There was a bit of a stink recently when it was revealed that a new anthology, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF, edited by Mike Ashley, had in it not a single story by a woman or a person of color--here's the table of contents, and some interesting reading in the comments. I found at Feminist SF-The Blog this quote from Ashley, explaining that this "...probably has something to do with my concept of “mind-blowing”. Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for."
As a counter to this, Feminist SF is soliciting suggestions of mindblowing SF by women here, and The Angry Black Woman is doing the same for People of Color here. The lists to date can be seen here at the Tor blog.
Thinking about feminist SF lead me to muse about feminist fantasy for children and young people. This is hard for me, because I find it difficult to read children's fantasy books critically, in part perhaps because I am weak-mindedly trying to recapture my naive childhood reading self.
I'm also working my way here toward defining feminism with regard to children's and YA fantasy. I think that in general it's a lot easier to point out books that aren't feminist, than to find those that clearly are. Many fantasies with strong female characters exist, but I'm not sure I'd call them all "feminist," exactly. If an important female character knows how to use a sword, or uses her wits to extricate self and others from a few situations, is that enough to make a book feminist? No. (I'm thinking David Eddings' Belgariad here, for instance).
I think there has to be some meaningful defiance of the social, economic, and political ramifications of patriarchy, or, by presenting the heroine as a denizen of a land without patriarchy, some degree of less direct subversion of the normative male-dominated culture so ubiquitous in fantasy. The examples from my own childhood reading that stand out here are Dragonsong* and Dragonsinger, the story of how Menolly defies the gender stereotypes of her culture to win a place for herself at the Harper Hall (and boy do I hate Masterharper of Pern for totally obviating the whole point of Menolly's story).
Now I am trying to decide if I think Graceling is feminist or not...
And I am also wondering if in fact I really want l to try to catch my fiction reading self up to my critical academic anthropologist/archaeologist self...and risk loosing my innocent pleasure in a good story. Which in turn leads me to thinking about Ursula Le Guin's short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." A story, incidentally, that blew my mind.
*this is the cover that was on my copy of Dragonsong, and all the other covers are not as nice.
Edited to add: here is a post from Sarah Rees Brennon's blog that is both relevant and amusing.