I encountered this string of tweets earlier today on my twitter feed, and though I am excited to get back to talking about Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt as soon as possible, I believe that these tweets appeared in my life so that I would have something compelling to write about today. I've blurred out the person's name in case they'd rather not reveal their identity (I know, I know, they tweeted this publicly and the internet is essentially a public place, but I prefer not to inadvertently send trolls out to bother people with whom I'm not really acquainted).
Feminism is something which I think is at the same time both public and personal. I'm of the opinion that there's not a singular "right way" to be a feminist, because society affects us all in many different ways and our responses to that will most likely be different. Speaking specifically about the example above, I believe that this person has every right to their opinion, and they're not a "bad feminist" for believing in something with which I disagree, but disagree I do.
Truth be told, I actually do agree quite a bit with the third tweet. I think that strong, compelling female characters should not be limited to one particular body or personality type, and I've become more hesitant to lay down blanket criticisms of characters based only on their character designs or how they're animated (within reason, of course). Several characters, including the most recent incarnation of Fujiko Mine and Michiko from Michiko to Hatchin, combine voluptuous, sultry looks and sexual attitudes with compelling character story arcs. That said, I think where my personal philosophy differs from this person's boils down to classification. In the first tweet, they posit that sexism and fanservice are separate and distinct subjects. My opinion, however, is that fanservice is a very specific subset of sexism, one which pulls from assumptions about default audience composition and related ideas about use and appropriation of the female form.
One of the readings that I've found the most influential of all the many books and academic articles I've read (both for school assignments and for pleasure) is Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." One of the point suggested in the essay is that, due to the demographic makeup of the people creating films, most films (and, by association, other forms of media) are created with a heterosexual male audience in mind. In most cases, the character with whom the audience is meant to identify is male, while the female characters occupy spaces of various levels of visual availability (sexual, voyeuristic, fetishistic, etc.). There's an oft-repeated argument that the reason that female nudity is several times more prolific in media is that the female form is somehow more ideally beautiful, a "fact" recognized in artwork dating back several thousand years. While I don't deny the fact that the human body itself is marvelously complex and fascinating to look at, when considering the sex of the people producing the most artwork and films, it makes sense that their preferred subject would be women. I believe that the notion that women's bodies are somehow more pleasant to look at is more an artifact of tradition rather than a factual, objective statement about women's versus men's bodies.
The most popular, prolific form of fanservice, that which displays the animated female form in various states of undress, positioning and, ahem, exaggerated movement, is then simply a reflection of this unaddressed inequality of creatorship and target audience. It is, by its nature, a symptom of sexism in media creation. To argue that fanservice in this form is somehow a separate element and issue from sexism in media ignores the fundamental reasons for its existence.
NOTE: I'm of course aware that fanservice meant to target female consumers exists. It is not, however, nearly as common, nor does it stem from millennia of systematic objectification, so I do not consider them equivalent in how problematic they are. That said, I find them both annoying.
While I do agree with the essence of the third tweet, I think that it runs the risk of confusing an idealized notion of character motivation with the reality of what normally passes for character development in anime. Recently, I've become more of a proponent of female sexuality in media. I think that we tend to confuse a character's strong sexuality with a lack of ethics, especially when it comes to female characters. We have been taught to pass judgment on a woman who enjoys sex or uses it as a tool in her arsenal (see: Poison Woman), rather than accept that as a facet of her character. That said, there is a huge, huge difference between a freely "sexual" character, and one who is "sexualized." The former tends to suggest agency on that character's part. She chooses to act on her desires, or to use them for her benefit. The latter, on the other hand, suggests that the character is at the whim of those filming/animating her and exists to be an object. She is imbued with sexuality as a result of outside forces, rather than by something essential to her character. The former is featured in anime so infrequently that I can barely think of any examples (the aforementioned Fujiko Mine is certainly one, though even her portrayal is made problematic by both story and directorial elements of the show), while the latter features prominently in both popular and niche anime alike.
That said, I am of the (perhaps controversial) opinion that fanservice elements can and are used in subversive ways, occasionally. When I watched the first episode of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt way-back-when, I was struck by the characters' transformation sequence. The sequence mimics those found in most magical girl series, in that the two female characters transform from their mundane, every day appearances to those which are more fantasy-inspired, and gain new weaponry and powers. What's different here is that the characters approach the scene with their trademark uninhibited, unapologetic sexuality by turning the ordeal into a very obvious, blatant strip tease. I find this fascinating, because transformation or "henshin" sequences in magical girl anime tend to feature innocent nudity that becomes voyeuristic when coupled with some elements of the secondary audience, older male otaku (which doesn't include the several magical-girl series that have been created with male otaku directly in mind and which pander directly to that demographic in ways that I'd rather not go into). Panty and Stocking subverts that by being entirely confrontational and open with its sexual elements. The characters play to the "audience" by gazing directly into the camera, performing in ways that suggest adult sexuality, and even appearing as adult women when they could normally be mistaken as originating from a child's cartoon. They diffuse their own sexualization by taking command of it and using it literally as a weapon.
Finally, regarding the term "fanservice feminist," I find that these words need not necessarily be mutually-exclusive. A feminist, by my definition, is someone who is considerate of and works for equality for all genders; in essence, they are defined by their actions rather than the things that they enjoy privately. As we are all, by nature of our fandom, fans of problematic things, to call out someone based only on the quality of entertainment they enjoy is disingenuous. However, I also recognize the phenomenon of internalized sexism, and recall several ways in which I once defended ideas and practices that were harmful to my and others' social standing. I think that it is wholly possible to be a feminist who enjoys fanservice, but I think it less possible to relay feminist ideas by becoming a champion of fanservice, which is by its nature in many cases anti-woman.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I'll mention that these tweets initially flooded me with resentment when I encountered them. Much like this oft-quoted Stephen Fry statement, they inadvertently grant permission to the type of people who would rather be assholes and continue existing in their own privileged comfort zone than listen to arguments by marginalized people about their own oppression and become more compassionate. It's exhausting and it makes it all the more difficult to speak about my own experiences when there are people who feel justified in silencing them. But perhaps that's a post for another day.
Yes, empowering, complex female characters may also have large breasts or choose to wear revealing clothing, but their success in characterization doesn't mean that they aren't also undermined by their visual portrayal. Fanservice may not be "end-of-the-world" level material, but it's also not a benign existence. Hopefully this post has helped to illuminate my opinion a bit better for those who are put-off by my seemingly hard-line stance on it.