For being a somewhat niche concept of a satirical women’s magazine, Reductress really runs the gamut when it comes to content. There’s been their acclaimed and biting homepage dedicated to sexual assault (headlines include: Man Who Sexually Assaulted You Likes Your Facebook Post About Sexual Assault and ‘Most Woman Lie About Rape,’ Says Man Lying About Rape), sadly relatable posts like Woman Thanks Boyfriend For Putting Up With Her Totally Reasonable Behavior, heavy hitters such as Six Thanksgiving Pies that Won’t Fix What Happened In Ferguson, and more absurd moments, like 10 Beautiful Red Carpets You Can’t See Because Blake Lively Is In The Way.
But for their new book How To Win At Feminism: The Definitive Guide To Having It All— And Then Some!, they’ve focused on the topic that seems to be in everyone’s mouths lately: feminism, and how to get it “right.” Throughout six sections and 200 pages, punctuated by Plinky the Fairy Witch (a vibrator-wielding second-wave feminist who speaks in whimsical rhyme and turns out to be “an actual Feminazi”), Oprah, Lena Dunham, Beyoncé, and “Ruth Bader Ginsburg After She’s Had Her Wine,” among others, How To Win At Feminism is an exhaustive and silly exploration into the follies of feminism and the many, many ways to joke about it. And after last night’s news, jokes can help to ease the pain. God only knows how long we’ll have to poke fun at the state of women in this country before the absurd becomes reality.
“We definitely wanted to do a book for a long time,” explains Sarah Pappalardo, who co-founded Reductress with Beth Newell. “When we observed that feminism was coming into the mainstream in a particular way, we wanted to hone in on that and also do a series of short chapters, all around that topic. The book still has the spirit of the site in that way.”
As it’s a rather long book, those used to the bite-sized Reductress might have a better time consuming it in sections at a time. After reading it in nearly one sitting, its tone injected itself into my mind. Included in the book is a handy chart “Is It Feminist?”, which assesses topics like “knowing CPR” (feminist) and “peeing” (not feminist). I began wondering if my everyday actions were feminist. Is eating this pasta feminist? Is getting up at 2 pm on a Saturday feminist? Will semen be coconut oil in the year 3035 like they predicted? I never came to a conclusion, but it was an interesting change of headspace.
Much of the book smartly pokes fun at a sort of “Feminism Lite,” where owning the label, going braless once, and making a Facebook status about how Marilyn Monroe was the size of a “real” woman while listening to Taylor Swift makes you immune to criticism, because you are a feminist and feminism is good. I began to wonder if now, there will be a new breed of people who sit around chuckling about how to get feminism wrong while not changing much about their own real-life actions.
“There’s definitely always a trap there of becoming so aware you keep making fun of the thing that you should actually be championing,” says Newell. “With our site, we try to be careful of the balance. For any article we post making fun of ourselves as feminists, we make sure we have more articles that are making fun of sexism and men and other things.”
“I think with the book and the site there’s the feeling that satire isn’t necessarily going to go as far as changing someone’s behavior,” adds Pappalardo. “The best we can do is make people be like, oh I didn’t see it that way, maybe I do do that, and the rest is up to them.”
Throughout How To Win At Feminism, and much of mainstream feminist media, there is a focus on reproductive organs, singing both praises and horrors of vaginas, uteri, and the rest of it. Certainly, these aspects of our bodies are full of mysteries and stigmas and whatever we can do to make these topics less hush-hush is a plus in my book. The day that quips about the unpredictable nature of vaginal discharge replace talk of the weather around the water cooler is the day I start working in an office.
But this focus within feminism, even in joke feminism, of conflating anatomy with womanhood can be isolating to trans women and femmes, who often vanish from the dialogue entirely when these topics take center stage.
Trying to delve into serious topics that arise from—or are neglected by—jokes can lead some comics to bristle (read: older male comics who whine about “PC culture” stifling them instead of using that time to like, write not-bad jokes). But Newell and Pappalardo seemed to be on the same page as me.
“Every day, trans women are being erased from the conversation. I wish we could do more, now that you mention it,” says Pappalardo. “What we’re doing is satirizing a women’s magazine which barely, beyond Caitlyn Jenner, even acknowledges the existence of trans women.”
“It’s a challenge sometimes to find just the right joke that points out that sort of erasure while still staying in [that] voice,” Newell adds.
“Even being a queer person is a new thing to them,” says Pappalardo. “[But] I think we can do more to further that conversation. I would love to have more people contribute to us who are trans.”
How To Win At Feminism: The Definitive Guide To Having It All— And Then Some!, written by Beth Newell, Sarah Pappalardo, and Anna Drezen and presented by Reductress, is on sale now.