This article appears in our 2017 Winter issue, Chaos. Subscribe today!
My Facebook feed was recently bombarded with posts showing the covers of Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life magazines side by side; they were fairly easy to distinguish, what with one showing activities and tools and toys while the other was very pink and focused more on the acquisition of “dream hair.” We know this. We try to point it out when we see it, showcase the best alternatives, offer analysis to explain why girls should have access to microscopes just as boys should have all the sculpting gel and highlights they dream of, and remind ourselves and others that when it comes to girls and boys, not everyone has checked a box yet, and some may never do so. It’s very serious stuff, and it can be infuriating. This makes new book How to Win at Feminism that much more delicious. The creators of Reductress, the website that has itself been reductively if appreciatively called the “feminist Onion,” have expanded their satirical take on women’s media into a can-do (but-maybe-shouldn’t? Decisions are hard!) guide to feminism. It’s frequently a flat-out riot, but also makes essential points that only satire can.
Each chapter opens with an invocation to its governing goddess, who might be Bey, Oprah, Lena, or “Saint Curvy,” a “real” woman flanked by cherubs, one of whom is pumping Dove lotion into her seashell perch while an actual dove adjusts her bra strap. The dove is wearing an identical bra.
Each chapter ends with a rhyme from feminist fairy Plinky, whose backstory grows more disturbing with each successive entry. There’s a tutorial that lays out how to take the best selfie possible (by excluding yourself from the frame), and the reminder that any form of lesbianism is really just a break from dick. Many of the sharpest barbs come in the form of ads. Lumps Gym wants you to “celebrate your lumps by sort of getting rid of them a little. But not too much!” Feelings Water honors the 15-year-old inventor of a water filter that will protect her rural Indian village from disease by sending her to a Parisian modeling school. And the Vagilante Anti-Rape Multi-Tool…well, enough said.
Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo created Reductress knowing anyone exposed to the contradiction and abnegation that makes up so much of “women’s” media would find it both funny and painfully familiar. How to Win at Feminism takes the concept to the nth degree, lampooning and dismantling the ridiculous and insulting. It’s a treat.
This review is featured in our upcoming print issue, Chaos.