Newell and Pappalardo started out satirizing women’s magazines, but their vision has grown to poke fun at lame representations of women in the blogging world and social media (just check out their collection of the most amazingly sarcastic wedding boards Pinterest has ever seen). And through fake news stories like "Spruce Up Your Resume By Making It Sound Like You’re a Man" and "New Ways to Hate Your Butt This Summer," the site challenges both overt and subtle sexism. "We haven’t seen proof that we’re changing lives yet, but we’re pretty sure it’s happening," Pappalardo joked.
The creators of Reductress caught up with Racked to talk about how they came up with the site, how they’re bringing it to life, and which article people think is actually true, a la The Onion.
How did you meet and how did this idea come about?
Beth Newell: Sarah and I met doing sketch comedy here in New York. We worked together on a political show and some videos, and I randomly had the idea for a satirical website that would take on women’s media. I came to Sarah asking her if she wanted to help me create it. We spent a few months compiling material and making it happen. The idea came up in December 2012 and we launched at the end of April 2013.
How has it evolved since then?
Sarah Pappalardo: We started out really satirizing print magazines specifically. Since then it’s evolved into satirizing the blogger culture, reactionary women’s media—just a broader scope of what we satirize.
Beth: We’ve also gotten more topical and specific as we’ve gone. In the beginning we were trying to set the tone for what the website was, so it was more broad takes on women’s media in general.
How did you get the site off the ground?
Beth: We brought together a group of our female comedy friends and helped them write articles. We launched the site with about 50 articles already up. We wanted to give it the feel of a fully-fledged site, not just a blog.
How did people react when you launched it?
Sarah: We got a bigger reception than we had expected at first. We got some press in the first couple of days that really helped take it off the ground. It was overwhelmingly positive and I think it probably crashed on day three because we got quite a bit of traffic. It was a big response.
Are you the type of people who read women’s magazines religiously growing up?
Beth: No, not really. Speaking for myself, I think as a woman, that kind of media is always around you, whether you choose to seek it out or not. I definitely did look at women’s magazines, but I wasn’t an avid reader or anything.
"It is kind of funny how even if you don’t buy the magazines or subscribe, somehow it seeps into your psyche by osmosis."
Sarah: I grew up with Sassy and Seventeen and Teen Vogue. I grew more cynical as an adult. It is kind of funny how even if you don’t buy the magazines or subscribe, somehow it seeps into your psyche by osmosis.
Beth: I think even when I was 13 years old looking at it with my friends, we were kind of making fun of it all the time. We were rarely reading it sincerely. I’m sure I took a makeup tip here or there, but a lot of the time, we were like, "These embarrassing moments are ridiculous."
Do you ever feel like you’ll run out of topics to riff on on the site?
Beth: There’s always new stuff, and there’s always new ways companies are trying to sell women things. That’s always there.
Sarah: As long as there are women in the news, there’s something to talk about for sure.
What topics are most popular with readers?
Sarah: They seem to dig our take on love and sex, and stuff that alludes to feminist issues of today, topics like abortion and women in the workplace.
Beth: A lot of our articles take on the soft sexism that women face in their daily lives that they don’t always have the words to articulate. I think they enjoy seeing that represented.
Some of the posts ring so true, it’s kind of sad.
Sarah: Oh yeah. A lot of our day is processing news that isn’t funny and it can be angering and really sad. We try to find what’s wrong with the media’s take on it and make sure that we are being critical of the media and not of the sad thing that is happening.
Beth: We got a lot of really frustrating days. The thing that gets us through is today’s frustration is fodder for tomorrow’s comedy. Hopefully we can help other people deal with that frustration by making comedy for them.
Is anything ever too edgy to write about? Do you ever say "this is too much?"
Beth: I don’t think any topic is ever too edgy, I think certain angles are too offensive. We get a lot of pitches and we definitely give our writers room to fail in the pitching process. We don’t post everything they pitch us. We always want to be respectful of minorities and trans people and at the same time you want to represent those issues on the site and there is a fine line there. We want to make sure the joke is targeting the right people.
"Today’s frustration is fodder for tomorrow’s comedy."
Sarah: We always want to make sure that we are punching up and not punching down. Sometimes it just really requires some finessing and really honing in on what we are trying to say.
What’s the process like? Do you write the headline first and then the story?
Sarah: Every week, our writers pitch us 10 headlines. We do short descriptions. We make the assignments based on the strength of the headlines and then you write it from there. If the headline doesn’t get laughs, it’s basically not much value in having a really fun piece because no one will click on it.
Do you have any favorite headlines?
Beth: I usually pick my favorite of the day. Today, one I really enjoyed is "How to Be a Lady In The Streets And A Haunted Clock Tower In The Sheets."
Sarah: Mine is from one of my favorite pieces, about the Dove campaign: "Dove Real Beauty Asks Women to Choose Between ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Tiger."
Has anyone ever believed the stories, like The Onion?
Sarah: Oh yeah. There’s one up on the site right now that’s about piercing your baby’s tongue. You’ll notice it’s the most popular. We see stuff on Twitter, like "That mother needs to go to jail." Pretty amazing.
What have been your biggest challenges from when you launched to now?
Sarah: One challenge we have is that we are self-funded. We don’t have the funds that some new media organizations have, we have to find creative ways to work around it and look big without being big.
Beth: I think any job is going to have its exciting moments and then there a lot of lulls in between where you have to keep hacking at it. It’s not always the most glamorous thing to just do the same thing over and over again. You’ve got to find excitement in it, day to day. It’s about not getting discouraged if every day isn’t the most exciting.
"Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and if it does, it’s probably not the kind of growth you want."
Is advertising your main source of revenue?
Sarah: Yes, and not by much. We also do events and original productions and some creative services as well. We have some stuff [in NYC] that we’re working on right now in that arena. We have one coming up at Union Hall, a collection of some of our favorite stand up in the Reductress voice. We did an original stage show in March as well. We’ll be doing more of those in the future. We’re looking out to venture out of New York soon enough.
What advice would you give yourself if you were going to do this all again?
Beth: Just keep at it. It will all pay off.
Sarah: For me, it would be that growth doesn’t happen overnight, and if it does, it’s probably not the kind of growth you want. The way that a Tumblr can go viral is not necessarily you want a brand to grow. It’s more about chipping away and building an audience every day, instead of waiting for that one big day.