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The 'Daisy Jones and the Six' Adaptation Failed Karen Sirko

By Diana Helmuth | TV | March 30, 2023 |

By Diana Helmuth | TV | March 30, 2023 |


I like this Karen. I want to make that clear upfront.

In her book Daisy Jones and The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid never describes precisely how attractive keyboardist Karen Sirko is. We know that she says things like, “That’s the glory of being a man. An ugly face isn’t the end of you,” and tells her producer to eat shit when he asks her to wear low-cut tops. We know that she opts to wear turtlenecks and jeans because she believes this is the best way for the men in her industry to see her as a musician before they see her as a woman. We know fellow band-mate Graham Dunne has eyes only for her, but that’s about it. The point isn’t whether or not Karen Sirko is pretty; the point is how she chooses to handle the fact that people are going to look at her, period. Mostly what we know is that Karen is talented, shrewd, likes a good high, and is driven to succeed in her career in the patriarchal world of 1970s American rock. Because of this, she makes the choice to avoid anyone perceiving her as a hot chick, on the assumption that this will wreck her chances of getting ahead.

The problem with the screen adaptation of Karen is not that Suki Waterhouse is really, really ridiculously good-looking. This is not merely a case of Adaptational Attractiveness. A musician herself, Waterhouse does a great job portraying the tenacity and confidence of Karen Sirko. The problem is that Hollywood can’t seem to resist presenting someone like Waterhouse in gorgeous makeup, crop tops and sex-tousled hair, even when her character’s original writer had her avoiding these things as a defining part of her personality.

Book Karen, in this regard, is the opposite of Daisy Jones. Critic Callie Ahlgrim put it well when she said the two women “share a sense of rebellious contempt for the patriarchal world of rock music. But importantly, they approach the problem from opposite angles.” Reid iterates over and over that Daisy is extraordinarily beautiful, an LA knockout even while strung out on Dexedrine and champagne. She also illustrates how this has affected Daisy’s life both positively (it opens doors) and negatively (no one takes her seriously once she’s behind those doors). In response, Daisy wears, says, and does whatever she wants, when she wants, refusing to feel responsible for how she makes anyone feel in the process. She struts around in sheer dresses. She seems to be allergic to pants. This is how she takes control of her identity and her destiny. It is inspirational, bold: Daisy is the ultimate symbol for unapologetic female power in the face of the male gaze, realizing it will never turn away and so deciding to do whatever you want anyway. I cannot relate to her, but I love to watch her go. When any woman refuses to be seen for more than her looks, all women win.

Karen, on the other hand, could easily be read as just another Cool Girl - she eats burgers, has casual sex, and hangs out with the boys all day. But look at her for more than 10 seconds and it’s abundantly clear that’s not what Reid was going for. Like Daisy, Karen is in charge of her own sexuality, dedicated to her career, and refuses to be judged by her looks, but that’s where the similarities end.

In direct opposition to Daisy, book Karen cares very much how people in the industry will react to her female body and sexuality, and believes that being perceived as too sexual could negatively impact her future prospects. She then makes the choice to avoid feminine, revealing clothing, and keeps her relationship a secret.

Daisy is an unapologetic Aphrodite in a crocheted crop top, flipping off the male gaze. But book Karen understands the male gaze could make or break her career, and so she tries to hide herself from it. I admire Daisy, but I find myself drawn more to Karen because, well, Karen is me. She is every woman who has ever decided to not put on the cute dress, avoid the plunging neckline, and otherwise neutralize her body in order to succeed. She represents a part of the female experience that isn’t particularly sexy to put on screen because it’s the textbook antonym of sexy. It makes us consider feminism hasn’t yet gotten us as far as we might have liked. Reading about these two archetypal women struggle, learn, and thrive was absolutely intoxicating, especially if you’ve ever been a woman trying to climb any career ladder, standing in front of your mirror before a job interview with one voice in your head saying, “I should be able to wear whatever I want,” and another saying “you can’t afford that.”

So when screen Karen faithfully tells the band’s producer to eat shit when he asks her to wear low-cut tops, but then opts to wear them herself just a few episodes later, or when she reveals she and Graham have been having a relationship (something that book Karen never lets slip), we have lost some of the magic of book Karen. Screen Karen is empowered, sure, but she also showcases her beauty and her sexuality. She might not do it as loudly as Daisy, but they’re basically on the same wavelength. It’s not that Daisy is bad; it’s just that we already had one. Having two betrays the gift Reid was giving us when she wrote these two women, two friends who have very different approaches to handling the patriarchy in their field. Book Karen is a woman who was both in charge of her own sexuality but still believed she had to keep everything covered up in order to gain, and keep, her status. And the producers seemed to not understand, or simply not care, why this might be interesting to an audience of millions of women who go through this thought process every single day.

Part of me wants to scream at Hollywood for completely fucking up the incredible opportunity that was a faithful Karen Sirko screen adaptation, for giving us a beauty queen in place of a normal woman we could (dare I say, were supposed to) see ourselves in. But Hollywood is not some monolith of lizards - it’s made up of people: writers in writing rooms reflecting on their own experiences, trying to dig up something that will both be authentic to the human experience and palatable to the broader public.

And it’s not an easy pill to swallow, how hard the average woman calculates the perception of her body and its effect on the men who will see it. It is the background noise of our every action, the ghost we will never be able to banish, the demon we are perpetually trying to make a deal with. Daisy is fun to watch, in large part, because she seems to have figured out how to not care about any of this. She has no trace of body dysmorphia or caring what men think of her (it’s worth noting that she is also frequently high on cocaine). Watching a woman don a turtleneck in order to succeed in her career isn’t as fun as watching a model in a bikini telling everybody to fuck off. I suspect this is especially true for an audience of Americans, who more typically associate female empowerment with women choosing to reveal their bodies. It’s rare that we are able to see female empowerment in the form of a woman who is choosing to cover up.

So the writers made the choice to drop Karen’s shrewd perception of the world and her body in it, the way in which she fought the patriarchy while working within it, which is, in fact, what most of us are doing on a daily basis. Maybe we don’t yet know how to talk about women’s self-perception issues without making the entire story about it - we don’t know how to capture the subtlety of the whole thing as a tertiary part of a main story. Karen’s relationship to clothing didn’t have to be the main point of Daisy Jones and The Six, but that’s also the point. It could have just been there in the quiet background - which is in fact what it is in the lives of the vast majority of women. Or, at least mine.

Diana Helmuth is an award-winning non-fiction author with a tendency to overshare about travel, humor, romanticizing nature, and millennial cultural trends. Find her on TikTok and Twitter or at