The Feminist Triangle Ch. 01byKaryn Gardenia©
As quietly as he could manage, Ross pulled the clam-shaped chair across the smooth rose-colored carpet and placed it in the corner closest to Hannah's voice. Based on what he remembered about the layout of the bathroom, she couldn't be further than five feet from where he now sat. He felt a visceral ache of disdain for the floral printed wall that prevented him from seeing her as she must look now- her face flushed with the hot water she was submerged in, her delicate knees visible just above the surface....
Hannah was a feminist, and a brilliant and beautiful one. The first two adjectives were responsible for her being here with him in this oversized hotel suite, nestled in a suburban corner of lesser Chicago. Rather, it was the conference...The International Society of Philosophical Studies (ISPS) yearly conference, to which both he and Hannah had been given personal invitations by their mutual teacher and mentor, Doctor Adam Beaumont. The last adjective was merely what complicated it all. Ross had known brilliant women before...even some that were as nice to him as Hannah was...but none of them had captured his soul the way she did. His essence was truly a lost and wandering thing without orienting itself somehow to her.
He closed his eyes- a gesture entirely pointless in a shadowy room so blocked from her image- and pictured her glistening arms coming up out of the water and gripping the sides of the tub in the next room, her shoulders adjusting and her back arching. Her head would start to fall back next, her whole body bending in a pleasured, stress-releasing stretch. He thought about all the things that motion could reveal as her body broke the surface of the bathwater.
The image was torn away when he heard her speak again, and he thought it was probably for the best. He didn't know what her body really looked like anyway, and he certainly wasn't the type to go hunting for a discreet little hole in the wall where he might be able to spy on her. The kind of man that did that sort of thing was not the kind of man Hannah would ever want. Besides, holes-in-the-wall like that didn't generally appear in nice places like this.
He could hear Doctor Beaumont out in the living area, shuffling some papers around and chatting cordially with Hannah through the closed bathroom door. Conversation between them always came very easily, and they acted as lifelong friends or even family. It was really quite discouraging for Ross. No matter how much he reminded himself that he and Hannah were essentially equals, and there's no reason why she shouldn't want to give him the time of day, he found his extremities nearly shaking in her close presence. It wasn't even because she was a feminist, as his best friend Ryan had tried to convince him. His insecurity definitely did NOT result from a fear that she secretly hated men, because, as he reminded Ryan, that's not what real feminism is about. Never mind that Hannah often demonstrated a bit of a temper, something that Ross found even more charming.
She and Beaumont were talking about her presentation now- He sharing his complimentary insights and her being her beautiful modest self, lightly criticizing her mistakes but not dwelling on them. Her voice softened into an enchanting laugh that actually vibrated the wall where Ross's ear was pressed, and the space of the conversation shrunk. Beaumont was now seated in the chair facing the bathroom door, putting him almost as close to her as Ross was, but seemingly much less overcome with the fact. Her charismatic, womanly laugh had literally called him closer, and Ross found himself pressing a hand on the wall, conscious of the fact that he could not move any closer himself.
"Feminist philosophy is always so well received these days," he heard her musing. "I wonder what it would have been like to deliver my paper ten years ago...maybe even twenty. I'm sure the mere fact that I am a woman myself would have been regarded as a folly." There were a few light splashes in the water, and a long pause. "I felt like the great majority of my audience tonight was really invested in the critique...like maybe it's finally becoming a practical argument. I just wish that journalist hadn't missed the point."
Beaumont gave a short, hopeful half-laugh, half-sigh. "Thanks to people like you, the argument isn't taboo. I can honestly say I was incredibly impressed by how you handled the questions he asked you. I found myself wondering if my colleagues and I even have the right to claim any sort of pedagogical authority over you anymore." He paused for a minute, shuffling paper once again. "Don't worry about that Grant guy... he was just asking the questions he thought his readers would want asked."
The admiration went back and forth for several more minutes- He fawning on her brilliance, charm, and professionalism, she claiming that it was only possible because of guidance, support, and faith.....his guidance, his support, his faith. It was a very rewarding conversation for both of them, Ross was sure. He wondered if it would even be happening if he were sitting out on the curved, beige sofa reading the newspaper or writing in his journal instead of hiding away in the dark of his room, asleep for all they knew.
