Q&A: Sarah Pappalardo and Beth Newell on Winning at Feminism

Written by the creators of Reductress, How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having It All—And Then Some! is a biting, satirical guide offering women advice on how to become full-fledged feminists ready to take on the patriarchy. The self-described “wo-manual”  pokes fun at contemporary culture and advertising gimmicks by providing readers with information about the tools, strategies and products to embrace feminism and to perfect their feminist image.

164710The all-encompassing guide offers lessons on how to incorporate feminism into every facet of life, avoid “being too ‘opiniony’,” and inspire friends by “femsplaining” feminism to them. Sections like “How to Apologize for Having It All,” “How to Take Up More Space, But Not Too Much Space” and “Work-Life Balance vs. Life-Work Balance: Which is Right for You?” providing excellent examples of the ridiculous, and often contradictory, standards women are expected to live up to.

Sarah Pappalardo and Beth Newell started Reductress in 2013. As a satirical women’s magazine, Reductress provides a platform for female comedians to address and critique the ways in which women’s media outlets continue to reinforce stereotypes and to offer patronizing messages to their readers. How to Win at Feminism takes hold of this subversive and hilarious approach to both present and mock a stylish, commodified brand of feminism that isn’t too boring or too aggressive.

Ms. recently had the opportunity to speak with Pappalardo and Newell about their book and about depictions of feminism in today’s media landscape.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Your work on Reductress satirizes the themes and tone often found in mainstream women’s media. What inspired you to change your format and to expand your work to a book about feminism?

Pappalardo: We wanted to write a Reductress book for a long time, but once we observed how feminism was entering the mainstream media and consciousness, looking [at] the ways that it’s good and the ways that it’s problematic, we wanted to explore it in a lot more detail than we would on the site.

How would you describe the way feminism is often addressed in contemporary media and culture?

Newell: More and more people are becoming versed in feminist issues, which means there is more intelligent discussion out there, but with feminism gaining in popularity, there is also a lot of watered down clickbait representations of the same issues.

Pappalardo: I think we’re seeing a lot of genuine attempts to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a feminist in 2016?” coming from the culture at large, as advertisers rabidly co-opt that culture in order to sell stuff back to us.

How to Win at Feminism makes a point of humorously highlighting commercialism. Do you think there’s been a trend of commercializing feminism in recent years?

Pappalardo: Definitely! And while it’s not all bad, this commercialized feminism tends to favor the parts of feminism that reinforce the same materialistic, consumerist culture that oppresses us in so many ways.

Newell: Yes, advertisers love to champion people’s rights if they can do it while selling things to them.

How do you think satire functions as a good tool to address sexism and inequality in our culture?

Pappalardo: We aren’t expecting it to change the world, but we do hope to shed light on the subtle messages we often take for granted in our culture and make people more aware of how it shapes their view of the world.

Newell: Yeah, and we hope that giving women a chance to laugh at these issues is cathartic and allows them to keep fighting the fight without feeling totally exhausted. Avoiding feminist burnout seems more important than ever after this election.




Melissa Scholke is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied English Literature and Communications Studies. When she’s not writing and discussing important feminist issues, she spends time reading and indulging her indie music obsession.