Open letter to the Women’s Prize

To the directors and trustees,

We write to you as concerned readers and authors.

Originally, the Women’s Prize was established to recognise the contribution of female writers who were overlooked by other major literary awards. The founder launched it in response to the all-male shortlist for the 1991 Booker Prize. Over the years, the Women’s Prize has been criticised as “sexist” because it is for women. This derives from a misunderstanding of women’s history. We still need our own cultural resources. Women are oppressed on the basis of sex. We are a political and biological class, and we are living in a time of unprecedented backlash against the gains made by women’s rights campaigners of the First Wave. Just ask JK Rowling, or any of the lower-profile cancelled female authors whose voices have been silenced by gender identity extremists.

In its time, the Women’s Prize has championed many great books by women. This year, however, you have longlisted Detransition Baby by transgender writer Torrey Peters. Making male writers eligible for the sole major women’s literary prize does not “break through centuries of patriarchal conditioning”, neither does it “honour, celebrate and champion” fiction written by women. On the contrary, it communicates powerfully that women authors are unworthy of our own prize, and that it is fine to allow male people to appropriate our honours.

It is now orthodox—if counterfactual, and pseudoscientific—that people can change sex by changing their appearance. If a man could become a woman simply by wearing lipstick, and fantasising about occupying our bodies, what would that make women?

There are several major UK literary prizes open to both sexes. We object to being asked to accept that Detransition Baby belongs in the category of fiction by women. The moment you decided that a male author was eligible, the award ceased to be the Women’s Prize and became simply the Fiction Prize.

We invite those responsible to play this through to its logical conclusion: if male authors can become eligible for the prize by changing their appearance, where will it end? This year, there is one male author on the longlist. A few years down the line, might half of the longlisted authors be male? Would it still be the Women’s Prize if all of the longlisted authors were males who identify with feminine gender stereotypes?

Where would that leave women? Are we really so well-represented in the literary sphere, and so valued by society, that we no longer have a legitimate need for one prize exclusively for our sex? What are the implications for women whose historic under-representation in literature is exacerbated by class and race hierarchies? Women are now being shunted back towards the condition of marginalisation which led the founder to establish a single-sex prize to begin with. Is that really progress?

We are also intrigued that you are promoting a novel which revolves around the male paraphilia of autogynephilia (AGP). We champion free expression, and we have no objection whatsoever to the authoring of a fictional account of this disorder of male sexual psychology. As an imaginative exploration of that disorder, the novel might even demonstrate why women need single-sex domestic violence refuges and intimate spaces. As the book unflinchingly depicts, males who claim to have undergone ‘gender transition’ can pose a risk to women. However, we strongly object to your statement that AGP is an “experience of being a woman in all its varied forms.” Women are the wrong sex to experience AGP.

There is also the question of what impact it may have on women to present ‘sissy porn’ as a lens through which to perceive ourselves. To us, that feels like an insult—especially since the longlist appeared in Women’s History Month. We think about the impact of this book on teenage girls who lack a cultural and historic context for such a work. We find it demoralising that a panel of literary women has invited us to read ourselves as male fantasies. We are not male fantasies. We are human beings—flesh, blood and bone—and we do not benefit from being represented as sex objects innately suited to violent victimisation.

Peters’ book is an extended male sexual fantasy in which women, and babies, are reduced to one- dimensional props. The eponymous detransitioner is a bisexual man—Ames—who impregnates his boss Katrina, having lied to her that he is infertile. Katrina is a competent professional woman, shallowly portrayed, depicted only to give Ames access to the baby he craves. He schemes to take the baby from its mother to raise it with his male partner, Reese, a trans-identifying male who fetishises motherhood. Reese fantasises about sexually role-playing one of “those nice white Wisconsin moms,” whom he considers the “pinnacle of womanhood.”

Two men collude to break the bond between a woman and her baby, exposing mother and child to harm, for the sake of indulging their fetish. Can you see the misogyny?

Reese believes that to be a woman means to be abused by men, hence he actively seeks out male abusers—like Ames. He “spent a lifetime observing cis women confirm their genders through male violence.” He equates femaleness with submission to male violence—to be “vulnerable” & “delicate” is what makes a woman. For Reese, “woman” is no more than a gender identity detached from any real female body. This is a repellent, retrograde idea; an idea only confirmed by the decision to longlist Peters for the prize. Can you see the misogyny?

Another trans-identifying male character, Iris, voices the same idea: “I want a man to love me so much he murders me.” Iris “only had time for abusive men” and “presented vacant ambitions in which she could remain an object.” In reality, in the UK, men are currently murdering women at the rate of three per week, and hunting us like prey in the streets. Women don’t experience this as a sexual thrill. We neither want nor choose to live in fear of male violence. Yet narratives like Peters’ feed this cultural atmosphere. Can you not see the misogyny?

Had a female author submitted a culturally regressive, sadomasochistic, misogynistic “surrendered wife” narrative to the Women’s Prize, it would rightly have been ignored by the judges. And yet, you’ve chosen to include a work of sissy porn suffused with hatred of women.

