Parable of Forks- Krista White

A story for the Gaming, Comics and Popular Culture Fandoms

Imagine that you are at a huge dinner table, surrounded by good friends and lots of folks who share your hobbies and interests.  There is good food, good conversation, and the whole point of getting together is to have a good time.  There’s just one thing…

Not everyone at the table has a fork.

Some people have forks and some people eat with their hands.  People can’t ask for forks: they are either provided or they aren’t.  Different people have forks or not depending upon who is sitting at the table and their relationships to one another.

Quite frequently, the people with forks stab the people without forks when they both reach for food.  People without forks pass this off as accidental – unintentional and not malicious.  Everyone is still having a good time, and it would interrupt the fun to bring it up.

Soon, people without forks notice that they keep getting stabbed.  They also notice that the people with forks don’t seem to be making any attempt to stop stabbing people.  Finally, someone without a fork speaks up to his neighbor after a particularly vicious-feeling stab.

“Hey, could you please not stab me with a fork when you’re reaching for food?  It hurts.”  Other people without forks nod heads in agreement.  “Yeah, that hurts me, too,” a few of them say.

Reactions by those who have forks vary, but tend to follow a set of patterns:

“It’s my fork – I should be able to do what I want with it.”

“Why don’t you just get a fork of your own?”

“I don’t see a problem with having a fork.  I’m fork positive, and I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy having a fork.”

“I’m sorry you don’t have a fork, but that’s not my problem.”

“I didn’t stab you.  Why should I give up my fork?”

“What is your solution for replacing forks?”

“Aren’t you’re overreacting?  I didn’t stab you that hard.”

“I didn’t see any forks at the table.”

“She just got stabbed and she’s not complaining about it.”

“I like getting stabbed by forks.”

“I really like the parts of my fork that didn’t hurt you, so I don’t want to change what I’m doing.”

Despite the fact that many people without forks keep complaining, the majority of people with forks continue to respond this way.  What all of their apologies don’t seem to address is the fact that their actions are hurting people.  They continue to use the forks in exactly the same way, with the unintended consequence being that people keep getting stabbed.  Nobody seems to be able to use a fork in such a way as to avoid stabbing someone occasionally, but no one is willing to try to change the way they use their forks.  Serious wounds result, and some people have to leave the table, despite the fact that they used to love eating there.

When do I have a fork?

When I am with men, I do not have a fork because I am a woman.

When I am with people of color, I have a fork because I am white.

When I am with those who are not as educated as I am, I have a fork because I am well educated.

When I am with those of a different sexual orientation, I have a fork because I am heterosexual.

I’m tired of being hurt and tired of people telling me that what they are doing isn’t hurting me.  I am asking people – please stop pretending that what you are doing is not hurting people.    Please.

Please make an effort to listen when someone tells you that you’ve “stabbed” them.  Stop refusing to take responsibility when you “stab” someone.  Please.

When you see that the way someone is using their social power is hurting others, say something.  Don’t let people keep hurting, intentionally or not. It’s especially important for people who are part of socially privileged groups to do this; men, white people, the wealthy.

Occasionally I make a mistake and I “stab” someone.  I’ve never been taught to live with the power I’m socially assigned without hurting others.  Our culture encourages the social equivalents of stabbing and wounding.  I hate it.  I hate being hurt and I hate hurting other people.  I am trying to use my social power in a different way.  It’s hard, like learning to re-use a damaged limb.  But I have to keep trying.

Please start thinking about the way you are using the power you have.

[Generic and Possibly Necessary Disclaimer In Case you Need to Know: All opinion based entries are simply that, the opinion of the writer of said entry and not necessarily (but may be) that of everyone who contributes, manages, or supports this blog.]

  1. December 8, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    You present an interesting analogy regarding the forks Krista. No one likes being stabbed, and those doing the stabbing don’t often accept responsibility for their actions.

    This site is about gender in gaming, and specifically the plight of female gamers in their quest to change some of the perceived stereotypes. Or that’s my understanding from visitin the site anyway. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

    I’d like to apply your fork analogy to the average gaming group. How do you feel that you are being ‘stabbed’ by the current gaming hobby? Where do you feel that gamers (presumably male gamers) aren’t respecting you, or are allowing this sort of abuse to occur?

    Most gaming groups I know tend to be pretty insulated. They gather in a living room to game, and rarely interact with other gaming groups unless done over the internet. Is there something you feel isolated pen and paper gaming groups are doing to ‘stab’ you, or is this directed elsewhere?

    Just looking for a little clarification, thanks!

    • Krista
      April 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm


      Wow, I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Here’s how I feel that stabbing occurs in the game industry in general.

      The presentation of female figures, and women in general, is always highly sexualized. There is really no room for women to play a variety of roles without “sexual object” being the primary role to which they are assigned. Sure, you can be a “woman warrior”, but you will be represented with a chain-mail bikini. Lots of leg, lots of cleavage, which takes attention away from the “warrior” aspect and puts a character firmly into the realm of “hot babe.” The booth babe is GenCon’s incarnation of this issue. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if there were ample examples of women in various roles that were not sexualized. There’s nothing wrong with sexuality or female sexuality in particular. However, when being sexy is the *single most important function* any female character serves, that’s the problem.

      Another issue is of women as second-class citizens. GenCon has programming designed to help non-gaming spouses of its attendees have something fun to do. That’s actually a pretty cool idea. There are 2 problems with this. The first is, all the programming is targeted at women. Some non-gaming spouses are men. Worse than this is the fact that the GenCon organizers have designated a ball and chain as the icon that represents this programming in the events catalog. This clearly implies that non-gaming spouses are an odious burden. The fact that there is no programming designed for men makes it clear that, by association, WOMEN are an odious burden to gamers and the game industry.

      I have also had experiences in gaming groups – which I quickly left – in which almost all the other players made rude comments about the actions my character took in game, rude comments about my personal life out of game, and generally did everything they could to make it clear that I was not wanted at the table because I was female. I think players like this give good players a bad name. But I also think that game conventions cater to this kind of attitude. The hobby is still overwhelmingly male, and so the inclusion of women can often feel threatening to some men – especially in the current climate of backlash wherein white males feel that they are being picked on in an increasingly pluralistic world.

      There are a lot of great gamers out there – men and women. Being stabbed is not catastrophic when dealing with a single incident. But the point of The Parable of the Forks is that there is a well-established pattern out there. A single incident of sexism isn’t representative of the hobby, but the overwhelming pattern of repeated incidents indicates a dysfunction that needs to be addressed.

      Hope this was helpful to you!

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