Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I Want To Become a Freemason

I had a good laugh reading Ezra's post about having dinner with a woman who was a Freemason. Yes, I know. Only men can be Freemasons. Unless you are in the sect that allows women to join:


I laughed at this, but it hit on a few things I've thought about since I was (don't laugh) a Rainbow Girl. While the term "Rainbow Girl" does indeed reflect my views on gay rights, Rainbow is actually the community service organization affiliated with masonry for the daughters of Masons. Nowadays, any girl can join. I was a member during the late 80's. I initially loved it; we got to wear pretty dresses and have sleepovers at the masonic lodge and have meetings where the top girl got to wear a crown, yadda yadda. All the stuff that girlies love at that age. I loved it because I learned to speak in public without being nervous, to memorize tons of ritual, and to have an opportunity to do some really meaningful community service work. But even then, something was bugging me which eventually led me to drop the whole organization in a big, high-school-senior-I-am-so-outta-this-one-horse-town huff. My beef was (and is) the following:

Eastern Star is the women's counterpart to Masonry, but it also has Masons who are members, and in fact its top officers are a man and a woman, usually a Mason and his wife. A Mason can be a member of the Eastern Star, but a member of the Eastern Star cannot be a Mason. Why? Because a woman cannot be a Mason. Still with me?

Okay. So, Masons and Eastern Star members also attend Rainbow meetings, and in fact, back in the day, a Rainbow meeting could not be held without at least one Mason present.

So far so good: Boys=2, Girls=0.

Now, DeMolay is the boys' counterpart to Rainbow. The guys get together, do stuff like bowling and camping, community service projects, and in essence, train to become productive men in society. Again, Masons attend DeMolay meetings. Eastern Star may not. Because, after all, it is a sacrosanct place for the boys to meet as a group without women present. Fair enough. So how come the same is not held true for Rainbow? Why were the girls not given that same sacrosanct space to be without men?

If single-gender activities were so crucial, why were just the boys getting them?

Well, it gets better.

When DeMolay boys reach the appropriate age, they can become Freemasons. And as you know if you have been following this excruciating Trip Through Masonic History, being a Mason entitles them to attend both Eastern Star and Rainbow meetings as well as DeMolay meetings. Boys=3, Girls=0.

So: Becoming a Mason entitles them to the trifecta of fraternal organization access. Unlike MY sorry Rainbow Girl ass who could grow up and aspire to be in...oh...another organization that included men too. In real terms, my brother could be just another farting, dorky, dirty-minded boy in DeMolay while I was in Rainbow. He would reach the appropriate age and become a Mason. Which would all of a sudden entitle him to come to MY Rainbow meetings and learn all about the stuff we girls did in our ritual and in our group settings. And when I joined Eastern Star, he'd be there too, learning all that ritual as well. But would I ever get to see a single word of the ritual and meaning of what he had in DeMolay? Never. My brother had access to all of my and my mom's organizations and yet she had access to NONE of his.

And that prospect, friends, is what made me quit the whole stupid nonsense and take up drinking on a Scottish university campus for a year, followed by all kinds of (perhaps on later reflection) kooky 'femynyst' stuff when I transferred back to the States. I was aghast that I had participated in such a balls-out patriarchy for so many years and had never been able to nail down what was bugging me about it until I put it this way:

My mom had been a member of Eastern Star for years. So had my dad, although unlike other husbands he begged to not have to go to the "god awful" meetings. But, regardless, my mom never got to really have a social space in the masonic context without my dad or his friends there. She had held various leadership roles, had herded us all up there on Thanksgiving Day to cook and serve dinner to residents of local homeless shelters who had been bused to the lodge for the day, had presided over multiple sleepovers, conferences, conclaves, conventions and muckity-muck poobah events...and was still "{insert my dad's name here}'s wife." Of course, being from a different generation, none of this seemed to bother her, but it really bothered ME. How could SHE do all this work, spend all this time, lose all this sleep--and still not get to have one damn night a week with other women as a separate, individual human being of her own?

I muddled through these feelings until it happened: The, to my mind, ultimate insult: on my brother's next birthday, he was going to start the process of becoming a Mason. Which would entitle him to attend every meeting of my mother's, while still giving her no rights to attend his. That was it for me, that a mother could have her own child, in effect, become a patriarchial figure over her simply because he was male.

I bailed that month and never went back. I felt justified at the time, but now I feel like my quitting reflected a shocking lack of imagination. Had I really been a proud and powerful woman I wouldn't have been boo-hooing and harrumphing over the Evil Patriarchal Locked Masonic Door; I would have beat Ezra's dinner date to the punch and started the female masonic sect back then when I gave a crap about belonging...

But it begs the question. What are the roles of single-gender groups in society? I am not actually against the notion that sometimes men want to socialize with men (and, no I'm not talking about excuses for strip clubs or hookers) and that women want to socialize with women (and, no I'm not talking about quilting bees and afternoon teas...or, well, strip clubs and hookers, either). I'm talking about men and women having places they can go to be fraternal or sororital(?), not because they don't like the other gender but because sometimes its nice to just hang with the ladies for an evening. Am I sounding like an complete throwback when I say this? And what is the happy medium between saying that all spaces and groups must be unisex and that only the men get to be alone?

I don't know. I'm asking.


Lord Bowler said...

Hey E - your a mom - try the National Mom's Club. Smarmy, sure, but hey, you get play groups with the kids, and the mom's all get to hang out as women without children on a monthly basis. And guys are not allowed. Trust me, guys don't really want to be a part of it. And the best part for my wife is...


Raine said...

Please don't go to the national Mom's Club, E. They will change you, and it won't be for the better. There's a few good mothers there, sure. But to be honest, they'll just end up foisting their bad habits on you.

Just follow your own intuition.

Lord Bowler said...

But Raine...what about Bunco!

You can't disparage Bunco!

Raine said...

You're right. I can't disparage anything that's already disparaged itself. :p

If you're looking for a little freedom from the oppression of men, check this out.

Good stuff.

Miko said...

raine, I could go for that one. At least the toilets will be clean.

Greg said...

That's not all so true. A Mason must petition and be initiated into OES to attend a meeting. DeMolay is now open to parents and so forth. Also, in the Masonic fraternity there are women groups only, no men. Such as Ladies of the White Shrine, and so forth. I was a DeMolay in the 80's, I became a mason at 21, and now my childern are active in DeMolay, and Job's Daughters.