I Am Karen, Hear Me Roar!

I just watched the Marilyn Monroe documentary, Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, on Netflix. I’d never really known much about her – I’d just barely entered the world when Marilyn Monroe left it. And wow. This documentary was eye-opening for me.

There were politicians in this documentary whom I’d always thought were great men – social progressives and visionaries – who, it turns out, were total sexists – men who knew they had the power to get away with whatever they did to women. I’m thinking these are not men who would have donned pink pussy hats or marched with Gloria Steinem. The documentary also included interviews with people who had been a part of the Hollywood scene in the early days and who talked about what wannabe starlets were expected to do with studio executives (who were all men, of course) to get a shot at being in a movie. It turned my stomach.

Earlier, I’d watched another documentary on Netflix, A Futile and Stupid Gesture – about Doug Kenney, who co-founded The National Lampoon and had a huge influence on the humor of the 1970s and beyond. Many of the people he worked with went on to star on Saturday Night Live – Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, et al – I loved those guys. I remember laughing out loud at their humor. But there were very few women in that men’s club – Anne Beatts was the only woman on the staff of The National Lampoon. Men decided what was funny – and what they thought was funny was often sexist.

I’m still a big fan of Bill Murray today – he’s been in some of my all-time favorite movies: Zombieland, The Royal Tannenbaums and Groundhog Day, and more recently Rock the Kasbah and Saint Vincent. But the part in his 2015 Christmas movie, A Very Murray Christmas, where a 65-year-old Murray sings “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” with a 23-year-old Miley Cyrus kind of creeps me out a little, and I’m not surprised to learn he’s gotten in some recent trouble over “inappropriate” behavior with a woman working with him on his latest movie. He comes from a time when he could get away with “inappropriate” behavior – and, in fact, got paid big bucks by Hollywood executives (another men’s club) for being inappropriate. According to CNN, Murray has said about the incident, “You know what I always thought was funny as a little kid isn’t necessarily the same as what’s funny now. Things change and the times change, so it’s important for me to figure it out.” That gives me hope for Murray, and it gives me hope for our society, too.

There were a couple of television shows when I was growing up that gave me hope, too. Thank goodness for Diana Riggs’s Emma Peel of the original The Avengers series. That’s who I wanted to be – brave and quick and smart and not to be messed with. And thank goodness for Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Anne Marie in That Girl – women with careers, making their way in the world as intelligent, independent single women.

I was raised with two younger brothers (whom I love very much) in a family of mountaineers. It was not a very feminine environment, and feminine tastes (the Little House on the Prairie TV series, for instance) were considered by my brothers inferior to masculine tastes (the Combat series, for instance). Because there were more of “them” than me, my brothers usually won the television-viewing wars. When I went off to university I made sure I got in an all-female dorm my freshman year – in large part because I didn’t want to be outnumbered anymore. I wanted some sisters.

I was attracted to men, but I didn’t necessarily want men to be attracted to ME – I didn’t want to be seen as those women portrayed in “The National Lampoon” movies. I wanted to be seen as more than a body, you know? It was an awkward time to be an intelligent woman with goals beyond being someone’s wife. It was embarrassing to sprout breasts and find myself walking around in a woman’s body – which some men seemed to think was designed just for them.

I have flashbacks from my youth: My sixth grade teacher, a man in his fifties maybe, told me he would never vote for a woman president – even if she was much better than her political rival; A high school classmate I considered my friend grabbed my butt as I walked past him at lunch, and all his friends laughed; A TV Guide ad for a new show featured a picture of a woman from the neck down – just her womanly body – like the rest of her didn’t even count; my dear mother really wanted pink to be my favorite color, but I rebelled against “pink” because it was “too feminine” – which society had told me meant it was inferior and weak.

And now we’ve got this freakin’ Karen meme – another way to keep women muzzled – perpetuated by today’s late night talk show hosts who are still mostly – you guessed it – MEN!!! And if a woman named Karen speaks out against the Karen meme and tries to stand up for herself, she is told that this is exactly what a “Karen” would do. Which. What the hell…?!! I refuse to be muzzled anymore.

To paraphrase Helen Reddy’s song, “I am Karen, hear me roar!”

Karen (in the middle) with her friends, wearing her “pussy hat” at the Women’s March.

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