Reductress Ad Absurdum

In the Magazine
Model without an eyelash Martin Parr/Magnum

Are you a busy lady who needs some style tips on how to "take the shameful walk of a ruined woman from a strange man's apartment to the office the next day"? Try a statement necklace, or don a blazer! Are your sexual fantasies super un-PC? Help is here in the form of "7 Politically Correct Role-Plays to Spice Up Your Sex Life," which include hot games such as Nurse Examines Naughty Patient Using Mindfulness Meditation and the sure-to-be steamy Housewife and Strapping Pool Boy Explore the Class Dynamics of Their Relationship.

These inane but painfully plausible suggestions aren't ripped from the pages of a women's monthly magazine; they're from Reductress, a satirical website for women. Or as their tagline puts it: "Women's news. Feminized."

Most women's blogs and magazines still read eerily like dispatches from the 1950s: "how to" tips on dressing like French women, feel-good hokum about all women being beautiful and products condescendingly marketed "for her." Reductress counters that pabulum with articles titled "5 Subtle Sounds That Will Make Him Ask, 'What's Wrong?' " and "How to S**t Like a French Woman."

Reductress founding editor Beth Newell, a 28-year-old alumnus of The Onion, thought the Internet was lacking something vital. "I was doing a lot of sketch comedy projects.... A lot of ideas about making fun of women's media kept coming up in our meetings, and I realized there were all these ideas and nowhere on the Internet to put them."

After teaming with co-editor Sarah Pappalardo, 28, a veteran of the sketch comedy circuit, Reductress was born in April 2013. For a brief, unfortunate moment they considered calling it FemaNews, but that was scrapped as a concession to Rush Limbaugh. Says Pappalardo, "It sounded too much like 'feminazi.' "

The Reductress writers—mostly women—find their material from magazines, blogs, entertainment media and, as Pappalardo says, "basically anything that Oprah has ever touched." Says Newell, "One thing we found with women's media in general is it talks down to women and doesn't expect very much intelligence from their readership. And with those first-person narratives, it seems like they tend to encourage the dumbest people out there to write whatever they want about anything, especially in trying to drum up controversy."

Pappalardo adds, "It's often a lot of smart people being told to write something that isn't very smart, which is also a shame."

Although male writers pitch for the site, Newell says that "straight men seem to have trouble writing for the tone of the site, since they haven't been plagued by women's media their whole lives."

Not every reader gets Reductress, either. "Most of the negative feedback we get is from people who think our site is real," says Newell. "So they're either angry about the absurdity of the content or the supposed inaccuracy." The editors got negative blowback on a recent post claiming that Beyoncé was part of the Illuminati, and complaints from gamers posted in a long message board thread that claimed Reductress was encouraging violence against men with its post "8 Sex Positions That Will Blow His Mind and Destroy His Penis." One female reader was angry that Reductress used sexy photos of women. "She didn't want to see women in bathing suits," says Pappalardo, "and begged us to take them down so she could read our content."

Newell, Pappalardo and their stable of freelance writers have easy targets to hit, of course, regularly taking on dating tips and trend pieces with posts such as "Fun Ways to Tell Your Man You're on Your Period Without Saying 'Period,' " with its accompanying stock photo of a couple fake-laughing, and "Hot Trend: The Breast Exam Selfie."

The site lampoons Dove's "Real Beauty" campaigns, which have been lauded for attempting to redefine traditional standards of beauty. In the Dove Real Beauty commercial Reductress mocks, an FBI sketch artist shows one sketch of a woman as she describes herself next to his sketch based on how a stranger describes her. His sketches based on the women's self-descriptions are less attractive, the implication being that women are prettier than they think they are.

The Reductress parody, "Dove's Sketch Artist Leaks Drawings of the Women Who Were Actually Ugly," has sketches of women who look worse in the sketches made from strangers' descriptions. "When asked why they omitted the less attractive women from their video," the post says, "advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather stated, 'Attractive women with low self-esteem and warped self-perceptions were more in line with our vision.' "

As satisfying as this kind of satire is, Reductress would be, well, reductive if that was all it offered, but the site offers the sort of insight into women's lives that most women's magazines and blogs purport to provide but often don't. Like The Onion, its satirical first-person accounts and profiles offer an unsanitized, unsentimental but affectionate picture of modern women.

Posts such as "Woman Reaches 10,000-Hour Mark in Crafting OkCupid Ad," "How to Pretend You Haven't Googled Him" and "Texas Passes a Law That Forces Wendy Davis to Undergo a Transvaginal Ultrasound" offer a window into the real concerns of young women.

Reductress has a relaunch in the works for April and will feature more video, thanks in part to almost $15,000 it raised on Kickstarter last year. Outside of that funding and some display ad revenue, "we have been bootstrapping from day one," says Pappalardo. "When we started back in January of 2013, we built the site ourselves. We wrote and edited ourselves. I was a production and film studies major, and Beth has some great design skills, and neither of us are strangers to creating shorts, since both of us do sketch comedy. And now, if we need help or equipment, we just call in favors, and it usually just costs us a few bottles of whiskey or wine."

Asked if there's a reliable source of humor they hope will never go away, even if it would be better for womankind, Pappalardo says, "Bad sex advice for women. I can't get enough of it."

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