Sanitizing books from reality does a disservice to society. The Staunch Book Prize for thriller fiction does exactly that. Authors and readers should ignore the Staunch Book Prize. It is not worthy of consideration as an esteemed literary prize.
Bridgett Lawless, the prize founder, created the criteria of any book submitted must not depict a woman who is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped, or murdered.
The criteria are vague at best. Murder is easy to judge. The rest of the criteria is open to interpretation.
How to define beaten? If a woman has her butt slapped. Is that a beating or love tap?
Stalked? If a woman is followed at any point in the novel. Does that disqualify it?
What is the difference between sexually exploited and raped? Can rape happen without sexual exploitation? What if a male character sleeps with a woman he picks up at a bar with the intent to have sex? Is that sexual exploitation or normal human behavior?
Bridgett thinks books with violence against women “might warp public perception of the dangers women face.” Is Bridgett not warping reality by dismissing the dangers women face? What view of the world will a young woman have if only reading books without violence against women?
Two of the top thriller bestsellers of all-time involved violence against women (and depict reality): Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train.”
With good reason, several thriller authors criticized this prize.
“Which book highlights racism and prejudice better? A book which is not about those issues or To Kill a Mockingbird? Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate a book that could challenge prejudice rather than celebrate a book which ignores it?” Steve Cavanagh, thriller writer
“If we can’t stop human beings from viciously harming one another, we need to be able to write stories in which that harm is subjected to psychological and moral scrutiny, and punished. There is no life-changing experience that we should be discouraged from writing and reading about.” Sophie Hannah, best-selling thriller writer
Hannah argued the prize should honor the book that “most powerfully or sensitively tackles the problem of violence against women and girls.” This criteria better serves society. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away. Society risks sanitizing reality when fiction ignores the awareness of violence against women.