We had an interesting discussion at my last Lodge meeting…not at the meeting itself but at the Committee meeting that preceded it. We’re a school Lodge, made up of old boys of the school and current and former teachers. Something had come up about whether or not we might set up and open our Lodge Room (we meet in the Old School Chapel, which is lovely…) at the big end-of-year Speech Day and Prize-Giving like other clubs and societies that exist for ex-pupils. The general feeling was that the School would not be keen because we are only open to the boys and, therefore, by default, exclude the girls.
This led on to some of us wondering how the University Scheme works. It is a programme that’s active now, aimed at interesting University students in Freemasonry. What do they do about female students?
It’s interesting to see that there’s now a table devoted to women’s Freemasonry in the Museum at Grand Lodge. But it’s weird that Grand Lodge basically says, “Yes, women’s Freemasonry exists; yes, we accept that it seems to be ‘regular’ Freemasonry but, no, sorry, we can’t officially recognise it.”
My own view, for what it’s worth is that I would like to see male Freemasonry, female Freemasonry and mixed Freemasonry existing side by side, accepting each other as equal and actively co-operating to demonstrate Freemasonry’s relevance to our modern world. There are some encouraging signs. I learned recently that a male Lodge near me shares its premises with a female Lodge. I also learned that that’s not an uncommon arrangement. I like that. It makes sense. But it doesn’t go far enough.
It’s no good acknowledging women’s Freemasonry and then not officially recognising it, as if it were something to be tolerated and that might go away if we ignore it. No: either it is regular Freemasonry or it isn’t and if it is, we should embrace and encourage it. If it isn’t, we should already have said so. It’s no good pretending; it’s no good using the existence of women’s Freemasonry as a sop to our own conscience and as a distraction when people question us so that when we’re challenged, we can say, “Oh, no…we’re not sexist…Look, women’s Freemasonry is alive and well.” If we don’t actively support it and seek ways to co-operate for our mutual benefit, we are just playing a PR game…and a dangerous one at that because, if we get called on it, our double standards, our rather patronising attitude and, dare I say it, our sexism is not far below the surface.
The thing is that most Freemasons I’ve ever spoken to have no objection to women’s Freemasonry. Why should they? I think there’s sometimes a knee-jerk reaction that envisages our male Lodges full of women, but that’s never been the suggestion. Mixed Masonry also exists for those who want it, but I personally have no issues with male-only Lodges. I like that aspect of our meetings. Sometimes it’s good for a man to be in male company, just as it’s good for a woman to be in female company. That’s fine. But I want to know, as I sit in my male-only Lodge, that there exist equally valid, important, vibrant female Lodges where women can have access to the same pleasure I get from Freemasonry if they want it. And, as I say, those who would like their Masonry mixed can find it… here:http://www.grandlodge.org.uk/
Interested in Women’s Freemasonry? Here: http://www.owf.org.uk/ and here: http://www.hfaf.org/
Having said all this, of course, there are still ‘issues.’ Women’s Freemasonry in the UK exists in two separate bodies. I don’t know what relationships are like between them but I can’t help wondering how useful it is for two different bodies to be vying for the same membership…
The other thing is that, so I understand, women’s Freemasonry retains the male form in its ceremonies and this leads to male forms of address being used, including the use of the term ‘Brother’ for a fellow (female!) Mason. Now, this, as far as I’m concerned is out of my remit. I want women’s Freemasonry to exist as an equal body, able to make its own decisions about how it operates. But I can’t hide the fact that I think it’s weird that women are addressing each other as ‘Brother.’ What’s wrong with ‘Sister?’ What’s wrong with rejoicing in the truth of Universal Sisterhood as male Freemasonry does in the idea of Universal Brotherhood? Does anyone remember the 70s? Or is it just me? As I say, it’s not my business…
So…female Freemasonry exists and is alive and well…that’s not the challenge. The challenge is to decide what we are going to do to encourage and embrace it, to take the very real opportunity this offers us to move fully into the 21st century…