I went to formal education through a Masters’ degree. In that time, I wrote countless papers. Of all the writing assignments through all those years, I only recall one essay. One. I was never focused on grades. I didn’t shy away from difficult classes or unfamiliar subjects because I was afraid that I would not get high marks. I think the only reason I remember this one paper is because it was the only time I went to a professor to complain about my grade.

The class was called “Studies in film genre: the horror film” and we had the freedom to write our papers like it was an English class or a psych class or a sociology class as long as we included technical film techniques in our work. It was a class I really enjoyed as it involved reading original source material and watching films. I turned in my first paper and it came back with an “F-“ grade which had been changed to a “C.” This was clearly not an “F minus” paper and it was not a C paper. It was, at the very worst, a “B minus” paper. Possibly an “A” paper. I was a sophomore and had taken honors English my freshman year. I entered college with credits in English from passing the AP exam having complete 4 years of high school honors English. I knew this was not a bad paper.

I went to speak to the professor and discovered that a TA was a grader. Her comments on my work were totally off base and personal. The professor raised the grade she had given but not done anything about the comments. When I approached him, he told me that he would completely disregard this paper when compiling my grades for my final mark. I assumed he knew the paper was good but didn’t want to offend his grad student by disregarding her hatred for my premise and evidence, so he split the difference and gave it a passing grade. I accepted this solution, though I still didn’t feel it was fair.

The paper was about the recurring character of a “suffering virgin” in a number of the films. I identified and explored different female characters in horror films (the class took place in 1979.) I talked about the pure and innocent young woman archetype and gave examples of their personalities and what happened to these victims, though they generally survived the traumas. Often the more empowered and sassier females would be killed. As was required, I included filmmaking techniques. I wrote in the proper format with an observation that I supported with at least three examples. This was a legitimate academic essay that filled a course assignment.

Apparently, the TA who initially graded the paper was a staunch feminist who considered my premise an egregious personal affront. None of her many red notes addressed the points of the paper. It was more like she was fighting against an image that she hated. Talking about women who had little power really pissed her off and she let all that anger destroy my assignment. Her comments were vitriolic, calling me a misogynist and lashing out with all her fury. In my mind, the anger was misdirected. If she wants to address this issue, take it up with the filmmakers. Punish the script writers. And the directors. Possibly annihilate the producers. But don’t attack a poor undergraduate sophomore who called it out in a cogent and documented manner.

Thanking about this experience, I question why, of everything I ever wrote for school, this is the only content that I remember. And of all those years of school, why did I complain to my professor instead of just letting it go. I think the answer is that I value fairness. Now I know that life isn’t fair. However, I was being punished in a way I didn’t deserve. When I got the paper back with the grades and comments, I must have read it over multiple times before deciding that it was truly unfair. Once I convinced myself that I had been wronged, I had to respond. I could have lived with a C. But it was a grade I didn’t deserve. I had to speak up and address this problem. My memory is about standing up against injustice. And in my often-quiet way, I do that to this day. And hopefully, for the remainder of my life, I will find ways, quietly or loudly, to stand up for myself and for others.

I'm a midwesterner who is living this phase of his life in the arts.