Taking genre bending in a direction for the greater good, Staunch Books holds an annual book prize which recognizes “well-written, exciting thrillers that offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women.”
The criteria for the award asks for “a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.”
A novel idea indeed, but also one that is deeply appreciated as a model approach to genre storytelling. The editors comment on the larger issue behind creating this prize: “While women in the real world are fighting sexual abuse and violence, being harassed, assaulted and raped, or being murdered because they’re women, the casual and endless depiction of females as victims or prey sits uneasily alongside their fight. Real rape survivors struggle to be heard, counted and believed, under-reporting is rife, partly because victims fear being torn apart in court, and prosecutions continually fail. Meanwhile, in popular culture, women are endlessly cast as victims of stalking, abduction, rape and murder, for entertainment.”
The editors at Staunch Books add that taking such a stand in our culture’s literature does matter, commenting on research by psychologist (and Staunch Book Prize Judge) Dr. Dominic Wilmott [pictured] that “finds ‘rape myth’ beliefs feed into bias which results in jurors being reluctant to convict ‘ordinary’ men accused of rape as they don’t fit the idea of a rapist they’ve internalised through the stories and images they’ve received through popular culture.”
Writers who believe that their writing matters in the larger cultural context as it feeds and shapes our ideologies must take responsibility for this genre and others; this effort by Staunch Books is a commendable step in that direction.
Books with strong female characters are encouraged, as the editors note they aren’t “just looking for thrillers that feature men in jeopardy instead, but stories in which female characters don’t have to be raped before they can be empowered, or become casual collateral to pump up the plot.”