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Caitlin Gallagher
January 29, 2018 11:56 am

Violence against women is pervasive in real life and a major fixture in thriller fiction books. That’s why one book prize is rewarding literature that doesn’t portray violence against women. The award serves as a tremendous example of how changing what type of art we recognize could enact change when it comes to how women are treated within our culture.

There are plenty of literary awards, but it has taken until 2018 for something as revolutionary as the Staunch Book Prize to be created. The Guardian reported that British author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless founded the Staunch Book Prize. As it says on the prize’s website:

"The inaugural Staunch Book Prize will be awarded to the author of a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered."

While fiction is fiction, it more often than not reflects the real world. And as many thrillers depend on the trope of its female characters being physically, violently, or sexually threatened or assaulted to tell its stories, this book prize will reward authors who don’t rely on that dangerous cliché.

Plus, as the Staunch Book Prize notes, the award sounds so refreshing because “it’s way past time for something more original.”

Art censorship is a controversial topic, but censorship isn’t what the Staunch Book Prize is honoring. Instead, it’s bringing attention to literature that allows female characters to be complex without their defining feature being the violence perpetrated against them. As the prize’s About page says: “As violence against women in fiction reaches a ridiculous high, the Staunch Book Prize invites thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old clichés – particularly female characters who are sexually assaulted (however ‘necessary to the plot’), or done away with (however ingeniously).”

The Staunch Book Prize website also states:

"That doesn't mean we're just looking for thrillers that feature men in jeopardy, 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."

Of course, violence against women isn’t limited to just literature, as veteran actor and filmmaker Jodie Foster spoke about during Kering’s Women in Motion talk at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. “One of my biggest pet peeves as an actor was always that whenever a writer, a male writer, was searching for motivation for a woman, they would just always go to rape,” Foster said. She continued:

"For some reason, men saw that — they saw it as this incredibly dramatic thing. 'Well, that's easy, I can just pluck that one out of the sky and apply it to her.' Because they were uninterested in any kind of complex merging with a female character. They were unable to put themselves in her body."

The Staunch Book Prize is challenging authors and readers to go beyond how women are often portrayed in the media. As Lawless wrote on the website:

"I'm certainly not alone in getting increasingly fed up and disgusted with fictional depictions of violence happening to women in books, films and television. It echoes, exaggerates, fetishises and normalises what happens to women in the real world. But I know there are writers creating thrilling and complex work without going there."

Lawless and actor, writer, and comedian Doon Mackichan will be the judges for Staunch’s first year. Entries for the prize can be submitted February 22nd through July 15th. Submissions by male and female writers are accepted as long as their thrillers do not feature violence toward women.

Appropriately, the winner of the very first Staunch Book Prize will be announced on November 25th, the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The winner of this international prize will receive £2,000. But the money is far from the most exciting aspect of this prize. Instead, it’s the fact that Lawless has chosen to do something to recognize how art can make certain behaviors seem acceptable — and how she’s not going to let violence against women continue to be the norm in literature and beyond.

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