Thursday, May 29, 2008

Response to "Adventures in Skirt Masonry"

Our Brother over at Masonic Minute made a post last night about what he termed "Skirt Masonry" (referring to the appendant bodies which admit women, not to women Masons, Co-Masonry or anything of that sort.) He wrote:
"Some hold these organizations in very low regard. They may even have wives who are members, but they are “Blue Nose” Masons who see no real reason for the existence of Skirt Masonry. Blue Nose Masons have no humility and are usually in bad marriages with nasty wives. Of course, I am painting with a broad brush. I don’t think there are any nasty Masonic wives out there at all. But you get the idea."
With all due respect, I feel that this brother has gotten it all wrong. My wife explained this to me at a prior date, so I have to give her credit for these thoughts, but allow me to explain:

To begin, we must talk a bout the men.

There are a certain number of men to whom Masonry appeals, for all of the ostensibly "right" (or perfect) reasons. The life-changing and transformative experience of initiation, the spiritual insights the ritual provides, the juvenile if not genuine thrill of being part of a secret society, the philosophical discussions we might have with other members, etc. Sure, there are other reasons as well which are just as valid, but most of them could be fulfilled by some other type of worthy organization, such as church or rotary. But Masonry offers this unique thing, which we as Masons, generally have an affection towards.

In its boom days Masonry appealed to about 50% of the men in my community. I would say that Masonry served them well, and they got what they wanted out of it, but it was a convenient match, not because it was right for them but because everyone else was doing it and it was prime entertainment and fellowship. Of such a large number it undoubtedly richly appealed to some of the men, and it was those men who rose to positions of high esteem in Masonry and became well known for their fraternal endeavors. But today, we have a different picture. I would venture a guess that Masonry today appeals in that "perfect" way to about 60% of its members. And only half of those are daring enough to admit it, because the other 40% aren't really interested in the esoteric/occult interpretations of such like myself. Part of this is generational. We still have people left over from the last membership boom, who got something good out of Masonry in spite of it not being a perfect match.

Lets pretend. I live in a city of roughly 20,000 people. Approximately 10,000 of those should be men. Of those, we have about 200 Masons, at least 200 who are on our Trestleboard mailing list - I haven't consulted the Secretary for exact numbers. Of those 200, about 40 are active in some organization and about 20 are regularly active in Blue Lodge. Of those 20, I will be generous and assume that 10 have that "perfect match." This is 10 out of 10,000, or 0.1%. Now, that isn't a fair number for what I'm going to say, but it gives us some perspective. There are good men out there who would make a perfect match to the fraternity whom we just have not located yet. I will be generous and assume that 5% of all men are perfect matches to Masonry. That means that if we reach our intended audience we should have 500 Masons in this city.

Now lets talk about women. As pointed out above, there are approximately 50% men and 50% women out there. So if we were trying to get women interested in something akin to Masonry in some significant way, and setting aside the inherent differences between the male and female mind, we could presume that the same amount of women would be a perfect match. So there would be 500 women in this city interested in such things.

Now lets talk about men and women. Men and women get paired up in marriage or a relationship because of several reasons, lets use "love" and "common interests" as two possibilities. We will presume that the mysterious love outweighs other reasons. So lets say "common interests" only explains 20% of the marriage/partner relationships out there. Since the appendant organizations usually accept at least the wife, widow, mother, daughter, or sister of a Mason, lets simplify this by saying that each Mason has exactly 4 close female relatives (most probably do not have this many) and lets designate their potential interest levels as:

wife/widow - 20% (common interests)
mother - 30% (she was the genetic reason you're interested)
daughter - 50% (she may genetically inherit your interests)
sister - 50% (she had the same parents and is just as likely as you to be interested)

This adds up to 150% or 1.5 potential women joining an organization per man. Right? Wrong.

