Once upon a time, Reductress was just a humble satirical women’s lifestyle magazine with chuckle-worthy (if occasionally pointless) content. Deemed The Onion‘s feminist equivalent, Reductress could always be counted on for subversive headlines about Sex, Lifestyle and Entertainment that neatly mirrored the absurd demands of being a woman, such as “How to Fix Your Sad with Color Paint on Face” or “The Six Chillest Ways to Ask a Dude to Wear a Condom.” But since its humble beginnings in 2013, Reductress has grown into a haven of dark, topical humor for women and men alike who find the situation for basically anyone who isn’t a straight white dude in this country increasingly harder to tolerate.
When rape allegations against UCB comic Aaron Glaser divided New York’s community into opposing camps of victims’ allies and Glaser apologists, Reductress editors covered the site’s front page with punchy rape-relevant headlines, including “I Anonymously Reported My Rape for the Anonymous Attention.” When an unarmed Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by cops on the highway, the team worked quickly to publish “Black Man Arrested for Resisting Murder.”
Wired went so far as to call Reductress “the most brutally truthful comedy site out there.”
But with their latest book, How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having it All — And Then Some! out on Oct. 25, site founders and co-authors Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo are going back the Reductress‘s roots with a feminist bible for the ages. And when we chatted with them, they made it clear they were in it for the laughs as much as for the politics.
“Mostly we wanted to make people laugh,” Newell told us. “But if they learn a thing or two about feminism, that’s cool too.”
Billed as “the ultimate guide to winning feminism,” the new Reductress book — written by Pappalardo, Newell and newly-drafted SNL writer Anna Drezen — promises pages upon pages of the comedy site’s signature brand of irreverent feminist humor. Color illustrations and bold graphics punch up chapters with titles like “How to Do More With 33 cents Less” and “How to Get Catcalled for Your Personality.”
Since feminism isn’t exactly “winning” the fight right now, Brokelyn asked Pappalardo and Newell about their latest oeuvre’s message.
“Our book is for anyone interested in women’s rights or even just the day-to-day realities of being a woman,” Newell told Brokelyn. “There’s a lot in here for seasoned feminists to laugh at, but people should be by no means intimidated if they’re new to feminism. It’s all pretty relatable.”
Pappalardo, Drezen and Newell have been working on the book since January of 2015 — “Books take forever, we were little babies back then,” Newell joked — and it launches officially two weeks from now on Oct. 25, at Dumbo’s Powerhouse Arena. Even though feminism as a movement is far more widely recognized and documented than it’s ever been, the How to Win authors say there’s still an all-too-frequent need to call bullshit.
“We wanted to shed some light on the mixed messages that the media sends on the topic of feminism and how women should should feel about themselves,” Pappalardo said. “So hopefully after reading this book, readers can be more aware when they see these contradictions in the wild.”
It’s all fine and good for women to read this book and “learn a thing or two,” as Newell mentioned above, but what about men? Can the dudes in dire need of a re-education, i.e. the Billy Bushes and Donald Trumps of the world, be reached by a text that bills itself as feminist satire?
“If men are reading this book, there’s a pretty good chance they can be reached, or already have been reached on some level,” Newell said. “I do think people are generally more receptive to things that are done with humor, where they don’t feel like they’re being lectured at, but I don’t want to diminish the importance of all the feminist writers who were the first ones to point out many of the issues we’re satirizing.”
If you’re interested in reading some of those feminist writers, btw, the New York Public Library has a good list of must-reads. (We’d add Kate Zambreno’s Heroines to the list, too, since it details the history of the lesser-known feminist “wives” — Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivien(ne) Eliot, and others — whose work was appropriated by their writer husbands as they remained unpublished.)
Given the How to Win authors’ expertise in spotting both wins and losses for feminism in the media, we asked them whether there was anything discernibly positive in the news these days to give women reason to hope.
“I think it’s cool that a woman can say ‘Topple the patriarchy!’ at the Emmys without being blackballed from Hollywood,” offered Pappalardo. “Progress!”
Newell hesitated to cite Hillary Clinton as an example, since she felt the discourse surrounding the presumptive POTUS was still pretty bleak. Instead, she added that “the fact that sexual assault is getting more visibility is a good thing, even if it’s been a frustrating uphill battle.”
As far as personal wins for the Reductress founders, positive gains included seeing older women’s “eyes light up” at the mention of their new book, and nice emails from people who appreciate what they do.
“I’m still praying for a positive interaction in a grocery store,” said Pappalardo. “Any interaction at all, really.”
Reductress’ How to Win at Feminism hits the shelves Oct. 25. There’s a book launch party the same evening, at Powerhouse Arena (28 Adams St.) in Dumbo.