A journalist in a dark suit and shiny, plastic-like hair had listened intently to Hannah's presentation, his eyes seeming to be glued to her very lips with a sinister smile on his own. Ross had only noticed because he had been standing just across from the man, wondering what the strange little smile meant and if this man might be interested at all in feminism. When she courteously asked her audience for questions, this ill-hearted listener had, in very eloquent and carefully-chosen words, accused her of being a false feminist...a woman participating in a counter-struggle for the sake of counter-struggle. He had called her high heels, carefully curled spun-gold hair, and sparkling earrings as evidence...along with several misquoted passages from her presentation.
After a few minutes both Hannah and Dr. Beaumont were silent, and that silence went on for so long that Ross nearly found himself lost in images of Hannah's wet breasts and stomach again. He shook his head violently, cursing his disgusting male behavior.
"Hannah?" Beaumont asked, almost hesitantly. "Has anyone else ever challenged your serious support and study of feminism...I mean, based on your looks and your conduct, before today? I only ask because, as I'm sure you've noticed, there is a trend in the academic world of female feminist philosophers taking to a...well, a less standardized, feminine gender identity and appearance. I don't mean that Mr. Grant was justified in accusing you...but... well...you can understand why someone might think this way." The man was stumbling over words for the first time since Ross had met him, incredibly intent on avoiding anything that could sound like a criticism, and it made Ross smile just a little bit. As much as he tried not to have negative or competitive thoughts about Beaumont and the attention he got from Hannah, he felt the professor slipping into a conversation that was likely to offend her delicate temper, and possibly reveal Beaumont's own narrow-minded and sexist views about feminism.
"Well..." she started to answer, analyzing the way in which the question had been asked with what seemed to be a heated silence, "I suppose I don't appear totally convincing to some people, but I don't think it's necessary for me to change my gender identity in order to fit a belief system that any gendered person can have. My desire to wear dresses and earrings and have my toenails painted does not make me more of a woman than someone with the desire to cut her hair short and wear neckties, or likewise...and it doesn't make me any less of a feminist. What do you think a feminist should look like?"
Beaumont had to be either smiling or grimacing at her increasingly agitated tone. Ross himself didn't know what to do. The water in the tub splashed a bit more fiercely and it was clear that Hannah was getting out.
She had handled the journalist's questions quite well, as Beaumont had articulated, but it had been an intense moment for everyone who was really paying attention. On the stage, standing with great command behind a narrow podium, Hannah had replied in a very professional, non-confrontational way, but her eyes were flashing with frustration and clear annoyance. It wasn't just the journalist who was begging this question, but a great majority of human thinkers (and Hannah supposed, non-thinkers). This made her answers very, very important. Ross had wanted to walk to the podium and take hold of her hand, unfolding it from its clenched fist, and to remind her that even if no one else in the world understood her, he did, and always would.
"I think what a feminist looks like is beside the point," Beaumont answered, his voice a little more distant now, probably moving away from the door out of courtesy for a soon-to-emerge Hannah. "I just wonder if a heterosexually driven, attractive young woman wearing makeup and heels doesn't complicate the resistance against patriarchal and symbolically misogynistic conventions that feminists are so invested in. That look was created by oppressive men, after all."
The water from the tub began to vacate the room with a brief, audible suck from the drain, and through the thick wall Ross could make out the sound of the aforementioned ripping a towel from the polished aluminum rack and letting it snap against the floor.
Heavy hinges suddenly collapsed and the bathroom door swung open, colliding softly with the safety stop resting on the outer wall.
"So, I can't look the way I want to look because it happens to be something that pleases men? What about lesbians? Should I try to avoid pleasing their eyes, too? What happens when a trans-gendered individual finds me attractive?" If Ross hadn't been caught up in the idea of the bathroom door standing open between Hannah and the professor, he might have wondered to himself how much of her apparent anger was actually directed at any one person. Hannah had a way of articulating her frustrations to an invisible audience in very convincing and militant tones.
