For the last five years I've held the chair of Korean History (Early Modern) at my university, which I consider the crowning achievement of my life. I'm the first woman to occupy this particular chair, in a field normally dominated by old men, and at the age of 35, I'm definitely not stopping here. The prospect of what I could accomplish in the future thrills me even more than the achievement itself.
In case it wasn't obvious, I love my job. I love engrossing my students - Westerners, like me - with the grand narrative of the fall of Goryeo and the rise of the Joseon dynasty to power. I love seeing my name, Isabelle Ranier, paired with the word "professor". I love that I'm a bit of a misfit: some of my male colleagues are courteous, but you can spot the discomfort and creepy perving of the others from a mile away. I'm young enough to look more like a student than a peer to them, or perhaps one of the secretaries they no doubt coerced into inappropriate sexual relations during their long careers. Let's not pretend that isn't a thing, please. But I take it all in good stride: if my presence alone is enough to ruffle some feathers, that means I'm doing a good job.
There's another perk to my job: for the first time in my life, I get to be the boss in a professional context. Of course I still report to the Dean, but fundamentally, when in class, my word is law, and that's not just true of my students, but of my teaching assistants as well. On some level, I realise I'm replicating the same tough mentoring I received from older professors when I was a TA myself, and I'm not sure how proud I am of that - but damn it, it's my turn. I ride my TAs hard, but fairly, and I do have an interest in nurturing their future academic careers.
My brightest TA is undoubtedly Jacqueline. This is her second year working alongside me as part of her PhD. Her research into Lee Song Gye's military campaigns is quite original, and as a TA she does her job punctually and professionally, assisting with exams, proofreading dissertations, writing the syllabus, consulting with students, etc. As our second year together is now underway, I've made it a habit of bringing her with me to every lecture, and leaving the other TAs to carry out more menial tasks. I see this as me taking Jacqueline under my wing, but I suppose it also does mean she has more work on her plate. I also take the smallest pinch of perverse satisfaction in having her walk behind me into class, huffing and puffing as she carries a heavy pile of books. Her seat is a simple chair next to my heavy desk. I make her scurry around the classroom while I toy with my good-luck pen, sit back and revel in my authority: writing on the blackboard, handing out documents to students by hand, doing proctoring rounds during examinations. Still, I'm no sadist - I know her larger workload risks cutting into her research, and I make it a point to be of greater assistance to her own research in the remainder of our work hours. All in all, I thought that was more than adequate payback for her efforts.
As later events would reveal, she didn't exactly see it that way...
One late afternoon, I walked back to my office carrying a stack of papers. The building was quiet and near-deserted, and I enjoyed the silence and the feeling of having the place nearly to myself. I fumbled a little with the door to my office and walked in - it was deserted too, save for Jacqueline herself. All the other TAs had gone home already, but she'd stayed behind to help me with grading essays, alternating between that and working on her research no doubt. As I walked in, I was reminded of another mild positive of having Jacqueline around: she was very pretty, taller than me, with curly brown hair that fell past her shoulders and a build toned by daily physical training. That day she was in a black jacket and flowing skirt, with black stockings and flats - which she'd taken off under the desk, rubbing her left foot with her hands in mild annoyance. The stockings accentuated her toned legs in a way that was very pleasing to the eye. I realise that wasn't an entirely appropriate thought, but I had focused on my career to such an extent that my romantic life had suffered. I still felt like I had too much to do to commit to a relationship with a person of any gender, but having a pretty girl by my side for most of the workday was definitely better than nothing. It also reminded me I needed to hit the gym and get into better shape myself, but well, another thought for when my workload would let up. If it ever did.
My wool-gathering distracted me, and I stumbled, sending my papers flying across the room, and my good luck pen rolling under Jacqueline's desk - close to where I'd hit the ground, actually. On pure instinct, I went for the pen first, which brought me effectively under Jacqueline's desk. All of this had happened in a blink of an eye and she hadn't had time to react - in fact, she'd been rolling her chair further into the desk just while I stumbled towards her. Through cosmic bad luck, her shoeless, stockinged right foot had landed straight on my face as I reached for the pen - not hard enough to hurt, mind.
