If you're going to write fake news, you should make it funny—at least that's the logic behind Reductress. Every day, the satirical news website publishes articles like "Four Playful Overalls That Say, 'Yeah, I Can Get You Adderall,'" and over the last year, they have gone viral across Facebook. According to Alexa, Reductress now boasts more than a quarter of a million unique monthly visitors. The site's founders have even started to get their own media attention, thanks to their recent satirical self-help book How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having it All—and Then Some!, which is presented as a terrible book written by the editors of a mainstream women's magazine.
"We call it a well-intentioned but bad manual on how to be a feminist," says founder Sarah Pappalardo.
Pappalardo wasn't always planning to use a website as her comedic platform. In 2012, she and her friend Beth Newell were struggling comedians in their late 20s. They had run in the same comedy circles for years, both performing improv and writing sketch comedy in New York. "It got a little exhausting dragging a bunch of props to a theatre all the time," Newell recalls. "We were both craving other creative outlets." One day, after taking a workshop at the Magnet Theater, Newell approached Pappalardo about creating a "fake news magazine." Pappalardo agreed to take part in the site. She had worked at a digital agency and Newell had interned and wrote for the Onion, so they both knew "just enough to know how hard it is" to make a successful website, Newell says.
For their 2013 launch, they roped a few of their friends into writing a bank of articles. Today, they've gained enough clout to add comedian Nicole Silverberg and Saturday Night Live writer Anna Drezen to their team as editors. The founders now work with Silverberg and two contributors in a small New York office, where they write articles, produce their podcast, and schedule speaking tours.
They've aspired to reach an audience beyond those who are able to make casual references to Audre Lorde and understand the difference between first- and second-wave feminists. "We didn't start the site with the idea of like, 'this is a feminist website,'" Newell says. "We were just doing a parody of women's media because there were some things that bothered us about the way women's media spoke to women." Take their recent article sarcastically referring to the La La Land producers as brave for conceding to Moonlight. You don't need a women's studies degree to laugh at the sentence, "It takes a certain kind of bravery to cede an Oscar that isn't even yours, but the La La Land producers did just that."
"I think it's just refreshing for women to have content that really speaks to them directly," Pappalardo says about their approach to comedy. "There are certain things that anyone who has gone through a so-called female experience finds funny and that people who haven't experienced just won't find funny."
While Reductress reports attracting a number of male readers (see: "Five Feminist Men Who Will Give You a Hug Whether You Want One or Not"), the site is aimed at American women who have been saturated with confidence-crippling messages from women's magazines."If the Onion took on Cosmo, I guess that's what we would be," Newell says.
Since Newell and Pappalardo founded Reductress, though, Cosmopolitan and the other publications they've parodied have reinvented themselves as woke. Teen Vogue's recent September issue, for example, was themed #ForGirlsByGirls and included an interview of US Attorney General Loretta Lynch by Black-ish star Yara Shahidi. The Reductress staff has welcomed the change. "I think Teen Vogue and Cosmo have done a really good job with their online endeavors, speaking to things that women's magazines in the past never really acknowledged," Newell says.
Yet there remains much to parody in 2017. For instance, they covered recent controversies at Uber with the headline "Uber CEO Hires Psychic to Get to The Bottom of All The Bad Vibes in Here." Then there's America's crooked conversation about sexual assault and celebrities lauding themselves for protesting Trump. "We're doing what we can to frame it in the context of a woman's experience," Pappalardo says. "We did a piece called 'Five Rainy Day Activities to Do With Your Toddler After Your Nanny is Deported.'"
These headlines have attracted the ire of trolls. Reductress has banned comments to diminish harassment of writers, but they have still faced attacks on Twitter. The biggest complaints come from people who have misinterpreted Reductress as a news site. "People find fault with it if they think it's real, and that's the kind of Twitter flack we get," Newell explains. "There are just the average Joes that think it's real, and then there's the occasional legit well-intentioned feminist that thinks it's real and is kind of upset."
Reductress will likely continue to upset men. As long as Fox News continues to publish periodic opinion pieces that teach "alpha women" how to better serve their husbands, Reductress will have people to mock and men to annoy.
"It's a funny time right now," Pappalardo says. "We thought we would be coyly commenting on a female president and all the things that would go along with that, but now we're going back to issues we would have been fighting 15 years ago, politically and otherwise."