2015 Dorothy Gies McGuigan Prizes

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.

Undergraduate Award

Lita Brillman, "For Though a Historian, I am a Woman: Gender and Objectivity in The Alexiad"

In her artfully crafted paper, Women’s and Gender Studies sophomore Lita Brillman  impressively analyzes Byzantine historian and princess Anna Comnena’s medieval historical and biographical text The Alexiad through a doubled framework. First, she examines the ways in which Anna Comnena negotiates, stylistically, the constraints of her gender in chronicling the life of her father, Emperor Alexius I. Brillman concludes that, as a historian, Comnena struggles to present herself as simultaneously authoritative and feminine. Second, Brillman  also examines the work of later scholars who critiqued Comnena's work, and illuminates their failure to grasp the complex challenges Comnena faced as an author.

Graduate Award

Gabriele Koch, “Producing Iyashi : Healing and Labor in Tokyo’s Sex Industry” 

“Producing Iyashi ”  shines a light on a hidden corner of the Japanese  economy to lay bare new gendered dynamics at its heart.  Author Gabriele Koch, who recently completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology, argues persuasively that a new form of commercialized sex work has arisen to shore up middle-class masculinity and male productivity in response to fundamental changes in social and corporate organization that have placed the ideal of the male breadwinner in jeopardy and thrown women into the market of contingent labor.  Key to the argument is the concept of “iyashi,” a blend of maternal care and sexual gratification produced by the labor of sex workers, which employers count on to do the hidden labor of women, now integrated into the market itself. Based on almost two years of ethnographic field work, this study of sex work in contemporary Tokyo shows brilliantly how gendered binaries continue to operate in a changing society and challenges earlier models of the relationship of female work to male labor and capitalist value production.

Graduate Honorable Mention: Jamie Budnick

“Straight Girls Kissing?”: Theorizing Same-Sex Behavior in a Representative Sample of “Straight” Women

In this fascinating essay, Jamie Budnick, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology with a Graduate Certificate in LGBTQ Studies, uses in-depth interviews to offer a welcome regulator to sexual behavior studies that focus on LGBTQ identified participants. Finding her data not among college students, but in follow-up interviews on the Relationship Dynamics & Social Life (RDSL) study (which includes over 1,000 young women ages 18 and 19 residing in a single, socio-economically and racially diverse Michigan county), Budnick is able to excavate new perspectives on sexual behavior among otherwise underrepresented groups in queer domains: black mothers, working class women who identify as bisexual, and others who fall outside the privilege of college culture.

By offering us insights into the stories of her interviewees Tara, Krystina, and Jayla, Budnick investigates attitudes and shifts among young women who have same-sex romantic and sexual experiences in the absence of lesbian identity. In contradistinction to theories that privilege ‘fluid identity’ and focus on upper class mobility and pleasure, this study carefully interrogates reasons for ‘straight girls kissing,’ as a strategic choice of women outside of college to hook up with women based on perceptions of safeguarding reputation and physical safety, and in relation to earlier trajectories toward motherhood and monogamy. The insights collected in these interviews also warns of too early release of the ‘bisexual’ label among people who did not study Kinsey or LGBTQ movements in college: ‘Feminist scholars should take caution not to move beyond studying bisexual identification just because a limited group of non-hetero women reject it - those who do reject labeling in general and ‘bisexual’ in particular may not be representative of most non-hetero women today.’