It pays to read the assignment.

One of my great academic humiliations came in a class discussion of Laura Mulvey and her seminal work, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Trouble was, and I was in school full time and working both a full time and a part time job, so I winged it far, far too often, and I hadn’t read the assignment.

My professor and the rest of the class engaged in a spirited discussion, which was challenging and a real paradigm-buster for me, but something sort of irked me and I finally decided to speak up.

I put down my knitting, raised a hand, and said, “I don’t really understand the constant focus here—what about the lesbians? Surely they have some place in the discussion.”

The classroom went quiet.

“Are you saying that the lesbian gaze is somehow different than the male gaze?” my professor asked. I was a little thrown by her weird grammar, but I responded.

“Well, I don’t know that gender is really that important in how homosexuals observe film.”

“You what? Why are you bringing that into the discussion? I don’t think sexuality figures in here. It’s essentially neutral.”

“Of course it does. You’ve been singling out one class of homosexuals as a culprit.”

My professor looked at me, narrowed her eyes just a hair, and picked up the chalk to write on the blackboard. This was not something she did, so it was pretty definitive in action.

In a careful block print, she wrote out T H E M A L E G A Z E, and underlined the Z and E.

I reprocessed all I’d heard in class that day, swallowed hard, and flushed a deep, shameful red. The class paused, not getting it at first, and burst out laughing.

“Ah,” I said, picked up my knitting needles, and managed to completely screw up several rows before I regained my composure.

© 2016 Joe Belknap Wall