Gendering and exclusion all at once

I was catching up on Australian news today, now that I’ve returned from Malaysia, and stumbled across an article about the Freemasons in Sydney as their election of a new Grand Master.

The journalist thought that this was an appropriate comment to make:

Some may have looked like cardinals, while others sported more bling than a man really should.


Clearly, thinks whichever anonymous journalist for the AAP that wrote this article, there is an upper limit on how much jewellery a man can wear before his manliness should be called into account.  As men should never have their manliness called into account (they might be wearing enough jewellery to be mistaken for women!), they should be careful how much jewellery they wear.

I call bollocks.

And then we have the Freemasons themselves:

But just because the Freemasons are opening their doors, don’t expect females to be allowed or for all the secrets to be revealed,” Mr Robson said. [sic – I have no idea where that quote begins]



“We are an organisation with secrets, we still have some mystique”.


The Freemasons have been busy excluding women from their organisations for decades, if not centuries.  According to Wikipedia, women have been masons and involved in Freemasonry over the years.

The history of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons in particular cannot be described without reference to the history of the Women’s movement in Masonry in general. Quoted from a pamphlet published in 1988 by Enid Scott, a former Assistant Grand Master of the Order, entitled “Women in Freemasonry:”

“It was in 1902 that the first lodge of Co-Masons was formed in London and that importation from France soon snowballed. But within a few years some of its members became uneasy regarding the course being taken by the governing body in Paris. They felt that their ancient forms were in jeopardy and a departure from their traditional style was taking place; history was being repeated, for it was a similar state that had arisen in regular Freemasonry in the mid-18th century. Various members resigned from the Order and formed themselves into a Society from which was to emerge the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, but still as an association for men and women. On 5 June 1908 a Grand Lodge was formed with a Reverend Brother as Grand Master. He was the first and only male Grand Master and held that office for four years before retiring through ill health. His successor commenced the continuing line of female Grand Masters. Approximately ten years later it was decided to restrict admission to women only but to allow existing male members to remain. Within a very short period the title was changed to the Order of Women Freemasons but the form of address as ‘Brother’ remained, the term ‘Sister’ having been discontinued soon after the formation in 1908 as it was deemed unfitting for members of a universal Brotherhood of Freemasons. It is also of some interest to note that history was repeated again , in that the Royal Arch became the subject of a division in their ranks, rather on the lines of the Antients and Moderns years before the Union in 1813. A group of its members wished to include the Royal Arch in the system but failed to obtain authority from their Grand Lodge , which caused them to secede and form the first Lodge of yet another Order – The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, two Grand Lodges running in parallel was almost a carbon copy performance, but in this case the time for a Union, similar to that which took place in 1813, is yet to come.”

The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons was founded in 1913 and the first Grand Master was Mrs Elizabeth Boswell-Reid who held that Office from 1913 to 1933 ; she was succeeded by her daughter Mrs Seton Challen. (Wikipedia – Freemasonry and Women)

The reasons behind banning women:

Mainstream Masonic Grand Lodges justify the exclusion of women from Freemasonry for several reasons. The structure and traditions of modern day Freemasonry is based from the operative medieval stonemasons of Europe. These operative masonic guilds did not allow women to join, because of the culture of the time. Many Grand Lodges are of the opinion that altering this structure would completely change Freemasonry. Furthermore, mainstream Grand Lodges adhere to the masonic landmarks laid out in the early 18th century, which are considered unchangeable. One of these landmarks specifies that a woman is not to be made a mason. Finally, in many jurisdictions masons swear “not to be present at the making of a woman a Mason” in their obligations. Many masons believe that regardless of their opinions of women in masonry, they cannot break their obligation. (Wikipedia – same article as before)

is the same old reason that is trotted out to justify the special men’s club of Catholic Priests, and no doubt many other institutions where women can’t join or cannot become full members – “because that’s the way it has always been”.

Quite frankly the excuse is old.  It’s time that the Freemasons, and all the other institutions that exclude women, got with the times and recognised that women make up slightly over half of the population and by excluding them they are diminishing themselves and not tapping into the potential of half of the planet.

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