“I get a lot of hate emails,” Arielle Pardes says, shrugging nonchalantly. “My favorite was from an alumni from the class of 1971. They just wrote me an email and were like, ‘I hope your parents are really proud of you. You disgust me.’”
The average 21-year-old school newspaper reporter might get discouraged by such hostile emails, but Arielle isn’t your typical college student. For one, she writes a sex column. She’s also one of just four students at University of Pennsylvania majoring in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies.
While her peers avoid addressing topics like hook-up culture, Arielle confronts those issues head on in her weekly column, “The Screwtinizer.” In its two-year lifespan, she’s covered everything from the importance of keeping up with STI checks to what constitutes sexual consent.
’s traditional nature often means her column will be met with an ambush of aggressive emails. Instead of getting angry about out-of-date views on sexual taboos, she takes them in stride. After receiving the email from the alum, she says, “I forwarded it to my mom, and she responded, ‘Yeah, I am really proud of you,’ which was great.”
Thanks to her column, Arielle has the maturity and poise required to survive in the writing world. She understands that not everything she posts will be appreciated, no matter how great she thinks it is. In some cases, readers may even go so far as to comment, “Arielle’s parents should be locked up for child abuse” (yes, that actually happened).
That same confidence is apparent in her good posture and smooth gestures, and in the way she’s able to thoughtfully articulate how she made it to where she is today. She doesn’t stumble over her words, her sentences aren’t cluttered with “likes,” and eye contact comes naturally.
When listening to her stories, it seems as though Arielle has always been sure of herself. It began in her junior year of high school when she applied to work for a law school magazine, The National Jurist. “I gave them a call,” she says, “and I was like, ‘Hi, I’m 16 years old, I’m not a freelancer, and I have no published clips. But I’d really like to work for you.’”
The magazine had never employed an intern who wasn’t in law school, but Arielle insisted she could do it and eventually snagged the job. “I was so presumptuous,” she says with a grin.
Arielle worked at the magazine for two years, saw a $2.50 pay raise within the first year, and got two bylines. At the same time, she balanced being editor-in-chief of her high school’s newspaper and leading their writer’s workshop.
After taking a break from journalistic pursuits during her freshman year at UPenn (“to experience all of the other things you can do in college”), Arielle pitched her sex column to the opinions editor of the school paper. “He had no idea who I was,” she says. “I filled out an application to be a columnist—thinking it would never fly—and he was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds great. Let’s do it.’”
An outsider might say that Arielle’s writing path has been characterized by good luck, but it's clear that her success really comes down to her passion for the craft and confidence in her ability.
Come May, Arielle plans to move to New York, the city that she’s fallen in love with, “for better or for worse.” With a gender, sexuality, and women’s studies degree and a sex column under her belt, she hopes to land a position at either a women’s or men’s interest magazine.
“I think I’ve always gravitated towards women’s magazines because I like that there’s a mix of lifestyle content, but also useful things for women’s lives,” she says. “I think what men’s magazines do better, unfortunately, is that they have better long form.”
She pauses for a moment before adding, “So maybe someone needs to come along and change women’s magazines.”
Regardless of where she ends up, Arielle will likely be fielding emails from readers who take issue with whatever provocative, insightful thing she has to say.
By Caroline Hatano, Boston University, Food & Wine
Edited by Kayla Becker, Florida State University, This Old House Magazine