This issue of Gender Forum was ready for publication when Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, 2022. While the issue’s focus on “Gender, Violence, and the State in Contemporary Speculative Fiction” may thus be timely in a very obvious manner, some of its content may seem oddly “out of time.” Conversely, some things in the contributions may be resonating with the current situation in ways not anticipated by the authors and editors. We ask readers to bear this strange un/timeliness in mind when engaging with the articles in this issue. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Like them, we hope that this senseless war will soon be over. We hope for peace.

Judith Rauscher and Marta Usiekniewicz

Detailed Table of Contents

The last year was a year of transition for Gender Forum: An Internet Journal for Gender Studies, which is now entering its twentieth year. As the new general editor of Gender Forum, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Beate Neumeier, the founding editor and outgoing general editor of the journal, for her decade-long services to Gender Forum. I am in awe of what you and your editorial teams have created over the last twenty years and honored that you trust me to continue your work. I would also like to thank Sarah Youssef for her tireless work as managing editor of the journal during the years prior to my arrival and for your willingness to share your expertise during the transition between editorial teams. Your work, like the work of many managing editors, review editors, and student assistants before you, has been invaluable for keeping the journal afloat. Your dedication to the idea behind the Early Career Researchers Issues, in particular, has been an inspiration. I hope the new team can continue the work of Gender Forum in your spirit.

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Author’s Bio: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Judith Rauscher is assistant professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Cologne and general editor of Gender Forum: An Internet Journal for Gender Studies. She has published on imperial(ist) feminism in Star Trek: Discovery, Canadian petropoetry, ecopoetics, and at the overlap of ecocriticism and mobility studies with a particular focus on contemporary American ecopoetries of migration. Forthcoming publications include a special issue of the Zeitschrift für Fantastikforschung (ZfF), a contribution on “Poetry as Feminist Critique” to the DeGruyter Handbook of American Poetry, and an essay on gender and (state) violence in Motherland: Fort Salem. Her research projects concern critical environmental education and popular culture, representations of single-sex societies in American culture, and representations of gender, (state-)violence, and technoscience in American speculative fiction.

Abstract: This special issue of Gender Forum is part of a two-issue series dedicated to analyzing representations of gender, state, and violence in contemporary speculative fiction. We have been as open with the definition of the word “contemporary” as our contributors suggested that we be through their choices of primary materials. As a result, half of the contributions in the two issues focus on 21st-century works, while the other half deal with works released or published before the turn of the Millennium. The selected essays present a variety of theoretical approaches to a diverse selection of primary sources from the Anglophone world. This exclusive focus on Anglophone texts and visual media was not intended but  is doubtlessly a result of our own disciplinary location in (North) American Studies, which brings with it certain interests and networks, but also certain lacunae. Still, we hope that the contributions collected in this issue will also be useful for scholars of speculative works in languages other than English as much as for scholars of gender studies, queer studies, and cultural violence studies who would otherwise not turn to speculative genres and media. After all, the essays that we received in response to our call for submissions touch on many issues that are pertinent for literary and cultural studies at large, including debates about social and environmental injustice, the limits of human agency and control, the tension between resistance and complicity, and the cultural, social, and political conditions necessary not only for individual survival but for collective well-being.

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Author’s Bio: Dr. Marta Usiekniewicz is an Assistant Professor at University of Warsaw’s American Studies Center. Her research interests cover gender and sexuality studies, feminism, and body and critical eating studies. Her scholarship is intersectional, focusing on gender, class, race, and ability. Recipient of the Fulbright Junior Research Award. Currently working on the forthcoming book Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan) and a project on cannibalism in popular culture entitled Useful Cannibalism: New Visions of Antropofagy in Culture.” Her work has been published in InterAlia, Translation and Interpreting Studies, Fat Studies, and Przegląd Kulturoznawczy.

