Being one of YM magazine’s “21 Coolest Girls in America” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Madeleine S. Elfenbein `04, who is lauded as a “Sit Down Striker” in the November issue of the teenybopper rag, YM (p. 115), suffers more from humiliation than flattery.
Madeleine, a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House, reports that “It’s pretty mortifying to be associated with YM—this issue has a poster of Blink 182 inside of it. It’s not a culture with which I identify myself.”
Madeleine, age 18, received a phone call from YM this summer requesting an interview and photo shoot for being the youngest female participant in the Progressive Student Labor Movement’s (PSLM) occupation of Mass Hall from April 18 to May 1. “My first reaction was that it would be really great if news of the sit-in got into YM. It might reach a demographic that hadn’t heard about what had gone on here. So I agreed,” she says.
Madeleine reasoned that since PSLM had worked hard with public relations and to cultivate their image, it would be foolish to turn down the opportunity. However, “there’s a lot of content in YM that is objectionable to me. It’s got a schizophrenic political bent. On one page they’re exalting political protest and on the next page advocating conformity. I would hate to think that my being included in there is contributing to a culture of conformity and blind trend-following,” she explains.
Madeleine was disappointed with the results of the article. “It was substanceless. I felt like the issue really didn’t get explained well. It was not at all clear what PSLM had been doing,” she laments. Moreover, the article is factually incorrect. YM’s Assistant to the Executive Editor Molly Rosen writes, “Madeleine and the group camped out inside until finally Harvard consented to raise some of the workers’ wages.” In truth, Harvard agreed only to establish a committee to evaluate the living wage.
The twenty other “coolest girls in America” range from dirt track racers to heavy weight junior champions to prima ballerinas. When asked whether those girls merited being labeled as the coolest girls in the country, Madeleine responded, “I didn’t merit being one of the coolest girls in America. It’s an absurd proposition in the first place.”
But, perhaps Madeleine is cooler than she thinks. She is reported to have stated, “To look at the world honestly is hard. People who can do that and stand up for social justice are cool.”
Overcoming her embarrassment at being in YM, Madeleine is hopeful that her message about political activism will inspire YM readers. “I am glad I got this chance to put forth an alternative example of teenagehood, which I never remember seeing when I was in the demographic YM was targeting,” she says.
While preteens ponder political activism and simultaneously drool over Blink 182, Madeleine will be busy preparing for PSLM’s next rally (scheduled for Nov. 30) with the Dining Hall Workers’ Union. “This is an ongoing struggle. The sit-in was not the last word on the issue of worker rights on campus and more than ever we need students to come forth in support of the workers,” Madeleine says, emphatically.