Lauren Duca is a goddamn force of nature, and she would pardon the expletive.
Once a relatively unknown freelance writer, Duca was thrust into the spotlight in December 2016 at age 25 after publishing a searing op-ed in Teen Vogue on how Donald Trump was gaslighting America. The article argued that the then-president elect’s relentless lies and bigotry had turned all Americans, including radical progressives and hardline Republicans, into frogs in boiling water, unaware of the potentially irreparable damage being done to their country. “Trump is not going to stop playing with the burner until America realizes that the temperature is too high,” Duca wrote. “It’s on every single one of us to stop pretending it’s always been so hot in here.”
The gaslighting op-ed went viral, earning her a seismic Twitter following and overnight prominence as a feminist advocate. She soon after appeared on air with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, employing intelligence and snark to annihilate Carlson’s patronizing debate. “You’re actually being a partisan hack that’s just attacking me ad nauseam and not allowing me to speak,” Duca said to Carlson, a one-liner that cemented her burgeoning feminist fame.
More than a year later, the quality, depth, and energy of Duca’s writing has only intensified, making her leadership in the pro-women, anti-Trump resistance all the more justified. She now has a weekly column in Teen Vogue, Thigh-High Politics, in which she delivers searingly smart news analysis, resources for the resistance, and, in her own words, ”generally refuses to accept toxic nonsense.”
Having faced plenty of condescension and skepticism, Duca’s strength remains her infallible confidence—both in herself and, perhaps more importantly, in the potential of all women. She refuses to sanitize herself or quell her ambitions because this fight has only just begun. “If you are one of us, keep going,” she writes this past November.”If you have yet to join us, then consider this your formal invitation to the reality-based community. Without the truth, we have no foundation from which to resist.”
In an interview with Quartz, Duca talks about embracing her identity, getting people to take her seriously, and why she’ll never stop cursing.
1. What’s your big idea that other people aren’t thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
My “big idea” is that performative objectivity in journalism is utter garbage—and, frankly, that shouldn’t even be remotely revolutionary. We all show up to this job with personal bias, and yet many of the most esteemed writers and reporters insist on distancing themselves from their identities as a means of demonstrating balance, at times without fully putting it into practice.
Earlier this year, I was on a panel with a reporter who refused to call herself a “feminist,” insisting she is simply a “journalist,” as if the two labels must be mutually exclusive. The question from there is: Where does it end? Can I not say that I prefer dogs to cats? That my favorite color is purple? It’s absurd. Journalists’ beliefs and preferences are actually less likely to be contaminating factors when we’re transparent about them. I’m an outspoken progressive feminist, but I also insist on showing my work so that readers are able to make a decision for themselves. I believe the only way to combat personal bias is through a rigorous method of verification. Pretending it doesn’t exist is total nonsense.
Also, part of being so publicly open about who I am means that I bump into the “respectability” portion of signaling objectivity. People seem to get really tripped up over the fact that I’m able to enjoy my life while also being a “serious” journalist. To hell with all that old-white-dude gatekeeping. I can curse, and drink, and make inappropriate jokes, and still be a great political writer.
2. What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute to your success?
I attribute my success to some man-repelling combination of defiance and strength. I regularly had to prove myself growing up, especially to my parents, who voted for Trump, and spent years writing me off as a “bleeding-heart liberal.” Long before I started writing professionally, I had to rigorously defend my views and ensure that they were unshakeable. That ended up being years of practice for my weekly column. I’m also super tough. The deluge of ugliness that comes through my inbox everyday is exhausting and toxic. As I wrote in a recent piece on harassment, I’m proud of being absurdly resilient, but I shouldn’t have to be.
3. If you could make one change to help women at work, what would it be?
The first practical change that comes to mind is insisting on internal salary transparency. Women are grossly undervalued in the workplace. That has to do with a myriad of sexist factors, but a lot of it comes down to the willingness of corporations to take advantage of our stereotypical unwillingness to advocate for ourselves. Any company who says they care about the pay gap should be a proponent of financial transparency, at least internally.
4. At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
I wish I had known that the idea of the media landscape as a starvation economy is created by jealous ghouls with no good ideas. There is nothing productive about tearing other people down or brewing on the supposed lack of merit behind their success. Writing isn’t a zero-sum game; if you think you deserve something, go out and get it.
5. When in your career did you feel most despondent, and what did you do to turn it around?
I feel despondent anywhere from three to five times a week. That’s loosely correlated to death and rape threats, but either way, being a writer is pretty much hating yourself while drinking too much coffee. I turn it around by singing Donna Summer to my dog.
6. A key part of success is building strong professional relationships. What practice do you use to cultivate them with your colleagues?
I think it’s more important to focus on achieving your potential in order to be ready for the right connections when they come along. Since my career took off, I’ve met a lot of folks who think networking is getting someone’s email in order to ask them for a favor, and I find it extremely cringeworthy. Strong professional relationships can be career-defining, but only if they are based in a genuine bond that transcends the advantageous possibilities. The way I see it, there are people who run around collecting contacts like they’re in charge of the raffle at a school fundraiser, and people who do the damn work. I’m the second one.
7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Oh, probably the drunk man on the street who was muttering, “Ignore those crusty fuckers,” as I was reading my Twitter mentions. That really moved me.
8. If there’s one thing men can do to improve women’s life at work, it would be…
Shutting up every once in awhile.
The mountain I’m willing to die on… is that Halo Top is delicious, though I will concede that it may exist outside the technical classification of “ice cream.”
I wish people would stop telling me… to stop fucking cursing.
Everyone should own… a perfect little fairyfox puppy named Demi. (Seriously though, having a dog makes it way harder to hate everything.)
This interview is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more interviews with industry-leading women here.