Abstract: Naomi Alderman’s The Power (2016) imagines a world in which women develop the ability to deliver powerful electric shocks, reversing gender relations and leading to the establishment of global matriarchy enforced by violence. While the existing scholarship by José M. Yebra and Alyson Miller focuses on the figure of Mother Eve as a critique of global patriarchal religion as well as the relationship between religious and state power in Bessapara, I attend to the often-neglected figure of Margot, a rising American politician. In this paper, I examine the rhetoric surrounding Margot, arguing that Alderman uses Margot to satirize contemporary white evangelical Christianity and its accompanying right-wing political agendas. I explore the historic connections between abstinence-only sex education, patriarchy, and nationalism, analyze the novel’s parody of American political rhetoric, compare the depiction of Margot’s queer-coded daughter Jocelyn to gay conversion therapy, and examine the novel’s depiction of both sexual and military violence. Ultimately, I argue that The Power’s depiction of a sexually violent, nationalistic, and ultimately apocalyptic American matriarchy is in fact a representation of American evangelicalism that has “changed Her garment merely” (127).

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Author’s Bio: Melodie Roschman is a PhD Candidate in the English Department at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States. Her dissertation research examines how contemporary American Christian women use the memoir as a counternarrative in response to conservative American evangelical hegemony. Her areas of study include modern and contemporary literature, memoir, women and gender studies, Christian literature, popular culture, and material history. She especially enjoys teaching, and has taught classes on life writing, romance novels, and genre fiction. Melodie has a BA in English and Journalism from Andrews University and an MA in English from McMaster University. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, travel, and all manner of DIY projects.

Abstract: This article examines how femaleness and femininity are constructed in the 2020 video game The Last of Us Part II (TLoU2), analyzing how it imagines gender narratively, visually, and ludically. The game is set in a postapocalyptic future in which the majority of the population has turned into zombie-like creatures, while the surviving parts of humanity have formed new societies and groups that fight against each other. Players control two characters, Ellie, who was already featured in the first TLoU, and Abby, who is initially set up as the antagonist of the story and whom Ellie determines to kill in an act of revenge. TLoU2 is thus one of very few mainstream video games that champion (especially active, dominant, and, indeed, violent) female characters as protagonists. In order to examine the depiction of gender in the game, I approach TLoU2 through an affective framework that analyzes the nexus of violence, femininity, and empathy. I argue that TLoU2constructs violence as liberating and emancipating for its female protagonists in a postapocalyptic world that itself was created and is regulated by violence. Simultaneously, the game insists on the importance of balancing potentially justified violence with empathy for the position and perspective of others. It establishes this point both diegetically in the story of its two protagonists and extradiegetically in how players are forced to act aggressively against characters they have grown to empathize with, a ‘ludo-affective’ dissonance that consciously and productively discomforts the act of playing.

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Author’s Bio: Dr. Stefan Schubert teaches and researches at the Institute for American Studies at Leipzig University, Germany. His dissertation on Narrative Instability: Destabilizing Identities, Realities, and Textualities in Contemporary American Popular Culture was published in 2019. He is coeditor of Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture (2015), Video Games and/in American Studies: Politics, Popular Culture, and Populism, and the forthcoming Beyond Narrative: Exploring Narrative Liminality and Its Cultural Work. Among his wider research interests are popular culture, narrativity, game studies, gender studies, genre theory, discourses of privilege, 19th-century literature, and (post-)postmodern literature and culture.

