Inside the Rise of ‘Reductress’
“It’s definitely nothing new to say that our site doesn’t punch down, we punch up,” remarked Nicole Silverberg, writer and associate editor of satirical women’s magazine Reductress. In the week following the election, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the Clinton campaign’s rhetoric: “When they go low, we go high.”
Reductress was founded by Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo in 2013, and has since then built its audience on punching up. Specifically, the site takes aim at the ways in which women’s media espouses patriarchal beliefs and self-scrutiny.
“[Women’s media] indoctrinates women to think that they need to be thinking about what their boyfriend or husband or friend is going to think about their actions,” Silverberg explained. “They start living their life through a man’s eyes, which is a lot of what women’s media overtly encourages.”
Reductress receives over 600,000 unique visitors every month, a six-fold increase from its traffic just two years ago. Despite a small in-house team, Reductress has expanded from a Kickstarter project to a thriving website, weekly podcast, monthly live show, and a new book, How to Win at Feminism. At the end of Reductress‘s whirlwind year, I spoke with the site’s founders, editors, and contributors to see how the proverbial sausage is made.
Reductress has a contributor process similar to that of sites like The Onion and ClickHole: “Writers send 10 headlines and some copy about the potential article each week, due by Monday morning,” contributor Annie Brennen explained. “Things have become more streamlined in the past year. You can pitch a headline and another contributor can be assigned to write the article.”
Despite the site’s growth, its editorial team remains small: “It’s me and Beth [Newell, co-founder], we have Nicole [Silverberg, associate editor], and we have two in-house contributors,” said co-founder Sarah Pappalardo. “The editorial presence hasn’t changed that much. For stuff that comes from outside contributors we just take a pass at punching up and clarifying the piece before it goes up on the site, and we do that internally with each other’s pieces as well.”
The site’s efficient editorial process allowed Newell and Pappalardo to quickly compile articles in response to the discourse surrounding rape accusations in the New York comedy community. The result was a front-page takeover dedicated to articles on rape culture and sexual assault, a strong statement that permanently placed Reductress at the forefront of bold and political satire.
“We heard about the allegations over the weekend, and I think Monday we were really frustrated with some of the comments that people in the community were making about the allegations, like the way the women involved handled it, if they should have gone to the police instead of the [Upright Citizens Brigade] theatre,” Pappalardo explained. “We were really frustrated, and we asked our writers for pitches around rape culture and sexual assault. We got hundreds of pitches in a couple of hours. We decided there was so much to cover that we wanted to do a homepage takeover. It organically took off from there.”
How does Reductress continue to stand out against a sea of satirical news sites, especially in an election year? “The site is written through the lens of how women’s media would cover [politics], or how it specifically affects women,” Pappalardo explained. “We’re avoiding saying the same things that every other outlet would say about Donald Trump.”
“We did ‘100 Acts of Self Care that Won’t Get You Through the Election.’ We try to keep it women-focused. We don’t want to take a strong political stance, but obviously there are truths to the way this election affects women,” Newell added.
“As far as how close we stay to the source, I’d say it’s a stone’s throw,” explained associate editor Nicole Silverberg. “I get inspiration from just being a woman. Marketing is just tailored to [women] whether you’re on the privacy of your own Facebook or walking on the street and seeing who’s on the cover of magazines.”
“There’s this collective feeling of helplessness, when you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I feel really alone, but this magazine is telling me there are 52 ways I can feel less alone, but all of them include using frozen grapes and a blowjob,'” she added.
This sensibility carries over to Reductress‘s podcast, Mouth Time, written by the site’s team and hosted by Silverberg. “My character is a very wealthy, out of touch, tiny girl,” Silverberg explained. “Before as a foil to it, we had Anna Drezen, who was an ayahuasca-loving explorer of the mind, and now we have a social media character played by Rachel Wenitsky, so it’s all the same principles and sense of humor from the site on the podcast.”
In addition to the podcast, Silverberg hosts a monthly Reductress show at UCB called Haha, Wow! “The show is a little bit different because we have other performers come on. It’s kind of just another place for us to showcase people who write for the site or people who we just as a group of people really love. The show is basically all women. We try to include people of different gender identities and we try to have at least half the lineup be people of color, so we’re just putting on the comedy show that we would like to go see.”
In addition, Pappalardo, Newell, and Drezen recently published How to Win at Feminism, which Newell describes as “a manual from the point of view of a women’s magazine that might not be informed about what feminism actually means.” In this universe, the threshold for being a feminist is getting through the day without crying or eating milk chocolate.
“We noticed the way that feminism has been coming into the mainstream for a while and the ways in which it was being watered down or used to sell things without respect to any historical feminists,” Newell said.
How to Win at Feminism is many things: a somewhat sardonic timeline of women’s liberation, a shrine to Beyoncé (“the first feminist”), and a reference guide for all of your gendered noun needs (think: “alc-her-hol,” “hershtag”). In the accompanying audiobook, narrators Silverberg and Drezen walk the line between cultish gurus and Cosmopolitan editors with an axe to grind.
As far as what a post-election Reductress looks like, Pappalardo said that the Trump presidency will be “a prime target.”
“We’re just going to be responding to what the world throws at us,” Pappalardo said. With all the world has thrown at women this week, it’s not surprising that they received eighty-thousand unique visitors in the days following the election. They’re just getting started.