After her epic Teen Vogue takedown of our new gaslighter in chief, the outspoken journalist tells GOOD how to stand up to bullies
As an outspoken woman on the internet, Lauren Duca was no stranger to ugly words from strangers. But around Christmastime, she noticed a troubling uptick in rape and death threats. After a battlesome appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show two days prior (an exchange so fraught that a Fox staffer told her he’d quit after working on it), she found herself fielding an appalling flood of online poison: Memes of Carlson sodomizing her. Explicit threats to her safety.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]I thought maybe we could open some dialogue. Then I got responses like, ‘Get raped.’[/quote]
In response, Duca spent her holiday “following the Thumper rule” (Remember Bambi? “If you can’t say something nice…”), civilly emailing her harassers to ask why they’d be so vicious to someone they have never met. “I thought maybe we could open some dialogue,” she says. “Then I got responses like, ‘Get raped, c*nt,’ and I thought: ‘Ok. Well. I guess not.’”
After the Carlson interview, Duca even caught the attention of “pharma-bro” Martin Shkreli, the man who endeared himself to monsters everywhere by jacking up prices on a life-saving HIV drug. He tried to engage her in a faux courtship so aggressive that he was ultimately suspended from Twitter.
But if you’re familiar with Duca, it’s most likely because of her ferocious essay “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” which clocked millions of views when Teen Vogue published it a month after the election. The self-described “scorched earth op-ed” offered a take that many Americans craved: namely, that our President-elect was playing dangerous games with the truth, and we’re all his victims. The result, argued Duca, has been a collective maddening, the sense that our grasp on objective reality may not be so sound. “Trump is not going to stop playing with the burner until America realizes that the temperature is too high,” she wrote. “It’s on every single one of us to stop pretending it’s always been so hot in here.”
Duca may have energized a troll army, but her urgent, elegant prose also earned her a legion of admirers. Her Twitter following stands at over 150,000—a mix of liberal celebs and media insiders like Sarah Silverman and Dan Rather, concerned citizens, and young women who look to her for clarity and inspiration.
It’s a lot to shoulder for a 25-year-old journalist from Queens, just a few years out of school. In a perfect world, Duca says she’d still be writing funky, low-stakes profiles and griping about her vinyasa class schedules. But these postelection times are nothing if not extraordinary. Personal destinies are reshaped in a blink. After November 8, Duca was “no longer interested in any of the things (she) wanted to write about before.” Without passion, creativity deflates. And Duca had no plans to deflate.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]Do something. Angry energy with nowhere to go often turns into despair.[/quote]
“This is something I take very, very seriously,” she says. “I’m having all sorts of (Twitter) DM conversations now, and not just with the people who have blue check marks. I try to empower people with information on a one-to-one level. It may not change the world, but it can be cumulatively significant.”
Duca sees it as her responsibility to help rebuild trust in a hobbled media. Deriding much of the post-election coverage as “sloppy and irresponsible,” she feels well-positioned to speak out about some of the most pressing issues of our time—feminism, media literacy, street activism, and resistance to Trump’s America.
To that last item, Duca is full of fiery counsel. She knows the easy path for many could be hopelessness and retreat. “Fucking do something,” she implores. “Angry energy with nowhere to go often turns into despair.” The day after the election, when millions of Americans were nursing their wounds, Duca says she was concocting a personal game plan: She wrote up a book proposal focused on the cultural factors that got us here today (her gaslighting piece is one of the chapters).
She never imagined how deeply the essay would resonate, though it owes some of its prominence to pundits who couldn’t believe such intellectual rigor could come from a fashion magazine for teens. Prior to “Gaslighting,” Teen Vogue’s previous top post was “How To Apply Glitter Nail Polish The Right Way.”
But for those paying attention, magazines for young women have long been perfectly capable of publishing smart political commentary, and Teen Vogue’s editorial choices have been particularly incisive since hiring editor in chief Elaine Welteroth last May.
Duca is happy she helped bring more attention to such a worthy media outlet, and admits she has been enlivened by all the praise she’s received. Still, when her parents called the election “the best thing that could have happened” to her career, Duca flared up. "Are you kidding me? This is horrible. The absolute worst possible thing that could happen to the world. To look at it advantageously is just bizarre." Plus, she’d be lying if she said the online nastiness hasn’t rattled her. “Just the sheer magnitude—it’s a lot,” she says.
Duca expressed some textured feelings in a follow-up post last week, a sardonic love letter addressed to her trolls. Her frustration is clear; why should she—or anyone, really—be forced to contend with such nightmarish vitriol? “I’m a warrior goddess who can weather the worst of the misogynistic treasure trove,” she writes. “I’m also human.”
In many ways, Shkreli and the trolls have steeled Duca’s resolve—to fight and write and create work that matters. In addition to her book proposal, she’s heading to Los Angeles soon for discussions with as-yet-undisclosed TV networks. But what about our nation, which as of Friday morning has officially sworn in its gaslighter in chief?
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I try to empower people with information on a one-to-one level. It may not change the world, but it can be cumulatively significant.[/quote]
Duca’s outlook is measured. She resists being labeled as “hopeful,” but also steers clear of assuming the worst. What she knows for certain is what she sees, and that is a massive cross section of citizens united in opposition to Trump. Duca mentions the “cicada effect” in American politics.
“That’s the pattern, treating politics like the Olympics—something to only follow every four years. This time we might not have the luxury to go dormant.” It’s great that we’re energized, but we won’t triumph if we retreat into complacency until 2020. Instead, we must “be driven by each new awful thing, letting our continual agitation do the work for us.” She pauses. “Is that a bright side?”