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Domino’s ‘Karen’ stunt sparks discussion about misogyny and white privilege

Pizza chain Domino’s has sparked discussion about white privilege and misogyny...
Fight Sexism graffiti. Source: Pexels

Pizza chain Domino’s has sparked discussion about white privilege and misogyny after promoting an offer that gave “the good Karens” of Australia and NZ the chance to win a free pizza.

Their intention was to take the name Karen back, after it has become a negative stereotype – the white, middle aged woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.

“It’s a tough time to be a Karen,” Domino’s New Zealand’s Twitter post read. “What used to be a lighthearted meme has become quite the insult to anyone named Karen.”

Many social media users found the offer “tone deaf” and “insensitive”, claiming that it trivialises the experience of those who actually face the harmful impact of racial or homophobic stereotyping and slurs.

One Twitter user, @aramreyess, felt the post was ironic. “Most of the time ‘Karens’ are entitled, privileged white women. If a few people actually called Karen can’t handle the meme, they should try handling 400 years of oppression.”

Another user, @alanahparkin, suggests that the free pizzas could have been directed to worthier causes. “There are so many GENUINELY marginalised people doing it tough right now/always, & you wanna give free pizza to … Karen? This misses the mark completely. Give pizza to people in poverty, people who can’t get a wage subsidy, people who are ACTUALLY struggling,” she commented.

Karen began as a Twitter meme, calling out the demanding, white, middle-aged women who “want to speak to the manager”. But more recently, the word has been used to label women who are outrightly obnoxious, entitled and even racist.

A recent example is Australia’s own “Bunnings Karen”, a Melbourne “mask-refuser” who made the news after a video of her verbally abusing a Bunnings staff member went viral.

Now, writers and other public figures are challenging the use of the word, arguing that “Karen” is misogynistic and oppressive toward women.

Feminist writer Julie Bindel took to Twitter to ask her followers their thoughts on the new controversial buzzword. “Does anyone else think the ‘Karen’ slur is woman-hating and based on class prejudice?” she wrote.

Another writer, journalist Hadley Freeman, agreed with Bindel’s tweet, tweeting back “It’s sexist, classist and ageist – in that order.” Freeman even went on to write an article for The Guardian, stating that the word “Karen” had become “mired in sexism”.

“The Karen meme has become a way of not just describing women’s behaviour but controlling it,” she writes. “I’d love to know how many men out there have been called ‘a Karen’.”

It’s no coincidence that much of the controversy surrounding the word has been expressed by Caucasian female writers. Many writers of colour refute the notion that Karen is sexist or racist because the word didn’t originate from white men, and it has been used by men and women from all different ethnicities.

“Just because white men co-opt the language of ‘Karen’ doesn’t make it theirs; and it isn’t sexist or ageist for an underpaid, black service worker to tweet about what a Karen most of her white, wealthy customers are. It’s a way of dealing in the face of limited power,” writes senior editor of Bitch Media, Rachel Charlene Lewis.

Ghanian American writer Karen Attiah supports this stance also, expressing in an article for the Washington Post how jokes like “Karen” are part of “a long tradition to use humour to try to cope with the realities of white privilege and anti-blackness.”

Attiah also suggests that condemning the word Karen as a slur is more harmful than saying it.

“Calling the Karen meme, the new n-word or asserting that it is a sexist slur only trivialises actual violence and discrimination that destroy lives and communities,” she writes.

Another notch in the belt of viral internet slang, the discussion around “Karen” has been productive, acting as a reminder of how stereotyping and pigeonholing can be harmful and destructive – especially for black and Indigenous communities.