There are 10,000 women in the community. Of those, we have already determined that only 500 would be interested in these things. But if each man only has a family relation to four women, that means 500 men * 4 = 2000 women we are actually in contact with, and even then only if we have already reached out to all eligible men in the community. Out of those 2000, women if we just play the numbers straight and take that 5% who are perfect matches we get 100 women, but again that is only if all eligible women in the sub-community have been reached. In reality, the number of men is 200. 200 * 4 = 800. 5% of 800 is 40. But that's counting people who are inactive. 40 men out of the 200 we have are actually active, that's a 20% activity level. If only 20% of the women are active that makes 8 women. Granted, women may be more likely to be active than men, especially the stay-at-home generation who want to get out and do something social, so perhaps twice as likely. That would be 16 women. That is where we might stand today. Do my numbers reflect your own? 16 women active in OES or Amaranth compared to 40 men active in Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, York Rite, or Shrine. Remember not to count those traveling from outside of the city population - If you want to do that, add up the populations of all the cities that feed into your organizations and run them over again.

Now lets look at something else. In Masonry we currently have a generational gap in most places. There is a thin area which currently consists of the people approximately ages 30 to 50. We have some younger people like myself who are starting to come into the Fraternity, and we have a lot of our beloved old-timers. The numbers may look different than they really are, because a number of the old-timers are too old to actively attend lodge any more, and so the younger among us get more representation than we really have by the books. Fortunately, Masonry is founded on universal, enduring principles which provides a bridge between the generations, and young men like myself have no problem chumming around with the older Masons. The women, however, have a significant problem. They have, at least in my community, made ladies formal dresses part of the routine, and these dresses have nothing whatsoever to do with the younger generation. My wife would look good in the skirt pictured at the right, and while she may be slightly shy about wearing something like that in public, she would do it. She wouldn't be caught dead, on the other hand, in Grandma's formal. In fact, while guys don't mind dressing up in Tuxedos -- we think it is cool for whatever various and sundry reasons. The group of ladies who like to dress up in formals does not intersect very well with the ladies who are interested in esoteric studies.

My wife, Susie, is very interested in esoteric studies. Our Council of Allied Masonic Degrees holds open meetings (no ritual) over dinner for about four out of five meetings and the ladies attend with us. Susie enjoys the AMD meetings because she gets to hear about Masonry, whether it is from a historical lecture which someone gives, or from reading the publications which AMD puts out. One of the brethren there even slips her her own copy of Miscellanea each year when it comes out, against my own more prudent judgment.

But Susie is not interested in OES or Amaranth. They are unappealing. They are clubs for her grandma. She has more in common with the young lady pictures at the top of this post than with the members of OES or Amaranth. At least she could talk about fashion with such girls without the talk being obsolete (not that she wants to talk about fashion! - she does not.)

Since Susie and I married, my father-in-law has also become a Mason, and even Susie's mom finds the ladies organizations unappealing for similar reasons, and she's been known to study an esoteric subject or two as well.

My message here is that OES and Amaranth have completely missed the boat. Arising during the heyday membership boom of Masonry, they have systematically eliminated the other four hundred and sixty women in today's community who might be interested in what a Masonic related group should have to offer, and they have further alienated some of those who actually are eligible.

It isn't that OES and Amaranth are bad organizations. The math simply does not work. Men cannot expect their ladies to be interested in such things, when it is so rare an interest to hold to begin with. Men should not be running or making rules for OES and Amaranth. The ladies should have ran them from the beginning and operated directly in parallel to Masonry, bringing in other various women from the community with whom they could fellowship and pursue their interests. This solution would fail for a Masonic appendant body because the Masons involved should not be hanging around with a bunch of random young women who are interested in what they do, instead of their own wives who are not. However, if the women's organizations were treated this way, the SINGLE Masons and older DeMolays may find such an organization to be a useful breeding ground, to find eligible ladies of common interests that they may wish to marry. But it creates a terribly contrived system if someone has to phase out of it upon becoming married. That's like being forced to choose between Masonry and your Spouse. Brethren, which would you choose? (Which one yells at or complains to you more often? Just kidding. The Past Masters probably do.) We shouldn't expect our ladies to make a similar choice.

