Women and Animals in Affiliative Relationship: Healing Characteristics of the Animal Human Bond
Pets Therapeutic use
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
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AbstractGender is a basic organizing principle that profoundly shapes material conditions of women's lives. Ecofeminism posits an association and joint oppression among women, animals, and nature, while feminist methodologies expose previously hidden aspects of women's reality. Despite the emergence of feminist research seeking to uncover the ancient significance of women's affiliative relationships with other animals and nature, peer reviewed literature on healing characteristics of the animal human bond reflects a human centric perspective permeated with the assumptions and biases of a world view that devalues animals, women, and nature. This study is an investigation of the ways in which the animal human bond sustains and nourishes women in the absence of meaningful human relationships. Using a qualitative, phenomenological approach, five participants describe their healing connections with animal companions from their perspective and experience of mutually interdependent, reciprocal animal human bonding. Reflecting a world view consistent with the ethos of ecofeminism and ecopsychology, participants voice a reality of healing affiliative bonds with animals that refutes assumptions of a human centric bias inherent in much of the current research. The results from this study support the assumptions of Gaia theory (Lovelock, 1988) and the biophilia hypothesis (Wilson 1984). As such study results provide an alternative perspective on animal human bonding that diverges from a human centric view of nature and animals. What are the characteristics of the animal human bond that create healing for women? Can animal human bonds serve as a correlate for nature in healing the wound of lost human affiliations? How might recognition and validation of this ancient bond shift social evaluation of women, animals, and nature? Finally, how might women's insight and wisdom gained in affiliative relationship with the animal world enhance our understanding of human society? Elders throughout history have recognized the natural, healthy development of reciprocal animal human bonds as an integral aspect of the human world. The results of this study validate the healing efficacy of reciprocal animal human bonding for women, animals, and nature, while also indicating a need for an interdisciplinary theory of psychosocial development firmly rooted in the ecological context from which all life springs.