexual or otherwise — and so grew into a mutual resentment. They accepted the suburban model of happiness and fulfillment sold to them, only to realize it wasn’t what they wanted. Their misery began to manifest as drinking problems, separate TV time, a cold war over basic household duties, plus the gendered hobbies: Karen collects creepy ceramic figurines, while Greg has a few handguns and an unhealthy interest in World War II.
Politics is maybe the last common ground, one circumscribed by negation: Liberals are oversensitive, Black Lives Matter is reverse racism, failure to loudly “support the troops” is unpatriotic and taking the Native American woman off the Land O’ Lakes butter package is an assault on our values. Greg won’t engage these topics for long, however. He just wants to grill, for god’s sake!
If Karen attracts greater notice than Greg, it’s because she practices a kind of nosy hostility (e.g., calling the cops for no good reason) that tends to go viral, whereas her husband presents a mostly implied menace — the threat of spontaneous fury and violence. Karen’s antics we can usually laugh at; Greg is the red-faced, cargo-shorted mascot of frustrated masculinity, and you don’t want to be nearby when he snaps.
Each harbors the discontent of a dull, middle-class comfort, and they express it differently, according to the same heteronormative rules that locked them into this arrangement. The pandemic orders have simply raised this tension to an unbearable level, curtailing whatever petty freedoms Karen and Greg must exercise to maintain relative stability.
There you have it, Marianne, and anyone else still angry at “Karen” jokes. A Karen is ensnared in a death-struggle with her lazy, surly, sexless husband Greg, and he’s every bit as obnoxious as her, if not more. (The goatee and wraparound sunglasses aren’t doing him any favors.) I agree that Greg needs increased representation in the culture, and this piece is my contribution. The rest is up to the content creators of this virtual hellscape we all share.
Let no Greg elude punishment, for it is the hour of his reckoning. Behind every Karen is a Greg, and we’re tired of his bullshit.
Fuck off, Greg.