When Lauren Duca sat down to write “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” the Teen Vogue article that started a social media uproar, she had no idea that it would have the impact that it did. The 26-year-old journalist wasn’t looking to go viral; rather, she was trying to cope with her post-election feelings in the way that made the most sense to her.
But since the piece was published, Duca has been thrust into the spotlight. Before the op-ed, Duca says she had had a little more than 20,000 followers. Her twitter following quickly doubled after the piece was published in December; when she appeared on air with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, her numbers surged again. Now, she has over 100,000 followers on the social media platform; always sassy, she added, “I thought I had had something go viral before, but much like the first time I thought I had an orgasm, I was wrong. When you know, you know."
Going viral has since opened a lot of doors for Duca. “The magnitude of it — I felt it,” Duca said. “It was seismic.” Still a freelance writer for Teen Vogue, Duca now has her own weekly column, “Thigh-High Politics.” The first installment, which debuted on Feb. 24, broke down the importance of the resistance.
“A lot of the inner workings of politics feel super insider-baseball, and you can be informed and still not know how certain things work,” Duca said. “It's often very frustrating to be a private citizen who wants to be involved and I’m hoping to do more things moving forward where I can be working on an intellectual level to empower people with information but in a way that not dumbs it down, but breaks it down because it’s so complicated.”
Over the past few months, she said she’s had numerous job offerings that once would have left her “gasping over,” but because of other projects she has in the works, she’s had to turn them down.
“It’s very strange,” she said. “Freelancing when you first start is a little grasping at straws and trying to make connections, so it’s kind of a paradigm shift to turning things down, but a great problem to have, obviously.”
She’s been using her increased Twitter presence for more than just personal gain. On Feb. 22, she made a deal with her followers: for every person who donated $5 or more to Planned Parenthood or the ACLU, Duca promised to write the donator a haiku. She kept good on her promise, filling her twitter feed with witty haikus to whoever proved they donated.
As her career takes off and she’s become more widely known, Duca has had to adjust to the attention. Duca, who is known for snarky tweets that are the perfect blend of funny, informative and sassy, refuses to change her voice. “I can’t sanitize myself,” she said. “I’m still trying to be myself and I have a pretty irreverent sense of humor and that’s important to me because that’s how I deal with life, especially in this impossible moment.”
Because of this, she knows there will always be someone to find something wrong with every sentiment she expresses. “On Twitter, everything is decontextualized, and sometimes people will fully decontextualize things to start controversy and draw attention for themselves.”
Of course, there’s a difference between legitimate feedback and harassment. While some Twitter users give tame pushback regarding certain tweets (like chastising her for making fun of Steve Bannon, insisting she’s “better than that”), others have been downright malicious. Like most people with a large following, Duca has been subject to harassment. She’s been called names and has been the subject of a few memes. Martin Shkreli, the ex-pharma CEO notorious for twitter trolling, got the boot from Twitter after harassing Duca by Photoshopping his own face over her husband’s and changing his header photo to a collage of photos of Duca. The worst of her harassment, however, comes in the form of rape and death threats.
But rather than let it get to her, Duca takes the trolls and their commentary in stride. “I use the block button like I am banging out Morse code,” she said. “There are a too many rapist Nazis in my mentions to bother getting nuanced about it.”
Duca has also had to deal with heavy skepticism and condescension. Young women are constantly written off and denied access to political conversations, she said, and, when Tucker Carlson continuously interrupted her throughout their interview, finally telling her to “stick to the thigh-high boots,” she was stunned. “I really truly couldn’t believe he said it,” she said. The blatant sexism was astounding, but, in a way, also relieving. “It occurred to me that it was sort of a relief to have that explicit confirmation of an underlying sexism that I had already been seeing in the reaction to the gaslighting piece.”
In the op-ed, which circulated the internet wildly, Duca was one of the first to expose Trump for gaslighting (meaning to psychologically manipulate in a way that makes a person question his or her own sanity). Her op-ed gave Americans a sense of validation, a reminder that they aren’t going crazy, that Trump had been lying and then pretending those lies had never been made. Duca recalled a conversation with a friend the day after election; he hadn’t been able to grasp why she had been shaken by the results. Recently, that same friend came back to Duca to say: “You got it right so much earlier than everyone else and I didn’t understand how upset I should have been.”
Duca said she doesn’t think she was necessarily the start of this new wave of resistance, but she does believe that she was a part of it. “I think that I made some people more than they were,” she said. “I’m so glad to see that people are continuing to stay angry and stay vocal.”
Duca won’t be slowing down anytime soon, and “Thigh-High Politics” is just one example of how she plans to continue to educate readers of the intricacies of politics. “I think that a regime like Donald Trump's counts on people tapping out and giving up because they're frustrated that they don't understand.”
And Duca has no plans of stepping out of the ring.
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Elissa Sanci is a twenty-something writer who's now a grad student studying journalism in New York because she was reluctant to start the real world. Besides drinking too much coffee and daydreaming about traveling the world, she spends most her time writing, reading and complaining about the weather. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @elissasanci.