Asking what is “feminist anything” is a dangerous game. Feminism, like queer, like many things, is a self-defined term. Anyone who proposes to have the “correct” definition, to guard the gate of feminism, is a huckster and a liar.
My individual definition of feminist literature is the following:
Feminist literature presents female characters as agents. These stories present women as fully realized characters with faculties, desires, aggressions, ires, lusts, and conflicts.
To call forth an oft-used quotation by Cheris Kramarae, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human.” Feminist literature treats these humans as interesting and worthy of novels and stories.
There may be some who argue against feminism in some female-led stories. Disney movies and Twilight are the first two easy targets. The question I ask of these stories is, are they about the women they suggest to be? That is, is Beauty and the Beast about Belle and her journey? What about the Little Mermaid? Twilight? If you can argue that these stories are indeed about these women, and that they aren’t acting as foils for the men in stories, then I say yes, they belong within the purview of feminist literature.
There is another layer wherein we can question the motives of the protagonists of these stories. Indeed, a huge number of these same Disney stories and chick-lit films and books are about the pursuit of marriage and other socially-sanctioned feminine ideals. Using this context for examining these same stories, it can be more difficult to consider these stories within the feminist canon. This is the same standard that confounds many conversations about “what is or is not feminist.” The question of feminist pornography, for instance, is particularly difficult to untangle because the question is not (or shouldn’t be) whether or not women chose to engage in the act with a free will, but whether or not their choice was a good/ethical/progressive one.
Herewith, we remove the sense that access to choice in itself is a feminist ideal, and add a further standard by which we place value judgments on the choices themselves. This is doomed to be an endlessly recursive argument where people can parse out every choice and place it on a scale of good to bad. Such can be done with nearly every aspect of gender equality – to choose to be a mother, to choose to have an abortion, to choose to abstain from sex, to choose a career in pornography, and on and on and on.
Feminist literature, then, is having characters that have the will and the ability to choose. They are the mistresses of their own destinies. They make their choices and play their hands. They tell their own stories engaging us, the readers, in their extraordinary journeys