Abstract: This article engages with the speculative future of Larissa Lai’s 2018 novel The Tiger Flu and its exploration of utopian possibilities via alternative forms of female survival. In contrast to prototypical depictions of survival in classic dystopian or post-apocalyptic narratives, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), where straight white male heroes are the ones who take charge, Lai changes some central premises: the novel is alternately told from the first-person perspective of Kirilow Groundsel and from a third-person perspective that uses a second protagonist, Kora Ko, as a focalizer. Issues pertaining to gender and sex as material-discursive formations that shape social relations are thus foregrounded in The Tiger Flu not only by the fact that the eponymous flu itself has “a taste for men,” but also through its two female queer protagonists of color, who are, moreover, not contained by the contours of lone hero/ine tropes. As we will show, however, the novel is likewise careful to not conjure feminist utopianism as a dea ex machina via its two protagonists and the worlds they inhabit: Lai’s narrative also traces continuities from “the world before,” showcasing that patriarchal structures, and particularly gendered violence, are not as far off as it would seem. Quite to the contrary, they are now frequently perpetuated and perpetrated by women and even by the protagonists themselves, and for that very reason might appear less conspicuous. The Tiger Flu hence simultaneously explores, celebrates, and criticizes utopian possibilities while emphasizing the continued parallel exploitation of both the environment and women – and by doing so the narrative teases readers with the possibility of utopian closure that it, however, ultimately denies in favor of interrogating ways of working towards utopia.

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Author’s Bio: Dr. Ina Batzke joined the University of Augsburg, Germany, as a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in American Studies in 2018, after she received her PhD from the University of Münster. Her most recent publications include her monograph “Undocumented Migrants in the United States. Life Narratives and Self-representations” (Routledge 2019) and the edited volume Storied Citizenship (2021, with Katja Sarkowsky), which both concern her research interests in life writing and critical refugee studies. In connection with her post-doctoral project, she has recently become interested in feminist technoscience, ecocriticism/ecofeminism, and posthumanism and how these concepts play out in both life writing and contemporary speculative fiction.

Dr. Linda M. Hess is a senior lecturer and postdoctoral researcher at the Chair of American Studies at the University of Augsburg. She is the author of Queer Aging in North American Fiction (2019), and has published articles in the fields of age studies, ecocriticism, and humor studies. Recently she co-edited the volume Life Writing in the Posthuman Anthropocene (Palgrave 2021 with Ina Batzke and Lea Espinoza Garrido). Her current research focuses on ideas of grievability, preservation, and loss in ecocriticism.

Abstract: This article seeks to elucidate how the American frontier myth with its specific narrative conventions, personnel and archetypes crucially informed a wave of urban crime film dramas from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. Its special focus will be on the films’ gender politics centering around a regenerative vigilante masculinity that these movies inherit from their Western ancestors. The basic gender script analyzed here is that of a white masculinity that re-establishes its seemingly lost or endangered position of superiority via the use of vigilante violence against an abjected non-white, underclass or female other situated in ethnic inner-city neighborhoods. While apparently undermining the state’s legitimate power, the regenerative vigilante ultimately assists or calls for a greater presence of the state in such urban ‘outlaw’ territories. The article discusses how movies such as Death Wish, and Fort Apache, The Bronx reiterate or even reinforce the male vigilante script inherited from the American Western tradition and how 1970s Blaxploitation cinema and particularly speculative gang films of the early 1980s, from The Warriors to Carpenter’s Escape films (partly) subvert or decenter this script. The personalized bracket of actress Pam Grier, who played characters in several of the above mentioned movies, will help to illustrate the various discursive framings of race, gender, violence and the state within these three strands of the urban frontier narrative.

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Author’s Bio: Dr. Sascha Klein has studied English studies and history. He wrote his dissertation as a fellow at a.r.t.e.s Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne. It was published under the title Skyscraping Frontiers. The Skyscraper as Heterotopia in the 20th-Century American Novel and Film in 2020. Currently, he is part of the teaching staff at the English Seminar I at University of Cologne and working on his post-doctoral project. His research interests include film culture, American Western and frontier fictions, Gothic literature, spatial theory, gender studies, media studies and urban studies.

Abstract: n/a.

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Author’s Bio: G Angel is a first-year PhD Student in the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University. They also have a BA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with an emphasis in LGBTQ Studies from Grand Valley State University. Their research predominantly involves the rhetoric of monstrosity, and in their work, they consider both which identity groups are determined to be monstrous and the socio-cultural impacts of this determination. More specifically, they are interested in the intersection of queer and rural monstrosity.