Each year the Department of Women’s Studies 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 U-M 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 Prize
Rebecca Lerner, Lean Into the Pain

Rebecca Lerner, an English honors and Screen Arts and Cultures major, has crafted an elegant essay that captures elements of personal essay, ethnography, and theoretical examination of gender norms. As narrator, Lerner artfully braids together descriptions of inhabiting, observing, and living alongside young women who are deeply committed to playing and competing in sports. In this essay, she takes us inside – cars, hockey rinks, apartments, friendships – to bring alive the complicated experience of young women being valued for their physical strength and the camaraderie that can be a part of this world. In addition, feminist theory plays an important but subtle role in helping the narrator understand the complexity of being valued for being “big” and “strong” alongside fitting into jeans and going out on Saturday night. As she writes, “We constructed the people we were going to be in between river runs.” It’s a beautiful example of the help that theories can offer in our daily lives: they help us see things that are sometimes hard to notice or too complicated to see clearly. “Lean Into the Pain” offers the reader a way to experience feminist theories of bodies, young female adulthood, and sports through the use of close, thick description and brings us on a ride where we, too, feel the rush of being fit, strong, and working hard at playing hard.

Graduate Prize

Joshua Hubbard, Maternalism, Medicine, and Feminist Praxis in Nationalist China

“Maternalism, Medicine, and Feminist Praxis in Nationalist China” represents transnational feminist history at its best. In this essay, History and Women’s Studies doctoral candidate Josh Hubbard challenges assumptions about the political implications of maternalism rooted in European historiography to argue that in the Chinese context it could represent a basis for feminist praxis. Defying the simple binary of East and West or colony and metropole, Hubbard makes the case through an analysis of the life stories of two Chinese women physicians who were shaped by transnational currents of imperialism, nationalism, feminism, and public health. These cases demonstrate that even though feminine reproduction and caregiving were co-opted by the state for its own aims in Nationalist China as elsewhere, “the linking of broadly conceived maternal labor to national strength and international hierarchies legitimized women’s political claims and fostered new spaces for women to redress the gendered effects of disease and violence. For some, these conditions also facilitated economic independence and a circumvention of compulsory heterosexuality.” Based on original research and drawing on a broad transnational historiography as well as a range of feminist theory, this essay complicates our understanding of modern political culture, by situating maternalism in relation to major transnational forces at the macrolevel and, at the microlevel, locating it in the very fabric of women’s lives.