2010 Dorothy McGuigan Prizes for Best Essays on Women

Each year the Women’s and Gender Studies Department awards prizes for the best undergraduate and graduate essays on women written at the University of Michigan. The prizes honor the memory of Dorothy Gies McGuigan, a distinguished alumna of the University of Michigan who taught in the School of Business Administration and the Residential College.  Dorothy McGuigan was an early supporter of the Women's Studies Program and a founder and member of the editorial board of the University of Michigan Press series on Women and Culture.

Graduate Winner, Lynn Verduzco Baker
“Charmed Circle of Motherhood: Intersections of Race, Class & Gender in the Construction of Good and Bad Mothers"

Lynn Verduzco Baker, a PhD candidate in the joint doctoral program in Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology, is the winner of the graduate McGuigan award.   Her essay eloquently documents the urgency of seeing young and low-income mothers—so often viewed in our cultural narratives as “bad mothers”—as actively involved in redefining themselves as “good mothers.”   The essay brings together substantial qualitative research—close analysis of numerous interviews with both black and white women who had children as teenagers—and an innovative theoretical framework. Adapting Gayle Rubin’s influential concept of a “charmed circle” of cultural assumptions about acceptable sexualities, the essay demonstrates the often paradoxical ways in which both black and white low income young mothers actively navigate intersecting and overlapping stereotypes of race and class in order to claim the label “good mother” for themselves.  The Women’s and Gender Studies Doctoral Programs Committee, representing the four joint PhD programs, unanimously  selected this essay from an impressive set of submissions, recognizing it as reflecting the outstanding  quality of theoretical and methodological training our graduate students receive. 

Undergraduate Winner, Jamie Louise Budnick
 "Threshold People: Liminality and Communitas”

The winner of the undergraduate Dorothy McGuigan Award is Jamie Louise Budnick, a 2009 honors graduate in Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology. “Threshold People” is an insightful and provocative essay that challenges essentially stable and cohesive concepts of sexuality. It is based on thoughtful, in-depth research among nonheterosexual women college students and their engagements with visible queer communities and subjectivities, and demonstrates an impressive heterogeneity of experiences. Budnick reconsiders conventional theories that focus primarily on the axes of age, gender, and sexuality when conceptualizing nonheterosexual subjectivities among young adults. She convincingly argues that race and religion intersect with age, gender, and sexuality, engendering a range of experiences of belonging and nonbelonging in relation to LGBT (and other) communities. Her work challenges readers to think beyond simple generalizations about a singular, coherent sexual identity that, for some people, might operate as structures of exclusion. This stunning essay provides a nuanced analysis of queer belongings and the many creative strategies through which nonheterosexual college students establish meaningful connections.

Undergraduate Honorable Mention: Laura Winnick
“The Misuses of Literacy: Contemporary Criticism and Representation of Hoggart’s Working-Class Woman”

The Women’s and Gender Studies Undergraduate Committee conferred honorable mention in the McGuigan competition on an essay by Laura Winnick, a junior English major and Women’s and Gender Studies (Gender, Race and Ethnicity) minor. A feminist re-reading of Richard Hoggart’s classic 1957 account of English working-class cultural life The Uses of Literacy, the essay is titled “The Misuses of Literacy.” It synthesizes mid-1980s feminist critiques of Hoggart that introduced women's voices to complicate depictions of working-class thought as merely local and concrete, and of the working-class family as an unchallenged gender hierarchy; engages a recent defense of Hoggart against his feminist critics; and approaches the questions thereby raised through a close reading of Carolyn Chute’s 1985 novel The Beans of Egypt, Maine. Winnick concludes that representations of working-class life and “traditional” family patriarchy can do justice to the psychological and intellectual complexities of women’s responses to subordination—which have included acceptance and resistance. With critical synthesis and historical awareness, the essay reveals how literate representation works both to reinforce and to resist classed and gendered patterns of power, voice, and visibility.