If you’ve heard of Lauren Duca, it’s likely due to her fiery Teen Vogue op-eds that clock millions of views — and an equal amount of controversy. But there’s more to Lauren than strong opinions. Through an insatiable work ethic, Twitter wit, and a self-proclaimed “IV drip” to the media, the 26-year-old’s powerhouse freelance career has also highlighted the ways in which outspoken women are constantly harassed — on social media and otherwise. I spoke with Lauren about what it’s like to be a vocal journalist, how she avoids “fake news,” how criticism can lead to productive conversations, and why it’s important for women to be both confident and rigorously informed about their work.
What was your first writing job, and what did you learn from it?
I was hired as a fellow at Huffington Post, and worked my way up to be an associate entertainment editor, then a reporter. I was told to keep my head down and to do my work — but I wanted to write these op-eds on pop culture, so I did that at home after hours. Eventually, those stories did well, and got traffic, and I realized I wanted to do that, so I started a column called Middlebrow, a weekly column about pop culture commentary. I won an L.A. Press Club Award for one of those features, which was a kind of official confirmation of my talent that I probably needed too badly at the time. It is hard to be an entry-level writer anywhere; you’re sort of grateful anyone is publishing your words. But I learned to believe in myself, and do the work I know I’m meant to be doing.
Why did you ultimately choose journalism?
I always knew I wanted to write, but didn’t know exactly what that looked like. I think it’s hard to know what your career as a writer looks like until you’re doing it, because there are so many different ways into it. But after working for my school paper at Fordham University and for a local paper in the Bronx, I ended up with an internship at New York Magazine. Early on I thought I wanted to work in fiction, and eventually, I fell for journalism, but I was always going to be a writer.
There is a lesson in the fact that sometimes the person you’re waiting for is you.
Fast forward to the 2016, when one of your essays for Teen Vogue went viral. For some reason, people were shocked that intelligent, political commentary could exist in the pages of a magazine for teens, while others were like, “Um, of course.” Why do you think that dual reaction occurred?
I think that women’s publications have been political for a very long time, and anyone who has been paying attention knows that. There was a sneaky condescension to some of the shock, because the subtext is that young women don’t care about politics. It was about the question, “Who has the right to a political conversation?” And even though that history is there, because my piece broke out of our usual demographic [at Teen Vogue], there were a lot of middle-aged men forced to grapple with the fact that they’re not the only ones who get to engage in political dialogue.
Between the sexism and harassment you’ve encountered from individuals like Tucker Carlson and Martin Shkreli for your willingness to be outspoken about your opinions, what would you say to women who deal with similar situations on a regular basis?
What happened to me is not new or unique at all. The only thing that sets it apart is the intensity and severity of it. All women — any woman presenting thoughts online or female writers — are dealing with it at an extreme level in comparison to their male counterparts. It is a career hazard, and it is disgusting. I don’t have a fix for it, but what helped me is admitting to myself that people saying these things hurts my feelings. I don’t have to be tougher than that; I can be resilient and power through it and defiantly express my opinion, but knowing the goal of harassment is to silence women, while it doesn’t make it easier to stomach emotionally, it does make it easier to confront.
What is it like to be a vocal journalist in today’s media landscape?
I started “Thigh-High Politics” [a weekly op-ed column at Teen Vogue around current events] as a way to be keyed in every week. That has been amazing, and helpful to do it every week, because it is dangerous to express opinions in this political moment. I feel vulnerable when I put something I know is controversial into the world, but I have to have the conviction to take a stand, and I like the challenge of doing it every single week.
I think that women’s publications have been political for a very long time, and anyone who has been paying attention knows that.
You’re a Twitter aficionado, so what do you love, and hate, most about it?
I have a tortured relationship with Twitter. I do love having a pulse on the conversation. There are times when Twitter is incredible for all the best possible one-liners, and other times when there’s a pitchfork mob being sent out every other minute. It can be toxic, and there are diminishing returns, so I try to enjoy it for what it can offer. And take a break when it starts to feel draining. What I hate most about Twitter is the disingenuous decontextualization that we see of people — taking 140 characters plucked out of context and dragging a person down from their platform. Sometimes that is due to projection, sometimes done in bad taste, and always a non-productive way to have a conversation.
What is the most interesting piece (or project) you’ve ever worked on?
The gaslighting piece, in terms of the reaction. It’s been a very strange experience to become kind of public-facing and be subject to so much feedback all the time, but also been really emboldening. There is a lesson in the fact that sometimes the person you’re waiting for is you. For me, that means having a strong political stance and insisting on being a voice in political conversations despite being told repeatedly by others that I can’t segue from writing about entertainment to writing about politics. The only thing you need to express a political opinion is to be rigorously informed. Once you have your background information in order, once you have your logic ready to go, you should know you don’t need permission to carry on, you just need to be prepared to defend your position.
