Freemasonry and Gender Roles

Picture this- it’s Lodge night, your Mason isn’t due home for a few hours, the kids just got to sleep, and you finally have some time to yourself, to do what you please. Sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? Lodge nights always give me the eerie feeling of stepping back in time, when a woman stayed home with the children, and the man worked, say like, the 1950’s. There is a very good reason for this. Masonry, which became popular in the late 50’s and early 60’s, tends to reinforce the very traditional gender roles from that era.

Just what does that mean, anyway?

Gender roles are “the social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship”. In other words, gender roles are the way that you act, because society tells you that you should, or it’s the agreement between you and your spouse, or it’s the way your culture says that you should act, based on your gender. For instance, the way that a woman from a very traditional Muslim family acts in public, is very different from how a man from that same family acts in public, and both act very differently  from the way that a woman from a loosely Christian household might act  in public. They aren’t right or wrong, they just vary from person to person for any number of reasons.

What does this have to do with Freemasonry?

The scenario above depicts very traditional Western gender roles that is, the husband goes to work, while the wife stays home and takes care of the 2.5 kids. Add a white picket fence, and its practically the American dream. Freemasonry gives us many things. It gives us tradition, ritual, a sense of self, a way to give back to the community, amongst other things. If you notice, however, one of the things it does not  give us is change. Freemasonry is very rooted in it’s ways, and tends to be very “this is the way it is, because this is the way that it always has been”.

No one can seem to agree on exactly when modern Freemasonry began, but it is agreed that it was around the turn of the 20th century. Let’s think about life in the early 1900’s. Radio and cinema were still in their infancies, many people still had servants, and save for a small group of women, the ladies of the house chose to stay home while the men worked.  When creating something as complex as Freemasonry, you will, of course, want to be able to integrate it into your life, as well as future member’s lives as easily as possible. Since women staying home was the norm at the time, perhaps this was a factor in the exclusion of women from Freemasonry during its creation. Staying home was expected of women at the time, it was the typical gender role, and Freemasonry simply stayed the course of society at the time.

These gender roles stayed true throughout the years, including during the 1960’s, when Freemasonry had its first big boom. Women were beginning to enter the work force more regularly, but in very submissive roles, such as secretary, and many women continued to stay home while the man of the house worked. Again, Freemasonry was easily integrated here, because it supported the gender roles that the society, for the most part, continued to dictate. In addition to a rise of Freemasonry membership, Order of the Eastern star and other women’s auxiliary groups saw an influx of members. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the fact that women were becoming more independent, and more likely to work out of the home and do their own thing. The continued separation, however, continued to support the way that things always had been.

Many have said that we are currently in another membership boom for Freemasonry, and I am inclined to agree with that. What is different now, is that gender roles have changed, which causes some tension on the topic of women and Freemasonry. Women no longer stay at home and care for the home and children as the norm, in fact, this tends to be abnormal. Families now aren’t known to just be a man, a woman, and some kids, but instead made up of numerous combinations. Yet, Freemasonry supports the same gender roles. the same societal roles as it did during its inception the Mason goes to lodge, and the non-Mason, being excluded, does their own thing.  I feel that this is a growing issue in Freemasonry, and will continue to be an issue until more lodges choose to do something about it. Many have, doing things such as inviting the women to lodge dinner, having free wi-fi and cable in a lodge lounge, and generally trying to make lodge night as welcoming as possible to all members of a Mason’s family, not just the Mason himself.

So, this is a bad thing right?

Yes and no. Yes, I think that propagating traditional gender roles, whether consciously or not, is harmful to Freemasonry, and will turn off a lot of potential younger members. I also believe that all organizations should be somewhat flexible in “getting with the times”. I am not calling for a radical reformation of the way that Freemasonry works, I just think that small things could be done to make it a bit more welcoming for the rest of the family. This is most easily done on a lodge by lodge basis.

That being said, I think that viewed in the correct light, the traditional gender roles that Freemasonry promotes can be a very good thing. Go back to the scenario at the beginning of the article. Now, imagine that you are a woman in the 1920’s. Your husband leaving for lodge on a regular basis give you two things you might not usually get at that time independence, and autonomy. In fact, organizations that excluded women around this time, helped women actually join the workforce, and eventually join (some) of those organizations. In part, being excluded and away from your husband when all the chores were done and the kids were asleep, forced women into a kind of sink or swim scenario, either they had to gain the confidence to be seen as a separate person, or they could hide back in the shadows. The former is what a lot of women chose, shown by the boom of the women’s auxiliary and independent groups.

Speaking more modernly, I feel that the exclusion for one partner in a relationship can also be healthy for that relationship. If you know that your partner is going to be gone for 4 hours every Wednesday, you can plan things that they might not want to do with you, or things that you only want to do for yourself. When T is at lodge, for instance, I will often go to the gym, then come home and cook myself a nice meal, not having to worry about having to share, and then watch a horror movie, or play some video games. I think that the regularly scheduled time apart helps get rid of the “omg I want to strangle you right now” feeling that we all get in relationships sometimes.

These are just my thoughts and observations, as with anything on the internet, please take it with a grain of salt. That being said, I would love to hear what anyone has to say about the topic. I do not mind at all if you do not agree with me, I just ask that you remain respectful!