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Speaking Up: The Right to Voice Concerns Without Judgement (or being called a “Karen”)

I needed to complain yesterday - like big style. My mum was taken in an ambulance to the hospital and then was left on a normal A&E waiting chair for over 17 hours. Overnight. With no sleep. No ability to lie down. No quiet.

I mean, she’d been brought in as a 70-year-old woman who had experienced an expected heart attack. She had a stroke last year, which impacted her heart and was in hospital only the week before with heart and lung problems. So I’m sure you can agree with me that she is flipping poorly.

When I got to see her, she had been sitting in a chair for 14 hours. And she was furious. Now we don’t do big overt being furious in our family. We do little furious, quiet furious, not bothering anyone else furious. She was tired and scared. And sleep-deprived.

I needed to complain. She had tried and got nowhere. They fobbed her off with being busy and her needing to sit there for 26 hours before a bed could be found for her.

Now, Good Girls are raised never to complain. To never make a fuss. Just to grin and bear it. To allow people to trample over their feelings and put other people’s needs before their own. To not have any boundaries and focus on pleasing others.

When I saw my mum accepting that she was powerless in this scenario, I was not going to have it. I was going to go nuclear with my complaining. My inner critic piped up with “You’re being a Karen”. Which frankly pissed me right off.

I hate the “Karen” stereotype. You know, typically used to describe a woman, often white and middle-aged and perceived as entitled or demanding, who exhibits behaviours that are seen as unreasonable, rude, or overly assertive in a way that inconveniences or upsets others.

The characteristics associated with a "Karen" often include:

  1. Entitlement - perceived as feeling entitled to special treatment or privileges, and may express frustration or anger when things don't go their way.

  2. Demanding - seen as making unreasonable demands, often directed towards service industry workers, retail employees, or customer service representatives.

  3. Complaining - frequently voicing their dissatisfaction, sometimes in a confrontational or aggressive manner.

  4. Lack of empathy - may not consider or be dismissive of the perspectives and needs of others.

  5. Willingness to involve “Authorities” - escalating situations unnecessarily by involving law enforcement or management in situations that may not warrant such action.

  6. Condescending attitude - portrayed as looking down on service workers or others they interact with, assuming a position of superiority.

It perpetuates stereotypes about women, particularly those who assert themselves or demand fair treatment.

Instead of the list above, perhaps we can reframe it as this:

  1. Instead of “entitlement” - Advocates for fair treatment and consideration.

  2. Instead of “demanding” - Clear in their expectations and requirements.

  3. Instead of “complaining” - Expresses concerns and feedback openly and seeks resolution and positive change.

  4. Instead of “lacking in empathy” - Scared, worried and focused on meeting their needs.

  5. Instead of “willingness to involve “Authorities”” - Seeks appropriate channels for conflict resolution.

  6. Instead of “condescending attitude” - ah well, no, my mantra is “just don’t be a dick”. There are absolutely ways of complaining without being a dick about it.

I almost listened to my inner critic and didn’t say or do anything. Because, as we all know, calling people “Karen” is a way of shutting down and silencing women. It’s used as a way to shut women up. To make us feel that we shouldn’t complain.

Not every assertive or confident woman should be labelled a "Karen," and using the term in a blanket manner can be both unfair and counterproductive.

All of these forms of policing can have a chilling effect on women's ability to express themselves freely and contribute to public discourse.

So I complained. And it seemed to work, she was quickly moved onto a trolly and managed a 10-minute power-nap. Then onto a bed and into a ward. Now she’s being cared for. I mean, if complaining helps you get your incredibly sick, sleep-deprived mother a basic level of care, I’m all for it.

Complaining does not make you a “Karen”. I wish we could stop using that word. (And sending love and support to al the women actually called Karen - you and the Alexas need to start a revolution). So before you fling those insults around, take a walk in the shoes of the person complaining. They probably have a basis for speaking out - so please help them, rather than judging them or throwing insults around. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives.

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