Violence Against Women in Fiction: Sunlight or Ostriches?
I was about ready to fire my publicist when she sent me a draft press release for Eye for Eye which stated that the book handled violence with “sensitivity.”
Cringe… What kind of publicity is that?
Since when does “sensitivity” sell thrillers?
Then we chatted, and I understood what she meant.
You see, there has apparently been a growing trend toward graphic violence in writing (and film). In her opinion, EYE FOR EYE is a great read without resorting to gratuitous violence. And who was I to argue with that?
And now I was also interested in the issue. So, I did some research. I found that not only is there a contention, but a well-meaning though IMHO misdirected backlash.
To be effective, the backlash against gratuitous violence needs to target the crux of the problem—which is gratuitous violence as entertainment.
Some folks are just missing the mark.
Unlikely candidate for the Staunch Book Prize. My crime thriller, EYE for EYE.
For example, a well-intentioned attempt to address this issue is the Staunch Book Prize. It is a book award established in 2018 for the best thriller “in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.”
At first blush, I thought, No way in hell would I ever win that one! ( in EYE FOR EYE – without giving any too many spoilers – two girls die and another gets raped. And this is by the end of Chapter Three. And then, obviously, there’s the rest of the book…
But, my publicist thinks EYE FOR EYE is different and—cringe—“sensitive?”
Because I didn’t find it necessary to use graphic or gratuitous violence as a device to tell the story. There is an audience for that kind of thing. There are also plenty of authors that write it. It’s just not me.
EYE FOR EYE is still a crime thriller. It features crimes against women and men. And I am fine with that.
Crimes happen in the real world. As adults, we have to deal with them. to deal with them, we have to discuss them.
Katherine Bourbon, as Kristy Wise, in my courtroom drama, THE TRIAL OF JOE HARLAN JUNIOR, standing next to the prosecuting attorney, played by Rosie Dunjay.
A big part of the problem with violence and sexual assault against women in the past was that no one would talk about it. Bu then, that’s exactly what spawned the whole #MeToo movement —bringing this sort of stuff into the light of day.
It’s also one of the purposes of fiction—exploring real-world situations to teach a lesson and to shine a light on injustice. As Justice Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
That can’t be done without broaching the subject. But we can address the subject in ways that don’t diminish the victims.
I think it would be shameful not to.
This is where I think the Staunch perhaps misses the mark. To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer, but could not win the Staunch Book Prize.
Don’t get me wrong. Hats off to Bridget Lawless for taking the initiative to create the award. I like the idea behind the Staunch Book Prize. I think it’s well-intentioned. But, a crime thriller by definition has to involve a crime. And that’s got to be committed against someone. By limiting the Staunch award to books that don’t commit crimes against women, this prize seems to solicit thrillers that only include crimes against men. It seems to me to be a sort of “ostrich head in the sand” approach to the issue—let’s just give prizes to books that don’t address “that.”
But, maybe not. The lawyer in me thinks there might be a loophole.
You see, I went to the webpage for the award, and read that they seek submissions of “not just thrillers that feature men in jeopardy instead of women, 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.”
EYE FOR EYE definitely falls into the category of stories that come after the “but.”
None of my female characters qualify as “casual collateral.” They would be offended by the label. They are driven, empowered women, in control of their lives (and maybe the lives of others). They don’t hide from violence; they tackle it head-on. And, if you have read the book, you’ll know all too well that it’s best not to piss them off!
I think I’ll submit for the Staunch—and I let you know what happens…
Or, if you fancy a more immersive experience, you can now watch the TRIAL OF JOE HARLAN JUNIOR SERIES, written by me and filmed in London as part of the launch of EYE for EYE.
READ IT. WATCH IT. CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE AND VOTE as part of a virtual jury. Then, you will have made up your own mind.