When it comes to political discourse, how do you talk to people who have opinions that differ from yours?
It is important to be open to criticism. Partisanship has scrambled the public forum, and as a result, conversations we’re having right now are so frazzled. Sometimes, this is separate from harassment, and sometimes it’s not. I’ve definitely had some really productive critical conversations about the ability to express an opinion in the context of journalism. Traditional journalists, for instance, have an idea of neutrality — I spoke about this on Jon Lovett’s podcast — the concept of taking a totally neutral worldview as a stylistic means of performing. And I have this discipline of verification, but I’m also very opinionated. While I’ve had interesting debates with journalists who are more insistent of the neutrality, I think we need all kinds, and this difficult moment in politics calls for more incredibly professional and rigorous journalists to put their foot down and say “bullshit.” That’s the mantle I’d like to see myself rising to.
You’ve mentioned how important it is to write something, then put it out there and be proud of your work, especially for women. Why?
If you work on something, put time and effort into it, and you want people to read it, stop pretending otherwise. Be willing to be radically confident about your work. I would like to see this from more female writers, because it’s hard enough as it is without us second guessing ourselves all the time.
Be willing to be radically confident about your work.
Who is your career mentor, and why?
I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of really awesome people, but Ariel Levy, author of The Rules Do Not Apply, has always been one of my favorite writers. She’s imparted some wisdom that has strengthened my resolve lately, and everybody should go buy her book.
What’s the most difficult part of covering current events?
Avoiding “what’s out there” and being dedicated to checking your facts. Not just sloppily aggregating things that have been asserted, and playing telephone with the story that exists in the popular mind. This is hard because there is so much information and so much access to that information. The role of the journalist has changed to a position of deciding what to put out there while checking what all is out there. You have to often be working at an inhuman speed.
How do you stay informed, and avoid “fake news”— which gets tossed around as a term for news on all sides?
What’s helpful for my media diet is to be mindful: really spending time with an issue and following it across multiple publications. Doing research into background information instead of accepting what’s being said to me. If a piece of writing alters my opinion on a topic in some way, I ask myself why. I think that is really important — there is a lot of room for good, opinionated journalism, but it’s crucial that readers are forming their own. You should always be able to trace the line of thinking to its origin, and it’s okay if you don’t agree with how it made you feel after you do that. But don’t just blindly stomach what’s out there. Constantly test and knock at your opinions in general, especially when they are altered by the news you’re consuming.
Being a woman has made me not take anything for granted, and to enter every interaction having to work harder and be better.
Do you think the current increase of political discussion that has risen since the election will affect the next generation of voters?
I hope so. I think we’ve all been incredibly alienated from politics, especially young people and women. It starts with the way politics are taught in high school. Democracy requires constant vigilance, and citizens who are active participants. It is nice that everyone is making phone calls right now, but we need to evaluate on a national level how informed and evolved we need to be. That is my “glass half full” take, and maybe the only one — but an entire generation will be leading the world in a few years.
What do you love most about being a woman?
Well, I think it has made me not take anything for granted, and to enter every interaction having to work harder and be better. Which is bullshit, but it makes me constantly be on top of my game in a way that I can be proud of.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m working on a web series of sorts, but still figuring out those details. I would like to be just a little more unquestioningly accepting of myself. Levelling up in my career has been awesome, but it is shocking that you can achieve everything on your five-year plan list and still be distressingly self-doubting. Checking in with that has been fun! Hopefully, in five years, I’m more radically confident. I still want to be writing, and I still want to be on Twitter, but who knows if it’ll exist in five years.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
You can’t take every bit of feedback. You can’t. You have to be open to criticism, but if you let every single person’s opinion guide and shape your writing, it’ll turn into ad copy by the end of the day. You cannot let your mind be infected by external judgments, so it comes down to committing to your own convictions — which is scary and makes you vulnerable. I’m still working on that.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
You can’t control any of it, except for your guiding principles, energy, and ethics. If you’re committed to that, then you can direct yourself through life with a forcefulness you can be proud of, then it almost doesn’t matter what the end results are or if you check the things off the checklist, get the title, get the book deal. If you can look back at the doing, being, becoming, and feel proud of the way you committed yourself to every life challenge, that’s the only thing you can be sure of, so be sure of yourself.
Lauren Duca is The Everygirl…
Beach or mountains?
Favorite way to spend a day off?
Hugging my dog.
Who would play you in a Netflix series based on your life?
My mom keeps telling me Kat Dennings would play me in a movie, but that’s probably because of her strange obsession with Two Broke Girls.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Oh, it would actually be a “thank you” brunch for Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Beyoncé. Connie Britton can come too, if she’s free.