Ross fell to his knees immediately and scuffled to the bedroom door, his nose bumping the door softly in his attempt to jam his eye deep into the keyhole. He wanted to see if her skin was still flushed and shimmering with bathwater, and if he could glimpse her sun-tanned calves and ankles, bare in the calm low-lighting of the living area. When he did see her, she wasn't in her long, pink robe but a short, tightly wrapped towel- plain white. Her hair was still mostly dry but had gained a fair amount of life in the steamy confines of the bathroom- now it framed her face in a careless shower of smooth, mist-damp waves from everywhere. Doctor Beaumont was watching her as one watches a wild beast of the jungle, and she was staring back, expecting an answer.
"Hannah...I.....I didn't mean to upset you. I'm just providing you the same scholastic challenge that Mr. Grant posed. As someone seeking a practical argument, you'll be faced with ignorant and ill-founded questions and you'll be expected to answer them."
She stood motionless for a moment then, weighing the possibilities with mostly-closed eyes. The white towel she was clothed in made her skin darker and more exotic-looking than ever before, and the dark eye makeup she had neglected to wash off before her bath had thickened in the steam of the bathroom. When her eyes snapped open again, her lashes were like great feathers on harshly beating wings, and her mouth opened around a silent vowel she could breathe through.
"What if I don't always want a scholastic challenge, Dr. Beaumont? What if I just want someone to look at me as a woman?"
Ross raked a hand back through his hair in panicked agitation. He had spent the last year doing everything in his power to treat Hannah as an equal, a professional, a scholar, and an intellectual. Now, when he had respectfully retired behind closed doors and was restricted to the dark of his own isolation, she wanted to be looked at like a woman. Oh god, the look he must have on his face right now. The butterflies in his belly ate him like a gooey mass of inanimate pollen while he focused every bit of his energy on viewing Hannah as just that- a woman. A full-lipped, golden-haired woman in a very small towel, with legs going on for miles was what she was. The professor's face reflected Ross's own inner struggle for several moments, but neither man could truly spare a thought for self-awareness. Both of them were locked on Hannah wondering what she could possibly do next.
It was just at that moment that she shrank back, flushing pink flowers into her cheeks, her eyes suddenly downcast. Ross felt her embarrassment like a rod of cold metal in his gut, but couldn't stop exploiting it with his secret eyes. That was the Hannah he had fallen for...the striking viper that was prone to collapsing into apologetic afterthoughts that left her a vulnerable little girl. She was back-stepping in the direction of her bedroom door now, about to turn and quickly enter the safety of her room. She muttered "I'm sorry," a few times before she made it there, her hand clutching more tightly at the towel wrapped around her now less aggressive form.
"Hannah, please," Beaumont interjected, standing and dropping the stack of papers that were nestled in his lap being half-studied. She stopped for a moment at the jamb of the door and was about to say something else when Beaumont caught up and placed a rushed and desperate hand on her damp shoulder, urging her not to flee in her humiliation. "It's fine," he reassured her, "I know what you mean. I didn't mean to disrespect you or put needless pressure on you. Please don't be upset."
A bit of the rose-like color faded from her cheeks and a new, bronzer shade fell back into place. They were both standing in a beam of strong city light from the window across the room that made them look like two actors on a well-furnished stage, the area around them lit by soft sconces that simulated subtle firelight. Ross felt his arm shaking as it struggled to hold him up in his crouched position, the powerful hand on Hannah's shoulder seeming to be on him, crushing him into dark, warm coal dust. He had known Hannah for almost three years, and his attention to the details of her personality and wit had lent him a very special talent of predicting her movements. It was this talent that deceived him as he saw her slowly shaking her head in disbelief, her hand falling from the door frame. He thought for sure she would end the evening with another polite apology and a gentle closing of the door behind her. Instead she said this:
"Do you think we woke Ross up?"
As if anyone could sleep within a hundred feet of Hannah in any state of undress.
