Culture

Meet Lauren Duca: One Of The Women Leading A Teen Resistance Against Trump

Teen Vogue is not to be messed with.

Lauren Duca

The first time I heard of Lauren Duca was in 2015, back when she was an entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. One of her features — ‘The Rise of the Woman-Child‘ — had just won an award and it sent me down that trail familiar to any fan/writer/internet weirdo: the mild stalk. I followed her work as she talked about cheerleadersthe politics of marriage proposals, Woody Allen. I followed her on Twitter, where she made passionate and smart arguments about pop culture.

In the hours before our interview in 2017, Lauren Duca’s Twitter has a different vibe. She’s tweeting, rapid-fire, about a GOP healthcare bill, about how the former White House Press Secretary is an “accessory to an ongoing attack on American democracy”, and a Fox News host who’s firing shots at her in the press again. Her biggest troll — a man who harassed her to the point of having his Twitter permanently suspended — has just been jailed for threatening the former presidential nominee.

Lauren Duca now has a hugely influential column on politics, a book deal and 310K Twitter followers with an army of abusers to match. She is, in her own words, part of a “resistance” against the President of the United States. She’s also 26 years old.

Thigh-High Politics

“I woke up on November 9th and knew I couldn’t write about anything else.” That’s the explanation Lauren Duca gives for the piece that slingshotted her into this new life. After Donald Trump was elected president Duca “wrote a book proposal in two days on a steady diet of coffee and wine”. “The sample chapter was called Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.”

Published one month later on Teen Vogue, that “scorched earth op ed” racked up more than 10 million views and a controversy to match. The internet was alight with both praise for Duca’s incendiary and clear-sighted work, and incredulity that the piece came from a publication aimed at young women. Though editor Elaine Welteroth had been publishing an array of deeply political work for some time, it was yet to gain this degree of outside scrutiny.

“It wasn’t actually that extraordinary for me to writing about Trump like that,” she tells me. “I’d been working at Teen Vogue as a weekend editor so I was covering literally everything from breaking news on a shooting we had in Florida to Selena Gomez’ newest Pantene ad. That’s the standard.

“I think the reason it took off the way it did was because it captured the way people were feeling and made it acceptable to talk about it. It caught attention because it was in a teen magazine and apparently that was shocking to many — that young women care about that kind of thing.”

That condescension continued in a big way when Duca appeared on Fox News later that month. After some debate, host Tucker Carlson labelled the Trump piece “dumb propaganda”. When asked if he actually read it, Carlson said, “I did. I also read Liam Payne Is Sure One Direction Will Continue, Adriana [sic] Grande Rocked The Most Epic Thigh-High Boots At Jingle Bell and Rob And Blac Chyna Had The Most Epic Breakup Of 2016. Those are your other pieces.

“Stick to the thigh-high boots. You’re better at that.”

That last insult would go on to inspire her new column: Thigh-High Politics.

“Sometimes we get a criticism that the things we’re writing are, you know, not revolutionary,” Duca says, speaking generally about the pushback Teen Vogue faces. “It’s not revolutionary to say that Donald Trump is lying. It is revolutionary to package that in a way that makes it accessible for people — to combat that alienation that we see with a lot of political writing.”

“I think that the idea of total civility and that everyone has to be polite is bullshit.”

“I’m so happy I’ve been able to form a connection with young women who have been repeatedly and aggressively denied access to social and political conversations,” she says. “I don’t think it’s shocking that young women care about politics. It certainly isn’t shocking to me or to the editors of Teen Vogue, but I love the way that we’ve come to lead that conversation.

“I think the American people in general have been alienated from a political conversation — especially young people. I’m so happy to help give back that access.”

I ask about the divides between Right and Left, old and young, Carlson and herself. Should we be breaking down those barriers more or standing our ground? She thinks about it and makes concessions either way. “It can help to employ empathy [and] be a little less belligerent,” she says. “But I think that the idea of total civility and that everyone has to be polite is bullshit.”