You may consider that your decision was sound, because “inclusivity” trumps all other values—even to the extent of including a trans-identifying male in a resource which was, until now, dedicated to the female sex. You may believe that the law demands this of you, in which case you may have been misled. You could readily argue that excluding male authors is necessary to achieve the legitimate aim which the founder started out with: to encourage women to transcend the constraints of biology and culture, by writing fiction which enriches readers’ inner lives, and the culture at large.

As readers and writers, we are disappointed that you have succumbed to pressure to redefine ‘woman’ as a gender stereotype. In embracing gender identity ideology, you have alienated those who see how that belief system is inimical to feminism, to women’s rights and to our best interests.

Women’s fiction has, historically, been a wellspring of rebellion. At its best, it has provoked women to enquire into society, and self; to overcome what is petty in us, and to strive for greatness. We believe that women’s fiction must continue to carry this light into an uncertain future.

We would warmly welcome the Women’s Prize renewing its commitment to celebrating the best in women’s fiction—“women” holding its ordinary meaning.

Women deserve our own literary prizes. The readers and writers who sign this letter—some of whom are obliged to use pseudonyms because of the threat of harassment by trans extremists and/or cancellation by the book industry—wish that you agreed. 

Signed,

Aphra Behn

Mary Ann Evans

FOVAS (Female Only Violence and Abuse Survivors)

Women’s Equality Party Sex-Based Rights Caucus

Stephanie Davies-Arai

Anne Sinnott

Helen Saxby

Ophelia Benson

Dianne Vine

Jo Campbell

Lynn Thomason

Emily Dickinson

Pippa Lane

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Alice Bondi

Emma MacLeod

Sarah Cummings

Siobhan Kierans

Willa Cather

Sue Quinn Aziz

Elle Burns

Jane Loe

Ali Timpson

Helen May-Peters

Rachel Corry

Daphne du Maurier

Debbie Callaghan

Clarissa Wilmot 

Rebecca Lush

Felicity Ann

Kay Grey

Andrea Cable

Mathilda Walker

Currer Bell

Janey Hutton

Suzy Ireson

Alice Moss

Doris Harradine

Diane Jones

Shernaz Dinshaw

Csilla Florian

Mary Fitt

Toni Cocozza

Damian Bartlett

Jojo Amos

Grace O’Keefe

Ashley Burnet

Sharon Muench

Stephen Madill

Sarah Mujer

MaryJane Smyth

Josephine Grace Plumb

Eufemia Torres

Becca Siân

Katja Morris

Inji Duducu

Kitty McCarthy

Maggie Mellon

Delyth Rennie

Paul Clark

Hugh Meechan

Marcia Matthews

Sarah Honeychurch

Carol Fraser

J Gourley

Kate Clarke

Rachel King

Laura Marcus

Stewart Gibblodge

Ali Ceesay

Jennifer Kimmel

Maria MacLachlan

Fran Parkus

Cath Janes

Jennifer Waite

AM Havinden

Alison Wren

Isabelle Tracy

Iris Robertson

Vicky Miller

David Smith

Carole Leslie

Janice Edgar

Rhona McGrath

Heather Jenkinson

Debbie Hayton

SJ Atherton

Meg Edgoose-Clubley

Liz Pitt

Gill Parke

Kathryn Congdon

Vicky Drew

Rachael Dartnell

Juliet Pleming

Annie Gwilym Walker

Heather Welford

Kat Busby Hicks

Lynn Wilson

Sue Thorne

Anne Macfarlane

Sarah Lucy

Anne Reid

Emma Hopkins

Marjorie Caw

Kath Hodson

Helen Jackson

Deborah Rushton

Pilgrim Tucker

Monika Neall

Jo Lawrence

Alix Goldring

Joyce Agnew

Jenny Wilkes

Sarah Bingham

Lucy Prout

D Gourley

Amanda Snowe

Andrew Squires

Clare Joyce

Suzanne Kimm

A Tevendale

Nicola Kerry

Helen Soutar

Lusy Rain

Jo Brew

Alex Morgan

Louise Somerville

Eleanor Hill

Bernadette O’Malley

Anna Boyle

Sinead Connolly

Sarah Bartlett

Selina Wallis

Rhonda Thompson

Katherine Brierly

Maria Rowe

Louise Hersee

Louise Leonard

Jane Galloway

Gillian Crawley

Kim Harding

Hayley Reid

Susi Elmer

Claire Darling

Amanda Hurst

Philippa Molloy

Julie Foster

Catherine Drury

Pam Smith

Barbara Lapthorn

Diane Healey

Ali Bee

Barbara Hughes

Lisa Bell

Claire Malone

Amanda Bickerton

Fiona Tresidder

Clare Joyce

Lynn Alderson

C. Williams

Wendy Orton

Sarah Westbury

Maria Moseley

Rebecca Harrison (reader, not author)

Heather Finlay

Louise Paine

Katherine Rosen

301 thoughts on “Open letter to the Women’s Prize

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