Objectivity for Sex Workers

In Annette Debo’s “Ophelia Speaks: Resurrecting Still Lives in Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia,” she discusses the significance of looking and objectivity. Through photographs, sex workers, and how Opelia looks at herself as a sex worker, there is a deeper meaning behind the simple action of observing and looking. Debo claims that, “looking is perhaps even more significant than the physicality of sex, and everyone is looking,”(207). Indeed, Debo brings up an insightful observation that everyone has to look and stare at something in his or her daily life, and we often take our vision for granted when it actually says a lot about how we perceive things.

Debo and many other writers suggest that sex workers and Ophelia are looked as objects instead of human being. However, this objectivity is not necessarily bad. Debo says, “Ophelia knows she is the object, not the subject, of the photograph,”(208). Not only the customer is looking at her as an object, Ophelia is also observing the things that are going on around her. I believe, this mutual relationship gives Ophelia an advantage in her career as a sex workers. According to other writers Debo mentions, such as Berger, he explains, “the subject is aware of being seen by a spectator,”(49). Although she is posing, she knows what she is supposed to do and what will make her look better. Ophelia is able to use her advantage and make a living, and therefore, the objectivity can sometimes be looked as a fair game for both observant and object.

We can also draw this objectivity in looking to the movie Titanic. When Jack is drawing a picture of Rose being naked, he is able to concentrate on the drawing and finish his artwork. Rose, just like Ophelia, is seen as a art/object instead of a real person who is sexually attractive. Rose knows Jack is looking at her, similarly, Ophelia knows Bellocq and people are going to look at her. Further, Debo believes, “She [Ophelia] knows that we are looking, and we are forced to recognize that knowledge, giving her the upper hand in the situation.” Objectivity sometimes becomes an advantage for sex worker, as a good way of molding their appearance make them earn better living. Therefore, our perception of things change depends on what object we are seeing, even when the object is a human being, and the object itself  is also able to change our perspective to them.

2 comments
  1. Wow, what a great allusion to Titanic. Your comparison of Rose with Ophelia is spot on, and explains the difference between art/object and sexual appeal clearly. I don’t really understand when you say that “even when the object is a human being, and the object itself is also about to change our perspective to them”. Maybe it’s the wording, but I feel like there is a deep meaning behind your last sentence that may need to be cleared up.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with you, Jen, when you say “Not only the customer is looking at her as an object, Ophelia is also observing the things that are going on around her.” When Ophelia is observing, I don’t see her acting as an object any more, but instead as a subject. How do you see it working?

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