When one stumbles across Reductress, her initial reaction is one of utter recognition. The colors of the site’s headings are bright and the font size of its headlines bubbly and large enough to read without the slightest squint of the eyes. There is perhaps a picture of a pop star flashing across a corner of the page. Another (lower) corner might feature some softly salacious headline. Ah yes, she might think, another website targeted to women readers.
This is how women’s media has traditionally been presented.
When the reader’s eyes linger upon the content of that homepage, however, the more devious intentions of the site’s creators—Sarah Pappalardo and Beth Newell—become very clear. As I write this profile of Reductress, a few of the site’s popular articles include: “Lana Del Rey Actually Mysterious Drowned Girl Who Drowned in Lake,” “8 Sex Positions That Will Totally Blow His Mind and Destroy His Penis,” “Beyonce Admits to Being a Member of the Illuminati,” and (my personal favorite) “Cute Pride Weekend Outfits That Won’t Turn Off Homophobic Dudes.” I discovered the site in the midst of a social media #YesAllWomen hashtag outburst and responded strongly to a post on Reductress that was entitled, “How to Make a Man-Friendly #YesAllWomen Post.”
Reductress replicates the cloying familiarity of women’s media and escalates the insanity of that content in each of its posts. I liken the site to Stephen Colbert or the Onion-brand humor in its spot-on reproduction of the thing it seeks to mock.
Newell said: “We are making fun of women’s media but we’re also making fun of ourselves as women a little bit and the way that we buy into the rules of being a woman. In feminist theory, you can get called out on that, but comedy eases the seriousness of the situation.”
The two comedy writers and performers, both 29 years old, were working together on sketch comedy with New York’s Magnet Theater when in 2012, Newell brought up the idea for a site that parodied women’s media. Pappalardo said that she was surprised to find that there was not such a site in existence yet.
“There’s a lot of snark out there and that has been the tried and true method of commenting on what’s wrong with the media,” Pappalardo said. “We wanted to do it specifically by taking on the tone of the media.”
At first, the site was launched and produced almost exclusively by the pair, but eventually a Kickstarter campaign helped to bring on some developer support and to produce a design—unnervingly cheerful and glossy—that is characteristic of a women’s media site. The site accepts contributions from writers and asks for about ten pitches for stories from prospective writers in order to find a placement for a few of those ideas within Reductress (find out how to contact them here).
A contributor should strive to emulate the tone of the site, a register that has—at times—given some readers confusion (much to my amusement). I asked them about readers misinterpreting their site’s posts, such as the most excellently hyperbolic, “8 Sex Positions That Will Totally Blow His Mind and Destroy His Penis.”
Pappalardo said: “The troubling thing is that those complaints are couched in, ‘See a feminist magazine makes this kind of joke.’ Well, that’s kind of the problem with calling us a feminist magazine because our tone is anti-feminist, that’s the whole point. People tend to get confused and I think that a feminist magazine means something different to a lot of people.”
Newell added: “The majority of people who call us out on stuff are calling out something in the article as though we’re saying it when the whole point of satire is that we obviously do not agree with it. So, usually, it’s someone entirely missing the point.”
I asked them to try to identify the thing that (beyond the glorious comedic potential) drew them to parodying women’s media.
“A couple aspects about the tone of women’s media especially offends us,” Newell said with a laugh. “One is that the tone is condescending to women in terms of underestimating the intelligence of women and talking in this dumb, girl-friendy way, and also always expecting women to want to change themselves to live up to some sort of standard outside of themselves.”
“It’s generally couched in fear mongering in order to drive consumerism,” Pappalardo added. “And it’s gotten to the point where you can’t really tell the difference between what’s supposed to be content and what’s advertising. You have Dove being like [in a creepy, throaty impression]: ‘We’re here to make women feel good about themselves.’ . . .They’re just selling lotion. They’re picking the low-hanging fruit in terms of feminist objectives.”
Newell said: “What’s definitely been on my mind since we started is there’s a rampant tone in women’s media that speaks to women in a way that I feel like we as a society should have out-grown by now. We’re better than this, but we’ve stayed in this stronghold of where women’s media has been—“How to Please Your Man” and “How to Clean Your House”—and these things that aren’t in themselves that harmful, but that it’s exclusively the content of those magazines is a little disappointing.”
Don’t hold your breath for the condescension and sexism of traditional women’s media to relent any time soon, dear reader. As Pappalardo articulated, these outlets make a bit too much green off appealing to the deep-seated fears of women. Or (to put it more hopefully), just read Reductress and get a little sympathy from the devil.
Check back in on July 14 for a profile of journalist, Linda Villarosa.
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