2012 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.


Emily Lind
Auto/Biographical Claims and Critical Ethics in Mary Shelley Scholarship

Noting the aversion of Mary Shelley to “autobiographical” inscription of and in her work, Emily Lind asks: "If we take the author at her word that she was “very averse” to (re)producing herself publicly in text, what does it mean to mobilize knowledge of Shelley’s life in the twentieth or twenty-first century in order to read her novels as nineteenth-century autobiographical productions?” To answer this question, Lind first surveys the contemporary analyses in which critics become sleuths of the autobiographical, “uncovering” in Shelley’s work evidence of and from the life. She then probes the ethics of such critical moves in order to ponder what’s at stake in claiming the autobiographical content and intent of novelistic writing. Deploying the theories of Lauren Berlant and Heather Love, Lind advocates for a model of what Donna Haraway calls "staying with the trouble" that is, reaching out to texts in the past, but troubling attempts to relate to them or to make them relate to us and mirror our politics. Doing so, she mobilizes readings of Shelley to raise important questions about what we do when we do feminist scholarship.

Emily Lind is a doctoral student in English and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Anju Paul
The Negotiated Migration Decision: A Gendered Variation on the New Economics of Labor Migration

Anju Paul’s well-written and carefully researched paper on the decision making processes of Filipina migrant domestic workers reconstructs existing theory of labor migration. The new economics of labor migration theory—which assumes a unified household making the migration decision for one of its members—has been frequently criticized by feminist scholars for ignoring that the power distribution within traditional households is rarely equitable across the sexes. However, no alternative micro-level theory of migration has been proposed to explain the large numbers of female labor migrants observed leaving their countries each year. Based on interviews with 163 Filipina migrant domestic workers located in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, Paul finds that prospective female migrants initially make their migration decision individually but then have to negotiate with resistant family members to secure their relatives’ permission to work overseas. They win their family’s approval by highlighting the benefits of working overseas, focusing on the funds they can remit to support their parents, siblings, children, or spouses. These women’s agency in these negotiations is aided by structural factors such as the gendered overseas labor market that favors female migrants and the lack of employment opportunities within the Philippines for these women.

Anju Paul is a doctoral candidate in Sociology and Public Policy.


Connie Shi
What Does 'Survivor' Mean Anyway? Women and the Breast Cancer Ordeal

In this essay Connie Shi explores the coping strategies women employ when they are diagnosed with breast cancer as well as during the course of their treatment and after the treatment has ended.  Shi argues that becoming a woman with breast cancer is a complex and dynamic process in contemporary U.S. culture, and that women must navigate not only a frightening moment and burdensome treatment regime but also understand themselves in relation to the "pink ribbon" world of breast cancer awareness campaigns.  This essay draws on first-hand accounts from women with breast cancer and also surveys the cultural politics of "survivorship," arguing that if one pays attention to the conflicted feelings many women have after their cancer, it is clear that the upbeat language of survivorship and "pink" consumption does not tell the whole story.  Shi concludes that we must find new ways to represent women's experiences with cancer that are more capacious and realistic.

Connie Shi is a Cellular and Molecular Biology concentrator and Medical Anthropology minor.

Honorable Mention

Andrew W. Covert
Indicted and Trivialized: The Gendered Nature of Assault Prosecution in Early Modern England.

In this insightful and well-written essay, Andrew Covert examines the strikingly different ways women and men were prosecuted for their crimes in early modern England. While women, like men, were capable of violent assaults, in cases brought to trial the verbal, not physical, actions of women were emphasized by victims and prosecutors. As Covert persuasively argues, this gendered nature of prosecution turned on broader culture fears of women’s insubordination through speech and the perceived power and danger of women’s words in the early modern period.

Andrew W. Covert is a General Studies student.