"Are you okay? Do you need help?" Jacqueline shouted from above, then bent down to look under the desk, and noticed her foot was in my face. Thing is, I hadn't made any effort to move away. All of a sudden my loins were on fire, a tingle trickling down my spine as the room seemed suddenly way hotter than a moment before. I couldn’t move away. I didn’t want to move away. Her foot was soft, her stockings silky, and the warmth against my face was so pleasant – even the barely noticeable tang of sweat smelled almost charming to my nostrils. I didn’t know what madness was possessing me, but I did nothing to inch away from her. In fact, I breathed in and smiled to myself. A part of me was overjoyed, the other horrified – and both were powerless.
"Professor?" I heard her call out to me, but I might as well have been paralysed – I literally could not muster the willpower to slide away from her foot. Only my right eye remained partially uncovered, and through it I saw Jacqueline's face go from shocked, to perplexed, to curious, and then narrow into a smirk I wasn't entirely comfortable with. I suddenly remembered this was my TA, what the hell was I thinking? Still unable to find the strength to pull away, I settled for the next best thing, my hand darting to the pen on the floor. She was faster. Her left foot landed on the pen, the heel pressing above it while the ball of the foot pinned my hand to the floor.
"Is this what you were looking for?" She said, rolling the pen away from me and towards her side of the desk. I said nothing, but shot a pleading look at her with my one open eye. I found myself reeling at the shocking speed of my downfall, but more humiliatingly, Jacqueline wasn’t reeling at all. She had a coolness and a presence of mind I totally lacked, and observed the new situation with the keen perception of a predator, while I gaped and fumbled with her foot plastered all over my face. I felt so very stupid at that moment, and for the first time in my life, truly vulnerable.
She thoughtfully started running her foot across my face, slowly and delicately at first, then a bit more firmly. I didn't realise it right away, but Jacqueline was a genius, and already testing how far she could push me before I reacted, slowly and methodically. Eventually her foot descended enough to leave both my eyes free. Only her toes remained in contact with my face - they were resting over my nose. I couldn't look away from her. Her face was neutral again, like she was in contemplation. I meekly waited for her to say something, and that again to me felt like an implicit admission that something between us had changed forever, a mutual understanding that she’d insinuated herself inside a vulnerability I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t know how far she intended to take things, but I held little confidence in my ability to stop her. I was afraid that she would well and truly master me. Most fundamentally, I was afraid that I – her direct boss, an older woman with academic status and an already established career - had no say in what our respective stations would be.
When Jacqueline spoke, it was like a knife cutting through the air, even though her question was innocent enough. My heart fluttered. I felt like a supplicant, receiving words from a higher being – mere minutes at her feet and this young girl was already instilling such an inferiority complex in me that my own mind would soon become my ironclad trap.
"Is this a fetish of yours or something?"
For the first time, I found the energy to speak. "Jacqueline, I -"
Her foot shot forward, the ball now pressing tightly against my lips. "Quiet," she said. "I was thinking aloud, you don't actually need to answer."
The humiliation of my own subordinate making me shut up by pressing her foot to my lips coarsed through my body, like a wave of electricity. Humiliation is only a word to most people, but in that moment I experienced it like a physical sensation, a ripple of defeat that started at my lips and ended in my arousal, the feeling of being utterly conquered by another human being who will now proceed to have their way with you. So when my conqueror told me to shut up, I complied. Unbelievable, I know, but I complied, and the thought of disobedience never even crossed my mind. It was scary, how quickly the situation had spiralled out of my control and into hers. I'd never been really into feet before, was I really that desperate for some affection? I couldn't stand to match her gaze anymore and looked downward, which won an approving chuckle from her as she swung her left foot to join the other on my face. She positioned them against my cheek and then pushed, slowly accompanying me downward until the back of my head hit the floor. Then, her feet landed flat on my face, squashing against my eyes, nose, and lips.
"Stay there." She said, settling more comfortably into her chair. "I need to think about what this means, and do some more work on my dissertation in the meantime. Don't move."
I laid there, breathing slowly, letting it all sink in – how thoroughly I had debased myself before her. This wasn’t even play, she wasn’t actively running her feet across my face or watching my reactions: she’d literally just planted them on my face like I was part of the floor, and kept them there while she worked. Somehow this was even more humiliating than actively being made into a foot bitch. What kind of self-respecting person becomes a footrest for their subordinate on command? Apparently I had to seriously reconsider where I fit in the social hierarchy, if cowing me into subservience was that easy.
