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Masculinities on Ice at the Labrador Front

Wileen Keough

Willeen Keough

The Newfoundland seal hunt was a site of intense controversy in the second half of the 20th century, and tensions between animal-rights activists and sealing communities received extensive coverage in political forums and the international media. The conflict revealed two very different interpretations of masculinity: the seal saviour/sea shepherd versus the skilled hunter/family provider/local hero. In the court of world opinion, each positioned itself on moral high ground and undermined the claims of the other to respectable manhood. But beyond this perceived contrast between “sealing masculinity” and “eco-masculinity” lay an intricate web of fluid and sometimes overlapping identities and strategies. Activists, for example, often defined themselves in terms of older, more combative images of masculinity; dressed in camouflage suits, these “eco-warriors” raced to a “front” that had become a “battleground” for the “seal wars.” Sealers expressed emotions, vulnerabilities, and respect for maintaining balance in their ecosystem. Keough’s presentation will look at the complexities of how sealing and anti-sealing masculinities were embodied and performed in the theatre of the Labrador front.