This post is something that I’ve been thinking on for a while now. I know it’s not the easiest topic to discuss, nor is it everyone’s cup of tea, but if anyone out there is going to talk about it, it should be me.
We had our Conclave recently (basically DeMolay Grand Lodge). One of the events that happens after the banquet, during the dance, is the crowning of the new state sweetheart, as well as singing to the outgoing one. The traditions my state has developed over the years I would not exactly call kind. You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ is sung to the outgoing sweetheart, surrounded by the majority of the guys, usually while she cries. Before the new sweetheart is actually crowned, all of the candidates stand together while the Jeopardy! theme is played, the crown bouncing from person to person. A friend who recently got engaged to a Master Mason and senior DeMolay witnessed this for the first time, she was so flabbergasted she almost walked out the door. And yet, I have no doubt that this tradition will continue for years to come.
As a feminist, as, most any woman really, I think that the first emotional reaction when learning about Freemasonry is anger, with thoughts of, “Why can’t I do that? Am I really that different? What gives them the right?” Unfortunately, I feel that learning that women cannot become Masons is only the beginning. I’ve been asked many times how I deal with it. I would consider myself a feminist, and I will be the first to admit that there have been many rage educing moments within Masonry for me. However, I do not feel that Masonry and feminism have to be mutually exclusive.
Recognize it for what it is
Freemasonry, as we know it today, was unified in 1717, (and constituted about 100 years later). At that time, women not only couldn’t vote, but also couldn’t own property, and weren’t even really citizens in the United States. Everything was tied to your husband. You’ve seen Pride and Prejudice? Basically that. The revivals in Masonry in the 1920’s and 1960’s did not see many great changes for women. Yes, we could vote and own property, but any woman wearing pants in public was surely up to no good.
Lodge was a way for the man of the house to “get away from it all”. This tends to be the reason less often these days. I would attribute a lot of that to social and technological changes. That being said, it needs to be recognized that Freemasonry has always been the guys’ “safe space”. I personally, have no problem with this, and support it, as long as there an equal “safe space” for women. Unfortunately, I would not really say that this is the case. Many of the organizations people cite would not exist without masculine Masonry (OES, Daughters, etc), or are not as widespread as many of us wish (Order of Women Freemasons, Order of the Weavers).
In many ways, I feel that Masonry has never really left these bygone eras. Bits and pieces of ritual have changed over time, but overall, it’s the same. This, unfortunately, the social culture of many Lodges and OES Chapters is like walking into a time machine. In my state, women in OES were not allowed to wear pants to meetings up until 2014. Yes, I’m quite serious. Even at T’s Lodge, full of young men in their 20’s and 30’s, the women set up the meals, and clean up after the men begin their meeting, with naught a thank you in site. I of course, can only speak from my experiences, but this often is the aura of the Lodges and Chapters in my area.
Find the good bits
One of the best things you can do, not only with Freemasonry, but anything really, is to educate yourself. Find out why something is the way it is, if someone has ever tried to do anything about it, what the results were.
My research for the blog has found me sifting through numerous websites and books. I’ve learned so much I never would have otherwise. I find the women that have become masculine Masons particularly interesting, espcially because their exisitance tends to be covered up or denied. Freemasonry is not a secret society, but is a society with secrets; they have many secrets. Many of these can be found simply by looking.
Getting involved is another great way to find the postitives of Masonry. Many Daughters of the Nile Chapters have dancing or singing groups, start an OES Stitch’n’Bitch. Many Shrine clubs can be joined by the Shriner’s lady, and some of them are even ladies only. It often seems on the surface there is nothing there for us as women, but really, it just takes a little digging.
Be the change you want to see
I think that a lot of the trick is to make it all work for you. While I’m all for tradition, I rarely wear anything but pants to a Chapter meeting or Lodge dinner, unless its a special occasion. A small group of us have made a gaming club at our local Shrine, open to anyone who wants to join. T and I are DeMolay advisors, and feel that one of the best ways to make changes is to not only make them happen yourself, but help the future Masonic leaders grow and learn about all they can.
If there’s something about your Lodge, Chapter, or even Freemasonry as a whole that you don’t like, change it. There are, of course, more subtle ways to go about it, but sometimes the direct approach is best. If you’re gonna go out there and try to make big changes, know that every thing in the Masonic family happens at a snail’s pace. It took almost 5 years to raise the dues in our state by $1.50 to give 50 cents to each youth group. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t give up.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta suck it up
Or bite your tongue. Or coincide an argument. I’m not going to lie to you: if you are a woman involved in Freemasonry, and consider yourself a feminist, there will be times when you are blinded with rage due to the fraternity. Sometimes you just have to smile through your gritted teeth as you clear the dishes of men too lazy to do it themselves. It sucks, but, like many things in life, that’s just the way that it is. As many times as Masonry has pissed me off, I could not imagine giving up everything I’m involved in because of that.