I lost track of time. I doubt Jacqueline kept me underfoot for more than an hour, but it seemed much longer to me: my heart was racing in my chest, my mind projecting scenario after scenario of what would happen next. Eventually, she snapped me out of it by exploring my face with her feet, running her toes from my chin to my hair and back.
“I’m done with my dissertation for today. Of course, you’ll be grading student essays this time. I’m going home.” It was early, and it had been months since I’d graded essays myself, but of course I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t even stand up until she walked out of the office without so much a word of goodbye, like I was a piece of furniture. Which, to a degree, I was. I graded the essays and then made my way home in a haze of arousal, confusion, and fear that made it hard for me to think straight. Unsurprisingly, I got no sleep that night. I fretted and dreaded. What if she reported me for sexual harassment? Could we perhaps find a way to carry out this little game in a more normal and discreet way, without endangering our jobs? Maybe we could go out on a date, get to know each other, watch a movie… and draw clear boundaries between playtime and work. Yes, I would tell her that. As soon as I saw her, I would tell her that.
I got up groggy, but determined, and got to my faculty with a renewed spring in my step. Thankfully, the other TAs had library duties, so I had the office all to myself all day – all I had to do was make myself some coffee, prep course material for class later in the day, and wait for Jacqueline to arrive. I rehearsed my speech in my head about a dozen times, and in the meantime, I waited.
And waited. And waited.
Jacqueline arrived a full two hours later than usual. Not even a word exchanged yet and my plan was already falling apart. She strode in with a level of imperial confidence that made my knees tremble, like she now owned the place – which in a way I suppose she did.
“G-g-good morning,” I stammered. “Jacqueline, I wanted to t-talk…”
“Assume the position,” she cut in distractedly, while rummaging into her purse. My jaw nearly fell to the floor. Had I really underestimated her determination to exploit my weakness by this extent? When she lifted her eyes to look at me, and confidently raised an eyebrow, all my strength, my work ethics, my plans to make this work simply deserted me. I slipped down from the chair on the floor, and from there I slipped under my desk – her desk now, I assumed. I watched her flats and nylons as she stepped around the desk and sat down in my chair, claiming it as her own. Off went the flats, and just like that, her feet were in my face again – one pressed sideways over my forehead, the other resting on my chin. It seemed like it was my fate to be completely subjugated to her.
“So,” she said, softly running her left foot over my hair, as if petting me. “What did you want to talk about?”
I gulped, and then spit it all out for her consideration – the train wreck of loneliness that was my own life, my fear of inappropriateness, the idea that maybe we could work normally and then go out together and keep these little games private – I said all this while she was royally resting her feet over my face, which somehow undercut my presentation. She must have gotten tired of my babbling, because her right foot rose in the air, and then descended firmly on my lips, silencing me.
“Don’t make ridiculous suggestions,” she said with a chuckle. “We can’t date and work together, that wouldn’t be professional and it would make it impossible for us to be objective.” And then, she looked below the desk, her eyes meeting mine with a spark of sadistic amusement in them. “You’re my assistant, after all.”
I stared at her, wide-eyed, as my entire world came crashing down around me. The wave of humiliating pleasure her last words triggered inside me was something words can’t adequately convey. I didn’t even know I had this fantasy, and here she was, fulfilling it in such a spectacular way that my arousal competed with a bizarre feeling of gratitude. Yes, I was actually grateful that she’d just staked her claim to me in the hottest way I could conceive of. That’s when I knew she’d broken me.
“Aren’t you?” She asked, sternly, lifting her foot off my mouth to allow for a reply, her eyes never leaving mine. I didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, boss. I’m your vulnerable assistant. The lowest of the low.”
She flashed me a predatory smile. “That’s a good bitch.” Then her foot descended again, against my throat this time, exerting a delicate pressure that reminded me I wasn’t going anywhere. Was there something more symbolically powerful than her nylon-clad foot pressing against my throat? Like her body weight was the arbiter of whether I got to live or die, and for the former option I would be required to accept her full mastery of me. Her straight shins and strong calves – so much stronger than my own, she’d be able to physically subdue me any time she wanted to – dominated my field of vision as much as her mind dominated my own. That’s when slavery stopped being a concept to me, and became a reality. I was seeing her in a new light, a victor’s light. I was nothing. Dirt under her shoe.
She sat straight up in the chair, turning on her laptop to begin her day’s work – but she kept talking, even after breaking eye contact.
