Lauren Duca talks cancel culture and soul searching

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Hannah Keegan
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When her article criticising Donald Trump went viral, Lauren Duca became an internet star almost overnight. Then things got complicated. Here, she talks to Stylist about her reputation, her critics and her new book How to Start a Revolution.

Lauren Duca is many things. Journalist. Activist. Influencer (she is all for this term, FYI). Controversial. If, however, this is the first you’re hearing of her, then let me explain. Duca came to fame in 2016 by way of a Teen Vogue article in which she outlined how Trump was ‘gaslighting’ America. It went viral. 

From there, she went on Fox News and was told by its host Tucker Carlson that she would better sticking to writing about thigh high boots than politics. She called him a sexist pig live on air. Internet notoriety ensued and Duca found herself, suddenly, as a public personality.

She was popular. People liked her because she didn’t talk like a professor. Her voice is high-pitched, she speaks in uncomplicated terms and uses “like” and “totally” with frequency - and she doesn’t apologise for it. In fact, she argues it’s this kind of snobbery keeping young people out of the arena. She became a television talking head and a sought-after byline; her Twitter followers swelled into the hundreds of thousands. The New Yorker writer Ariel Levy called her “the millennial feminist warrior queen of social media”.

But somewhere along the way things got complicated. Earlier this year, Jezebel published an article under the headline We Should Probably Talk About Lauren Duca, where they unearthed tweets from 2012 in which Duca mocked fat people and quoted former colleagues at the Huffington Post who accused her of sending emails insulting staff during her time there. They questioned whether she should be considered a progressive voice at all.

Then in September, in an in-depth profile, Buzzfeed reported that students in her NYU class, where she taught a course called The Feminist Journalist, had filed a formal complaint against her, alleging she targeted a student who didn’t speak English fluently and that she didn’t take their learning seriously.

To some, Duca is still a vital voice worth listening to and, to others, she’s a hypocrite. Here, she talks to Stylist about her reputation, her critics and her new book How to Start a Revolution, in which she tracks young people’s political awakenings around America. 

On her book

“I woke up on 9 November 2016 completely and totally shocked by a Trump presidency. We were told that this thing was not going to happen, that it was totally ridiculous and impossible, and I couldn’t believe. It shattered my perception of the world. I guess I felt that democracy was going to perpetuate itself and politics was this process that important men did off in a room somewhere. That everything was going to go continue along the path toward progress.

Because things were changing. We had Barack Obama as president; the gays were getting married. It just seemed like the unequal foundations of the country would right themselves through the process of democracy as time went by. So, that day, I suddenly understood like, ‘oh, I need to be doing something about this. I need to have a role in this government supposedly by and for the people’, and so I wrote this book proposal.

I’m hoping that I’ve been able to chart a journalistic snapshot of this awakening across America, which is inspired by my own awakening, and create a call to action.

It’s my dream that this is in the hands of every single high school student all over the world. Because I think that anyone who has a fully functioning frontal cortex is a political subject even if you’re not old enough to vote.”

On that Buzzfeed article

“That was a bad faith, anti-journalistic article that erased my sexuality, erased my work, and took a complaint from an NYU student and tried to blow it up into an atrocious crime. It was vicious and awful and I’m still trying to process the total cruelty of it. It’s one thing for Tucker Carlson to be a sexist pig to me, but when this kind of toxic behaviour comes from a very intelligent woman of colour writing for BuzzFeed, it’s actually laundering pettiness through the vessel of journalism.

I had never taught before and all I could do was share my insights. It was not a rigid academic format. I was frustrated before I got any kind of word of a student complaint, because I was trying to tell them to express themselves with joy, and they were like, ‘what are our grades?’

Also, when have you ever seen a piece on bad course evaluations as a public hanging? It’s totally absurd. This was a side thing that I didn’t get paid nearly enough to do, by the way, from an institution that did not adequately prepare me for teaching an English journalism class to an English as a second language high school student, which is extremely complicated and totally outside the realm of my expertise. And I guess what I’d like to insist on is that I’m still a great writer, even if I’m not a great teacher.” 

On her critics

“I think women are socialised to hate other women in stealthy ways and, also, to automatically take men seriously. I really do wish that we could do better at translating that energy into holding each other up and demanding more seats at the table. Because just by being a straight white man, you have this right to express yourself politically and  access to positions of power that that simply don’t exist for others. 

Also in terms of how punishing we are to people. It feels like we’re hanging a different woman like every week on Twitter. People love to burn a woman to the ground. The story of Brock Turner, for example, is the eternal fury for me - he raped a young woman behind a dumpster and the media fell over themselves for months calling him a swimmer instead of a rapist.”

On being a personality

“I sometimes think of it as like the Macy’s parade float version of myself. It’s nerve-wracking and very weird to enter into conversations with people’s idea of me. Sometimes it’s not bad. I mean, sometimes it’s good. But, still, it’s disorienting, because it means a lot of the time I’m interacting with a facsimile of myself. It’s made me have to do a lot of inner work and therapy and soul nurturing that I’m really grateful for. I was pushed to do it and I’m better for it. But it’s been a challenge.” 

On where she goes from here

“When I finished the first draft of How to Start a Revolution, I was pretty satisfied with the book, but still totally, horrifically dissatisfied with myself. I had been so obsessed with succeeding and with my accomplishments, which was basically a stand in for my self-value, that I thought ‘oh, there’s a black hole in my chest, I’ll just put a book in there and then it’ll be filled!’

In the end, I had to go much deeper and address my pain and my trauma. I worked a lot with plant medicine, found my relationship to God and discovered my spirituality. It all was so totally excruciating and painful and I would do all of it over again in a heartbeat.

I’m working on a book called Ego In Retreat about that journey. I’ll continue addressing our ongoing political crises on Twitter and op-eds while I’m working that. But, yeah, my big mission is global liberation because I really believe that in giving people the information they need to have the confidence to develop their own worldview, they can move through the world with conviction. Casual goal.” 

How to Start a Revolution: Young People and the Future of American Politics by Lauren Duca is published by Virago and is out now.

Image credit: Lauren Duca