“I think that there’s only a certain extent to which we can continue to convince people that the house is burning. You can’t stick around for too long yelling ‘the house is burning!’ before you give up and save people from the fire.”

Teens Will Rule Us All

There’s been no shortage of topics for Duca to unpack in Thigh-High Politics over the past few months. The series — designed to “break down the news, provide resources for the resistance, and just generally refuse to accept toxic nonsense” — has covered Trump’s manipulation of the press, the nation’s failings to combat climate changewhite supremacy in the wake of Charlottesville and much, much more.

Notably, each column ends with a series of action points. What to read. What to do. Who to talk to.

I ask Duca what “resistance” means to her. What’s the ultimate thing she’d like people to take away from the work?

“I think everyone needs to be doing something,” she says. “It’s really easy to find resources — whether you want to look up a local protest or look at the steps for organising one of your own. If you’re thinking of running for office, it’s way more accessible than you might think.

“Take an issue: maybe you care about healthcare, maybe immigration. Pick a crisis. Pick an action and commit to it. It could even just be a small piece of your day. But it’s not enough to just close your ears and say you’re angry. Please do something. Be an engaged citizen.”

This passion for speaking out has led to some pretty horrific backlash for the writer. Like many opinionated women — and people of colour, and LGBTIQ people for that matter — Duca faces consistent harassment and abuse online. Her appearance on Fox News became a political supernova; as her profile exploded, every far-right commentator and Pepe enthusiast came to bask in the light.

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli is permanently banned from Twitter after what’s been described as a campaign of “targeted harassment”.

This is now a topic Duca’s directly addressed in her own work. “More than ever, our cultural conversation is taking place on Twitter and Facebook,” she wrote in a column for Teen Vogue last month. “And yet, women who are bullied online are told to leave those spaces or deal with it.”

So what are the action points here?

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t have an answer,” Duca tells me. “A lot of the time I’ll get asked, ‘What should Twitter do?’ I don’t have an answer for any of that.

“I don’t know if there’s a fix for it. I think overall we all need to be talking about it more.”

“The things that I do for myself are trying to compartmentalise it, knowing when to step away from the computer, treating myself with compassion, letting myself admit to having my feelings hurt by people being mean to me, taking care of myself and then I also tell people to reach out — particularly to women writers — that they love to help counteract all the negative bullshit. That helps.

“There are people that go out of their way to counter-balance all the toxic stuff. I don’t know if there’s a fix for it. I think overall we all need to be talking about it more, thinking critically about it, and not silencing the women that do talk about it.”

Duca has a lot of talking ahead of her. She’s coming to Australia for Melbourne’s Festival of Questions — an event where she’ll be arguing about the state of the world against people like News Corp columnist Rita Panahi and talking about her favourite passages from The Handmaid’s Tale.

I tell her there’s a public voluntary vote on marriage equality; she’s shocked we didn’t have it passed already. She’s reading up on Australian politics, and most appalled by our government’s treatment of Indigenous people. “I also read about this amazing girl in The New York Times in Australia,” she adds. “She’s 11 and she was fighting for pants at public school so she could ‘kick the footy’. She’s my hero.”

If you can’t catch Duca in Melbourne, her book is on its way too. It’ll be a few more months until we hear more about The Great American Dumpster Fire — great title — but we do know it’ll be in line with her viral Trump piece and her other work for Teen Vogue. I ask if there’s still room for pop culture amongst it all.

“You know what, a little,” she says. “I wrote a piece on John Legend for The Guardian and it was so much fun. My first beat was finding the political in pop culture. I talked about social issues through the lens of these characters from the pop culture landscape. I think there is a lot to be done in using pop culture as a way in to politics.

“In the future, if we’re not in a state of emergency anymore, it would be cool if I could do more of that.”

Lauren Duca is speaking at the Wheeler Centre’s What is Right? What is Left event as part of the Festival of Questions at Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday October 15. Tickets are at wheelercentre.com.

Meg Watson is the Editor of Junkee. She tweets at @msmegwatson.