“You’ve worked my butt so hard. You have this coming. I plan to use this to my advantage, until you’re utterly defeated.”
“I’ll be subservient, I promise. You’re the total boss of me. I’m your slave.”
Her left foot moved from my forehead to my lips. “Correct. Now show me that you understand your place.”
I showered her foot in kisses, from her heel to her toes, and she arched it to allow me to kiss the top and her ankle. It was like my own body was stretching and yearning so that my lips could softly brush against it in reverence. We spent the rest of the morning like that, with every kiss a new admission of my utter vanquishment. I marveled at the extent of her victory over me. Eventually she made me get up and follow her into class. I thought this section of the day would be more normal, but I was so wrong. My destruction had only barely begun.
Jacqueline walked in class ahead of me, striding proud and confident. I walked behind her, shoeless, with my stockings making soft sounds against the floor – this way she stood taller than me. I huffed and puffed, carrying a heavy pile of books for her, and as she sat behind my desk – now hers, I thought to myself – I took my new place in the chair by the side. The students threw me a few sidelong glances, and some giggled to themselves when Jacqueline said she would be giving the lectures from now on, and to ask “her assistant” if any of the students needed anything.
To my despair, Jacqueline was as good a lecturer as I was, at least – perhaps even better, when factoring for the inexperience. All the grunt work I’d made her do meant she knew the syllabus better than I did. The students adjusted very quickly, and seemed to interact with her better than they ever had with me. That fully cemented my place at work. I did everything without hesitation – passing out papers, writing on the blackboard as directed, helping out students with their work as requested. All the while Jacqueline sat behind the desk with the same revel I once had enjoyed myself. The imagery gave me a knot in my stomach. It was like she’d cast me off my throne, then used me as a set of steps to climb into it herself. She deserved it more than I did. I was loving it.
What followed was a rigorous training regimen that conditioned me to obey Jacqueline’s each and every whim. Two weeks into my abject servitude and I was unrecognisable. My TAs soon became her TAs in all but name, and I truly was placed as the lowest of the low, fetching coffee for them all and letting them assign grunt work to me. They never openly questioned what was going on, but it was obvious that they were only partially comfortable with it, and they never pushed it beyond treating me like a clueless intern. Students referred to Jacqueline as “professor” and called me by my first name, Isabel. I slaved away all day to help Jacqueline with her doctoral dissertation, and I knew that any future research produced by our department would come in her name, with me reduced to a helping footnote – if that. Soon Jacqueline and I had effectively traded all duties, and eventually paychecks as well – I was supposed to kneel as I laid mine down at her feet, and she dropped hers to the floor for me to pick up with my mouth. Even with my male colleagues, whom I had so despised, I was now demure and submissive. Did I have any right to judge them? When given the opportunity, I too had yielded to impropriety with the PhD student I was supposed to supervise. Even worse, I’d let the sexual liaison transcend the life/work divide, until it swallowed work whole. Some of the cannier male professors could smell blood in the water – they couldn’t put their finger on it, but they knew that something was up. More than once, I found myself summarily told to fetch them coffee, and I did. Like a good assistant is supposed to.
One afternoon, I was lying under Jacqueline’s desk with her feet in my face, in what was by now our most common position when working together. I knew she would be leaving soon, with the rest of our workload falling to me, as was only appropriate.
“Tell me, have any of the male professors asked you for a blowjob yet?”
I shook my head faintly, her feet still in position.
“Well, when they do ask you to drop to your knees and suck their cocks, you know what to do.”
This lack of female solidarity destroyed me. She was actively leveraging the patriarchy against me, to bring me further down to heel. Wasn’t I obedient enough already? What need was there of dismantling me this way? And yet in submissive defeat, I nodded. Like countless women assistants before me, I would be demeaned and exploited, a glorified coffee-fetcher that would pair administrative grunt work with sucking cock. Being at the beck and call of men. Utterly put in my place. That it was a woman doing this to me just made it hotter, and more terrible, and hotter.
Jacqueline wasn’t done with me, however.
“But first, you’ll give me a blowjob.”
This didn’t mean what I thought it meant. Her stockinged toes pressed against my lips, while her other foot moved to my throat, where it nestled firmly, keeping me in my place. My lips parted, and to the sound of Jacqueline’s laughter, I did what I would do for the rest of my life: I sucked. And sucked, and sucked, and sucked…