What do I propose? Two things:

#1 - Eliminate all ritual from OES and Amaranth entirely. Make it a ladies social club for relatives of Masons and let them do the socialite things that they like to do.

#2 - Facilitate the creation of a ladies ritual with some real symbolic meat to it. Finance it, advertise it, get the ladies started, and do not allow men to attend it. Make it a true Parallel to Masonry, but not Masonry. Allow it to be organized and operated by women. This need not be limited to one organization. Let a few be created, and may the best one survive. They may even end up forming a men's social group some day to go along with it, for those men who they are married to who want to go down to the bar and watch football, but wouldn't be interested in Masonry.

Brethren, look at it this way: Honestly, which would you rather hang out with, Ms. Schoolgirl from the top of the post, or the Worthy Matron pictured at the right? The young ladies who are interested in esoteric studies feel the same way, well, maybe not... but almost.

(Ok, so that isn't really a Worthy Matron to the right. It's the Queen of England. I didn't want to insult any of the fine ladies who are part of OES or Amaranth by submitting them personally to this comparison.)


The Palmetto Bug said...

I just want to be where that first gal is!

Anonymous said...

There are women Masons, there have been women Masons (probably always have been) and there will always be women Masons. The second we start admiting that and respecting them for what they are (Im not advocating changing the way we do things by admiting women, just giving those groups that do some respect) the sooner we can go about the business of building the temple made without hands.

IF every man and woman on planet Earth started living MASONIC lives tomorrow we would live in a beautiful place.


Chris said...

I would say that Co-Masonry or Women's Masonry would fill the bill for such women as your wife. Even UGLE has conceded that there are female Masons, just unable to sit in Lodge with us or we with them. UGLE and the other Masonic bodies in the UK sit down occasionally to discuss matters of common interest, just not in Lodge.

Widow's Son said...

What Bug said.

You don't actually think anyone read that long article full of numbers when that eye-candy first photo was available for our viewing pleasure, do you?


Anonymous said...

As a member of OES and a Majority Member of the International Order of Job's Daughters (IOJD), I grew up knowing about the Masonic Fraternity from a VERY early age. My father took his 3rd degree on the night I was born. Being a member of Job's Daughters gives the young girls a chance to play "Pretty Pretty Princess" and as they grow they learn many life lessons while still learning to be have like a respectable young woman that any mother would be proud to see her son bring home to meet the family. While many of the IOJD members do not join OES at their first opportunity, it is because they are heading off to college and are putting into place in their lives, those lessons they were taught in Job's. In the years to come, they will more than likely seek out a local chapter to join or even find a Bethel for their daughter to experience the same things she had, and thereby will once again be introduced to the possibility of joining OES. Things do come full circle, and while it may take a few years for it to be complete, those who are the "perfect fit" will find their own way back. It is up to the members of each Lodge/Chapter/Assembly/Bethel too seek out those others who were lost to us because their family member was not that "perfect fit".

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Anonymous said...

My wife and I have observed the Job's daughters in our lodge, and we are not impressed. It seems from our standpoint that Job's daughters does nothing better for today's women than teach them to pour coffee for their Masonic fathers, uncles, grandfathers, etc.
Aren't we enlightened enough to expect more from our young women than to groom them just to be wives to future Masons?
Some have argued that Job's Daughters teaches public speaking skills and other practical things, but I see far better results from Girl Scouts. Why should we put our daughter in an organization that does not value her as much as a non-Masonic organization?
Most of the wives, (including my own), are unimpressed with OES and Amaranth, viewing them in much the same light as my wife and I view Job's Daughters.
Why, if there are women Freemasons, are they not included as "regular?" Why are we so behind-the-bubble?
I put these questions to all my brothers for prayerful consideration.

To end on a light note, here's a joke to shed further light on the issue:
Q: How many Masons does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Change?