Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Recreation Management

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

William T. Borrie

Commitee Members

Christopher Preston, Kari Gunderson


body, feminist, gender, interpretive, refuge, wilderness


University of Montana


The purpose of this study was to explore, describe, and explain how people (gbtlq identified persons in particular) experience gender and body in wilderness settings. The motivations for this research include: the current context of gender and gender oppression in American society; the potential of wilderness experiences to offer different ways of being and escape from social constrictions; and gaps in the literature on gender and wilderness. A qualitative/interpretive approach was employed for this research which encompasses aspects of phenomenology, feminist methodology, and grounded theory. The results and analysis for this study yielded an analytical story about ecological belonging which includes locating the self, awakening of the body, feelings of connectedness, wilderness as refuge from normative gender, vulnerability, and the wilderness setting. In this story, we find that participants can experience wilderness as a refuge from normative gender because wilderness is unpatrollable and because wild places can offer refuge from un-accepting people and judgment; and because wilderness is a sort of ‘holding environment’ for freedom of expression and safety in change and transition. This study also shows how participants are able to experience a profound sense of connection and ecological belonging because they experience themselves as human animals; an experience which awakens one’s sense of vulnerability. Connecting with our bodies, with our ‘animal-selves’, and feeling vulnerable as a human animal changes the potential for ecological belonging; it allows us feel our mortality and acknowledge that we are not at the top of the food chain. This research concludes by offering substantive and theoretical conclusions including recommendations for wilderness educators and managers; future research directions for gender and wilderness; and how wilderness experiences can inform ethical models for living in contemporary society. For instance, while the lessons wilderness offers may be infinite—from this study we can at least discern that part of repairing the human relationship with nature means repairing our relationship with all oppressed Others whereby domination is justified through faulty presumptions of moral superiority. Imperative to this is experiencing ourselves as animals in an ecological system and recognizing the damage caused by the social structures that placate our wildness.



© Copyright 2010 Angela Marie Meyer