Saturday, October 31, 2015

Gender Discrimination In North American Freemasonry: Opening a Can of Worms

In the past couple of weeks Gender Discrimination has come to occupy center stage in North American Mainstream Freemasonry. There has been plenty to be happy and distressed about regardless of where you stand on the issue.

On the one hand, Kentucky's Freemasons voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal which would have banned publicly open gay men from being allowed to join or participate in Freemasonry. In Georgia, the Grand Lodge met and the voting members upheld Grand Master Douglas McDonald's edict outlawing homosexuality, and as Chris Hodapp put it, "threw in fornication for good measure." It is quite likely that had the general membership been able to vote there, Georgia would have followed Kentucky's example.

While the events have agitated mainstream Masonry's intellectuals and Blogosphere (often though not without exception one and the same) and would have likely been a source of embarrassment for Freemasonry if the general public actually paid any attention to Freemasonry anymore, the real significance of these events lie in an unanticipated, and even for the majority of Freemasonry's intellectuals, unwelcome side effect.

The ancient rearguard, the old fellows within Freemasonry, are admittedly out of touch with the modern world, and in attempting to ban any presence of Gays in Freemasonry, were demonstrating their sophisticated understanding of US society of the 1940s. They thrust the matter into the forefront and forced the mostly younger and more liberal segment of the membership who are not yet on death's door, to visibly and vocally object. They had no other real alternative. In fairness to them they fairly uniformly objected to such a blatantly gender biased policy. 

However, any rational individual will see the discrepancy here. For many years, indeed since the mid 1700s, that version of Freemasonry which evolved under the thrall of London's influence has denied the right of women to participate in Freemasonry. Although women did have that right and did and still do participate in Freemasonry as it developed outside the control of London's ideologues, what has come to be called "mainstream" Freemasonry in the US, has banned women.

Those mainstream voices representing the intellectual segments of "mainstream" Freemasonry in the US, who so vocally objected to the exclusion of Gays from their form of Freemasonry have just delivered a fatal blow to their own support of the ban on women. 

It was not their intention, and they will no doubt begin to develop a few sophisticated, but mostly unsophisticated denials. However, in voicing their objection to the banning of one gender related group, they have effectively invalidated the arguments supporting the banning of any gender related groups. In supporting the acceptance of Gays in Freemasonry, they have pulled the apron out from under the ban on women. To mix my metaphors, but totally in a way which is in keeping with Masonic symbolism, they will no doubt attempt to place the skeleton back in the closet, but once it is out, there really can be no going back.

That does not mean that mainstream Freemasonry in the US will suddenly embrace the admission of women into their ranks. It will no doubt, if my familiarity with it has provided me with any accurate insight, go down fighting, even until death. However, it will from this point on, hand the opposition to such a ban the ammunition to effectively deprive any mainstream Freemason with any shred of intellectual or ethical credibility, if they ever had any (and I maintain they never did) if they try to support an institution which refuses women admission.

Of course, as a private organization, as Masons themselves are so happy to point out, they can do as they wish. What has just happened however is that they have just made it that much less likely that mainstream Freemasonry has any chance of reversing a decades old decline that threatens them with extinction. The hypocrisy has been brought out into the light in such a way that it will be hard for any Freemason of conscience to ignore.

Those who have a conscience will have to think long and hard about whether they will capitulate to convenience and habit, or live up to what they claim are their own ethical standards. 

The rest of us in that other Masonic world, will be watching with interest. And although this post will no doubt be met with hostility from mainstream circles, the rest of us, while expecting the same rationalizations and justifications that allow mainstream Masons to look the other way while many jurisdictions continue to practice racial segregation "off the books", far from being antagonistic, will watch with hope.  


BobbyV said...

As a newly raised Master Mason in 1974, I remember the disturbance generated when a Black Deputy Sheriff asked the WM about joining our lodge. The deputy was well-know by many of my brothers and would have been a great addition to our membership. The WM, a friend of the deputy, had the unpleasant task of educating the deputy on the concept of the secret ballot and the result of a single black ball. It was common knowledge that several members had expressed their opposition to his application predicated on a nebulous requirement of "being free-born." For years, I agonized over the overt racism I observed within the craft and how I was counseled to avoid masonic communication with clandestine (aka Black) masons.

At a time when I seriously considered leaving the craft, I remembered the advice given me by senior statesman of the lodge. Several months prior to his untimely passing, he told me that, "It's easier to change an organization from the inside than it is from the outside." My decision to remain within the craft was the right one. One now sees many Black masons in the lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of New York. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

I'm a bit unsure about allowing women into the Craft. My experience over 40+ years in business found that both the intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics change significantly within mixed gender groups. I believe that keeping masonry a male-oriented fraternity better positions the Craft to prepare men for the changing roles we now assume in the 21st Century. "Women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are. That is the difference between the sexes." Oscar Wilde

Elexir said...

In terms of gays I agree with you. Sexuality should not be considerd a reason for barring people from masonry. In fact it should not bother any mason what another mason is doing in the bedroom.

Now regarding woman freemasonry. I dont see a problem with it and neither does UGLE these days.
I dont belive that the non-inclusion of females into American lodges are a source of the declining membership but rather that there are other problems.
In Sweden, the question of females joining our regular grand lodge (swedish rite) never been considerd and despite this atleast 5 lodges has been set up to accomidate all new members (a lodge in swedish rite isnt created automatic as we dont have a true progression through officers and can therefore have atleast a bit over 100 members). Instead there has been a co-operation with another sisterly order wich has been given acess to our locales.

For me the biggest reason not to include females are two - fold.
1) Lets face it, men can relax much more in the prescens of other men.
2) In swedish rite we have been able to keep the secrecy of our rite wich means that we are actualy forbidden to discuss specifics of the rituals and if females were allowed to join in there would probobly end up being problems at home with supicious spouses etc.

E C Ballard ஃ said...

I always find myself bemused by the responses offered by all-male freemasonry to the subject of mixed freemasonry. The responses are fairly difficult to take seriously coming from a mature adult in the 21st century.

However, I will note that the other common response, beyond the usual defenses against it, seems to be a fear that someone is going to force them to admit women. It could in theory happen if the right sort of court case were to be launched. However, I doubt anyone will end up doing that.

You see, there already are mixed and women only masonic lodges, and I might add, those men who attend mixed lodges do not seem to have suspicious wives. I dunno, maybe they made better choices when they got married, or maybe they just inspire more confidence in their partners.

Elexir said...

First of all, I think that the american theme of "making good men better" is a bit wierd to say the least.

Maybe Im a bit dissulusional but even during dinners with brothers and their wives there were a diffrent vibe, something in the air.

Maybe Im just dissulusional but I find that men and female interact with each other diffrently and that to some having females in lodge might cause them to react diffrently and thoughen up a bit, making their reactions a bit more fake if you understand my point.

Most rites however can be found online and disscused more freely in general but when it comes to the swedish rite there are more secrecy regarding the rituals as we have been fortunate that no real leaks have existed and therefore you can not be as open with it in a way that you could if you worked with more standard rituals.

E C Ballard ஃ said...

BobbyV: Of course, Oscar Wilde's experience would tell him that women were never disarmed by compliments. They all knew he was gay, and thus that there was no ulterior motive involved.

admin said...

There is a whole section in the book "Veiled in Homonyms" on how to deal with this issue logically so it does not harm the fraternity. It is free. Check it out.