Dr. Beaumont's bright eyes shifted towards Ross's own door with Hannah's following. For one terrible second Ross felt like all four eyes were staring right at the keyhole, noticing him spying there like a twitchy little rat. He froze, wondering if they would sense any movement. All his mind could really focus on was the fact that Hannah had used the word "we" instead of "I." She had been the one causing a scene...why did she have to make it seem like they were conspiring against him?
"Don't worry about it," Beaumont said, sliding his hand from her shoulder down to gently grip her upper arm. "Everyone is allowed to have those moments. Especially when they feel like the whole world is against them."
Did she really feel that way? That the whole world, even this friend who would lick the rock she walked on, was really against her? Ross was already compiling a mental list of things he would do on the next day to make her feel appreciated and supported when his keyholed eye saw one of Hannah's hands sliding up and holding Beaumont's muscular arm- his friendly gesture returned. Her other hand still gripped the towel at her chest, holding it up over her now steadily breathing form, which was still glistening with the slightest hint of warm liquid from her bath. She was looking him right in the face now, her lips open to say some beautiful thing discounting his claim, as was her way.
"I don't think I ever really thought that."
His amused but pleased smile should have made her flustered, but she smiled back, communicating everything and nothing. Ross slumped against the wall, needing to break away from the scene and gather control about him self once again.
"You should never feel ashamed of what you are." Beaumont was saying, the wheels picking up speed on the ensuing moment. "You're really a very special person, and there's no reason you should ever feel alone...."
When Ross finally got together enough nerve to look back through the keyhole, many seconds had passed in silence. Dr. Beaumont had wrapped Hannah in a somewhat awkward, almost paternal hug that was made very strange indeed by the small amount of fabric between him and Hannah's naked body. At this moment the two of them looked like family. The embrace seemed to go on forever, but broke slowly open a few moments later as Hannah uttered, "I'd best get to bed before I decide to go on a rampage again."
Dr. Beaumont let go of her a bit reluctantly, his amused smile fading only just enough, and took a polite step back. "Yes, I suppose I should as well. You should be proud of what you accomplished today, and the way you're taking your experiences seriously. Tomorrow will be even better. You're a really great philosophy student, Hannah."
"You still haven't said anything about me as a woman," she answered hesitantly, ready to spring for her bedroom door if things got tense again.
Beaumont stood where he was for several seconds, just looking at her and shifting his weight from foot to foot. Finally he turned and walked back to the chair he had been seated in before, replying softly, "It isn't appropriate." Without another word, Hannah disappeared behind a closed bedroom door. She didn't seem upset or particularly happy, just on her way to bed now that the conversation seemed to be over.
Ross was now quite torn. The professor clearly cared about Hannah's feelings and didn't want her to feel disrespected in any way. He had also very plainly avoided a situation that might have made her feel objectified. Perhaps this was a good friend for Hannah to have after all.
This bubble of thought became stretched to its limit and burst wide open when Ross detected a repetitive movement in the vicinity of Beaumont's lap, where he now had his hand inside his pants. He had let his head fall back on the crest of the backrest and exhaled in a long sigh as his hand worked up and down on what must have been a painful erection. Ross noted that he had one himself- the product of seeing so much of Hannah's skin out walking around- and was ignoring it for the sake of his real and untainted love and appreciation for her. It was natural to want a woman like Hannah, but not at all appropriate to steal sexual pleasures from her without her full and willing participation...even pleasures taken a room away. He swallowed hard and put his own erection out of his mind, scornfully watching Beaumont's secret act.
He immediately wondered how many times this had happened before. Had there been times when Hannah had called on him during his office hours, wanting to discuss a thesis she was working on or a reading she had an alternative interpretation of, only to leave him panting with dirty and inappropriate thoughts after she said goodbye? Would he then close and lock his office door, indulging in a few minutes of fantasy as he leaned back in his office chair and pleasured himself guiltily? If sitting across a desk from her, watching her face as she passionately dove into Astell or Wolstonecraft, was too much for him, then Ross couldn't imagine why the man would have wanted to hug her close to him wearing nothing but a towel. The torture must have been immense.